Sunday, February 12, 2012

Dealing with negative comments in social media

Ever since joining the Singapore Memory Project full-time in Nov 2011, I've been taking a closer look at social media strategies.

Being a social media practitioner, as I had for the past seven years, does not necessarily make me a good "social media strategist". It definitely helped that I was "part of the scene" but that did not automatically mean I could instantly formalise plans and approaches to fit a broader perspective.

It took me a few weeks of thinking, reading, and bouncing ideas with the team. I've paid closer attention to articles and posts relating to social media plans, strategies and so on. I intend to share more about my thoughts of the social media plan for the Singapore Memory Project. But that'll be for later posts.

Today, I came across this post today (hat-tip to @criagthomler), which led me to this diagram on the "8 responses to criticisms in online communities", by Laurel Papworth.

NegativeComments in Social Media
NegativeComments in Social Media. CC-CY-NC-ND. Originally uploaded by Laurel Papworth.

I thought the diagram summed up the various scenarios beautifully. A fuller explanation is at her post.

Here's the eight approaches to negative online comments, according to Laurel's (I've paraphrased them somewhat):
  1. Ignoring the negative commenter
  2. Taking legal measures
  3. Attempt to deflect the negative comment to a positive one
  4. Remove and/ or ban the commenter
  5. Attempt to educate the commenter
  6. Adopt a confessionary/ apologetic tone
  7. Defend the organisation's position
  8. Use humour; adopt a self-depreciative stand

Approach one through five involves more of the formal organisational tone, while six to eight shifts the tone towards a more personable one. That's according to the diagram. Which made sense, though I think in practice, the "Formal Organisational Tone" and "Personal Tone" could be flexibly used, depending on the situation.

But come to think of it, I think "Personal Tone" probably starts at three and would not be effective if attempting to convince the other party that you're serious about taking legal measures. In the same regards, it would be very difficult -- and weird -- if one employes a formal organisational tone while attempting at humour. Well, unless you want to brand your organisation that way.

The diagram makes a lot of sense. It acknowledges that sometimes, perhaps on rare occasions, a formal tone has to be adopted. The crux is in how the organisation recognises and decides when would be appropriate to switch between formality and informality.

Most would agree a credible social media plan should have a "Response Strategy". Critically, an organisation need to be able to ascertain whether it should choose to respond or not, in addition to knowing how to formulate appropriate responses. Especially for 'crisis communications' or negative sentiments. Plenty of case studies out there, detailing how organisations were seen to be caught with their pants down, with regards to "social media crisis management".

I've realised even more that an orgainsation's social media department should have a full-time staff heading it. This may sound like a self-reinforcing statement, given that I'm tasked to head the Singapore Memory Project's social media functions. Heh. It's just that taking on this role has convinced me of this.

An organisation's social media team could have a large part of its function outsourced. But decisions on communications should flow back to a staff with the appropriate level of accountability and discretionary authority.

I suppose it's possible that certain level of authority could be conferred to the outsourced staff. But if communications is key, is it then a good call to outsource a key function? Probably not.

It's not so much that one has to be a "full time staff". The closer truth is that the staffers in charge -- whether the one fronting the Twitter feed, or the department head -- have to take ownership of being the social media voice for the project/ organisation. With it comes the risk and responsibilities too.

Staffers need to have the confidence and gumption (i.e. guts and balls) in communicating with the online public.

Staff competencies come with training and staff development, in addition to the innate abilities of the staffers. Then there has to be empowerment, either through the appropriate staff appointments. Or the organisation's policy on social media engagement (which is often related to its corporate communications policy).

You can't be an effective social media staffer if you feel the need to check with your supervisor on how to respond. It's equally true that you can't do your job effectively if your supervisor requires you to clear every response before it is posted.

One of the competencies would be the ability to read correctly the sentiments expressed by the online community. And then being able to decide on the appropriate response. Or perhaps a conscious decision not to respond at all.

Simply put, the social media team has to be empowered to speak for the organisation, to varying degrees.

The speed of the organisation's response has proved to be critical factor in how the online community perceives its "social media street creds". The perceived lack of response, often just a lag of a day or two, may do equal damage to the organisation compared to saying something that the community does not agree with.

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