How many agencies have started to look at social media use for their organization and have been stumped by one simple challenge - comments from the public? There have been many cases of agencies starting social media accounts that reversed their entry and others that are stalling on their choice to enter because of the perceived and real problems in knowing how to deal with comments from the public.
The other consideration that also plays into this spectrum is returning comments from the organization. This can also be a hindrance if you don't have some clear guidelines. So in essence there are two problems here.
1. Commenting from the public
2. Commenting to the public
Let's look at the latter first.
Any choice to enter social media in a robust and vibrant way should erase concerns of commenting to the public in response to questions and or comments. You see, if you enter social media to only broadcast your information you are going to miss the most important and effective part of the space... social interaction. You simply can't expect to have a community if all you do is tell, tell, tell. There has to be room for your agency to listen, respond, and interact.That is the social part of social media.
You do need to have a plan that should begin with ensuring the right people for the job and that there are clear guidelines in place to help guide their activities. Undoubtedly you have policies in place to ensure professional, legal, and timely dissemination of information. From there, employees need to keep in mind who they represent, who they are speaking in behalf of, and all the considerations that go in line with their position.
Answering questions, providing detail and engaging should be as open as the law, circumstances, and your agency policies allow.Being transparent and telling people that some things you can't respond to for the various reasons will raise your value within the social community.Not responding when appropriate or saying something like, "It's a secret" or "No comment" doesn't go over very well.
Do you have to respond to every mention of your name or every comment placed on one of your social channels? Absolutely not! Some comments aren't worth the time it takes to craft a response. Take for example a comment on Twitter that makes a statement that is nothing but hate laced with profanity. Why comment? Why bring attention to the poster. You can't delete his or her Tweet and trying to have every person that swears removed or banned from Twitter will probably back fire on you in the long run.
Comments from the public can be dicey to say the least. Let's face it, not everyone is going to say wonderful things and give flowering praise to your officers or organization. Some will be abusive, profane, and tasteless in their comments. Simply deciding that you don't like what they have to say is not enough reason though to censor the public's voice. And as government, that is not something that we can begin to do for a myriad of reasons.
So, to protect your organization from this type of behaviour, you should start by letting the public know clearly what is acceptable and what is not. This is nothing new. In fact, every single social platform will have included in their terms the rules of engagement and use, in one form or another.
* Let the public know that you stand behind the terms of the platforms.
* Reiterate them in your own words.
* Have a plan of action in the event that your audience chooses not to play nice.
Tell your audience that any abuse of the commenting guidelines may result in their comment being removed.
Negative comments are not enough. In fact, negative comments that are constructive provide a great opportunity to talk with your detractors and build on what could simply be a misunderstanding or a lack of information being provided. We may not notice a failure on our part and the public letting us know can be a great source of pride to say, we listened and fixed it.
When the comment does go beyond the acceptable terms, here is my suggestion and practice.
* Recognize the problem as soon as possible.Yes, that requires you to pay attention to your presence and brand.
* Capture the comment with a screen capturing tool or screen print and save it to a file.
* Let the person know publicly that you are removing their comment, the reason why and let them know you'll welcome them to re-post the comment provided they keep in line with the commenting guidelines.
* Delete/remove the offending post.
By responding publicly, you are showing everyone that you are not censoring the individual, but you are protecting everyone who may be involved and or simple decency.
When considering commenting, think of it this way. No brand would allow a public defacement that is not justified or in its nature against what the public would consider morally and ethically acceptable. Well, you are a brand and you stand for decency, respect, and tolerance.
Be aware that any platform you decide to use, you will have to monitor for the comments where you can't disable commenting.The question though, is why would you disable commenting if you are using the space to "connect" with your community? You could lose a lot more great interaction than minimizing the perceived damage of a few.
Facebook and some other platforms do allow for profanity and spam blocks assigned right in their platforms.Other platforms, you can't control or moderate in any way from stopping the people from saying what's on their mind in the words they chose to say it.
Here is the comment policy
for the Toronto Police Service available from their Facebook Page.