RENO, Nev. — It's no secret that social media isn't ALL positive posts and content.
Navigating any platform will immediately show you the range of commentary you can expect to encounter first hand as a business building its social media presence online.
And while you do want to connect with your audience authentically and grow your brand, you should also expect to encounter negative posts, comments and messages. These can range from actual negative customer experiences (that should be professionally addressed) to outright trolling, and a single misstep on your part could either lose you a customer or (even worse) go viral in the worst way.
That's why every business should have a plan for how they react to and handle any negative content. Here are 5 best practices for moderating your community interactions on social media:
FIRST THINGS FIRST: NEGATIVE COMMENTS CAN BE AN OPPORTUNITY IN DISGUISE
Before I get to the inevitable trolling posts that most businesses dread, we have to acknowledge that most negative posts or messages on your social media account(s) isn't trolling at all. It can be customers who have had a negative experience for some reason with your service, product or brand.
And you absolutely must address them with the same professional courtesy as you would when receiving a complaint over the phone.
This is obvious when the complaint comes through messaging on any platform. You can privately ask for more information, figure out a solution (which makes the customer happy) and move on.
But what about in a public forum?
If a customer comments about a bad experience on one of your Facebook posts, DO NOT hide or delete that comment. You'll want to reply as soon as possible with empathy, apologizing for the experience he or she had and expressing your company's desire to make it right.
Doing so not only serves the commentator but also any other user who comes across that comment thread. No business is impervious to negative feedback; it's how that business handles it that truly grows a positive perception of its brand online, turning a downside into an opportunity.
That being said, when looking to get into the details with a customer, state that you'll message them directly to discuss the matter further. The entire back and forth should not (and does not need to be) in a public comment thread.
HAVE PUBLICLY POSTED (AND EASY TO FIND) COMMUNITY RULES
Something every Facebook page (or group) should have is a publicly posted (and easy to find) set of Community Rules.
Not only do clear information and rules set the tone of what you expect of your community (and yourself), they also provide consistency (in case you have multiple moderators) and a go-to fallback should a user get upset about being banned or seeing a comment get deleted.
In general, your Community Rules should include: the purpose of your page or group; if your community is location-specific; define what your company considers to be spam; define inappropriate content, as well as your code of conduct; and be very specific about what will happen if the rules are broken.
Posting a clear set of rules also can be an opportunity for setting the tone of encouraging respectful conversations and engagement. Obviously, everyone doesn't have to agree with you or each other, but respect should be a critical component of your expectations.
When it comes to rule breakers, I have always used a three-strikes-you're-out approach, especially if you must consider banning a user.
But there are a lot of great examples of social Community Rules out there, including those listed on Abobe's Facebook page, for you to be inspired by.
SOME THINGS CAN BE CONTROLLED
Facebook will be the first to tell you that you don't, in fact, have to allow users to post on your Facebook page. Plus, as you likely already know, you can easily hide or delete comments, turn off recommendations, messaging and more.
On Instagram, you can turn on the automatic comment moderation filter for your profile that attempts to hide any inappropriate comments. Of course, anything that slips through that filter can then be hidden, deleted or reported.
Twitter moderation tends to default to the hit-and-miss results of reporting, but Twitter has recently announced it's testing replies moderation in which you can hide replies yourself. (Stay tuned on that if you're not already seeing that functionality.)
YOU'RE MODERATING ... AND THEN WHAT?
So, let's say you've posted your Community Guidelines and you've just hidden or deleted a comment from a user that was a violation.
Many moderators (especially those overseeing high-volume accounts) likely leave it there.
But should you?
I would argue that small businesses could benefit from reaching out to that user directly through messaging and take a moment to alert them of the comment or post that had to be removed and why you had to do so.
In my experience, I've only had positive outcomes from doing this (even if it took a little back and forth to get there) because you're showing that you care enough to reach out. That can go a long way and humanizes the idea of moderation as well. You're obviously not "The Borg," after all.
Granted, this option may come down to how much time you have to do it, but it's always a tactic to consider for the overall health of your social media community (or communities).
EXPECT MODERATION TO TAKE TIME YOU MIGHT NOT HAVE
If you are a one-(wo)man-band type of business, time is not on your side. But that doesn't mean you can ignore the negative messages, posts or comments that could be building up on your social media accounts.
Along with setting aside time to post content and engage, you'll want to take a quick look through your channels to spot any negative commentary you need to address. Never leave any comment/post/message hanging, whether it's positive or negative.
One way to stay on top of this in real time is to make sure that your app notifications are turned on so that you're alerted to any new engagement actions as they happen. That way, you can prioritize what needs to be responded to right away versus what can wait a few hours. (Hint: The Facebook Pages app is great for doing this for Facebook. There used to be an amazing Facebook Groups app, but that has since been retired. However, you can create a Homepage Shortcut to any Facebook group for quick mobile access.)
The most important aspect of social media moderation is that you're transparent about your community expectations and consistent about your enforcement. Remember that just because there are tools to help you control a conversation thread, that doesn't always mean you should do so with a heavy hand. Your audience will notice and consider you to be less authentic as a result.
And since inauthentic brands can lose both audience and engagement, that's definitely not a road you want to travel.
Caren Roblin is Director of Content at Sierra Nevada Media Group. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.