When Social Media Turns Ugly

Michael Dabbs

If you type ‘social media tips’ on Google, you are flooded with rules and tips that would take you days – if not months – to work through. I do wonder sometimes how these professionals come up with their number of rules and tips – seems a bit random to me. Anyway, what you’ll find from these links are certainly valuable tidbits on best practices for content and frequency of posts, the importance of creativity and engagement, and so on. But what most lack is a discussion on what to do when social media turns ugly.

For those of us who have worked in politics or public affairs, we understand that social media can be a firestorm of unwanted criticisms, critical mistakes, and back-breaking consequences for our campaigns – thus the importance of well-developed and locked-down social media approval methods and contingency plans.  It only takes one hurried associate, intern slip up, or executive meltdown. And that doesn’t even account for the external factors we can’t control until they happen. Below is a list of three (a number I admit I chose at random and not at all comprehensive) situations of social media ugliness we should keep in mind when planning and implementing social media strategy for our candidates and causes.

  1. Trolls – We all know them. We’ve all shouted some sort of profanity at the sight of yet another one of their comments. And if we’re being honest, we’ve all probably played the role ourselves to some degree. They are the trolls, and they live permanently under our content bridge, posting criticisms and comments that make it hard for us to frolic on over to happy message land. If trolling posts include profanity, appear to be a result of some level of insanity, or the like, a viable option is to simply ignore or hide/delete them. In cases such as these, having a predetermined social media policy on your website and attached to your social media accounts outlining the circumstances in which you will delete a comment will come in handy if opposition attempts to criticize you for censoring your page.  In addition to this, we have two options to trolling posts: respond or change the subject. If we respond, the key is to keep the response positive; if not, we risk adding fuel to the fire. If the trolling happens to be off topic, a convenient third option is to change the subject back to your intended message.
  2. Hackers – Hacking of social media accounts is a communicator’s nightmare. And it’s too often becoming a bad dream-turned-reality for many brands and public figures. Don’t think it can happen to you? Ask Newsweek or Chipotle. Written in your contingency plan should be a process to record all public communication sent from your assigned staffers and when they sent the said communication, so as to be as transparent as possible with media and the public if a hack is to befall you. This will help diffuse your burden in the situation quickly and efficiently.
  3. The Volunteer Conundrum – One morning, you’re browsing your handle on Twitter or Facebook to sample what is being said about your candidate or campaign. Then you scroll across the account of one of your most vocal volunteers and before you know it, that last sip of coffee is arranged quite nicely on your clothes and computer screen. There always seems to be at least one volunteer who thinks he or she is doing right and good, but is actually damaging the campaign’s brand and message. In this case, there should be an attempt to reach out to the volunteer and provide him or her with a few message points and/or an invitation to meet with a staff person to discuss social media etiquette.

The next time social media turns ugly, let’s not find ourselves featured in the Buzzfeed “fail feed” or as a punch line for late night talk show hosts. Let’s be prepared.

RBI Strategies and Research

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