ANTI-SOCIAL MEDIA: ‘Yes, but what happens if people shout at us?’

It’s the standard question people ask wavering at the side of the social media pool wondering whether or not to dive in on behalf of an organisation.

As they consider putting their toe in they’ll think the water will be populated by sharks.

They’re organisation will be deluged with abuse and it’ll all be their fault for having the temerity to start a Facebook page for a council. Or a museum. Or a park. Or whatever.

Maybe, it’s better just not to take the risk.

Maybe it’s a bigger risk not to dive in and swim a few strokes.

In sweariness, reality is different. Even with the weather at minus nine degrees with schools at the risk of closing the sweary ranters are pretty infrequent. I can recall two in three years looking after a corporate Facebook and Twitter.

There’s not many councils that would tear out all the phones and throw them into a skip because someone rang up and was hostile.

So, why should it be any different with Facebook and Twitter? Particularly when it’s so infrequent.

That’s not to say everyone on the internet using a corporate social media channel is sweetness and light. They’re not. But they are in the minority. It’s important to have something in place to act as a Linus blanket.  Especially for the less digitally savvy members of staff who may be called upon to update and monitor a Twitter presence.

Think how your telephone policy works. Or in the front office. At the sharp end most people will be happy to talk to people if they are angry but won’t if the persopn they’re talking to swears.

So, how should you behave? For me, exactly the same as offline. Be polite and don’t get into a blazing row, for a start-off. Having a row in 140 characters is never a good idea.

Criticism is okay

Social media should not be a one way channel where you tell people about the great job you are doing. For it to work it needs to be a two way thing. People tell you if they like something. They’ll be quicker to tell you if they don’t. That’s life. The cracked pavement reported on Twitter should be listened to. The key is how you respond.

Here are two links that may be a starting point.

I’ve been meaning to blog both links for quite literally ages. But maybe that’s the point. Both stand the test of time.

What the Civil Service says:

The Home Office’s code for civil servants was shaped by Tom Watson MP when he was a minister.

Tom crowdsourced what went into the code. In other words, he asked people what should be in it. He stuck up a blog post which you can read here and shaped it after listening to opinions. The finished advice for civil servants is here.

There are five points all of which are common sense. They are:

    1. Be credible
      • Be accurate, fair, thorough and transparent.
    2. Be consistent
      • Encourage constructive criticism and deliberation. Be cordial, honest and professional at all times.
    3. Be responsive
      • When you gain insight, share it where appropriate.
    4. Be integrated
      • Wherever possible, align online participation with other offline communications.
    5. Be a civil servant
      • Remember that you are an ambassador for your organisation. Wherever possible, disclose your position as a representative of your department or agency.

What the Citizenship Foundation says:

The very excellent Michael Grimes from the Citizenship Foundation drafted an engagement flow chart a while back. It stands the test of time. You can find it here.

Based on a US Air Force template it softens the language and makes it more politely Anglophile.

It follows a flow of advice on what to do and how to respond online.

Point scoring sarcasm can’t really be engaged with meaningfully, Michael says. Criticism broadly can.

If you’re working with social media as a conversational tool it’s well worth a look at and I’ve lost count of the number of people I’ve recommended it to.

Creative commons credits:

Swimming pool:

Join the Conversation


  1. Great post Dan, and thanks for the link to Michael’s flow chart which I will pin up by my desk.

    I’ve quite a lot of experience of dealing with this sort of thing, as its me who gets to write a lot of the online responses to stuff people say about Socitm and the services we provide for local authorities.

    I agree that the really shouty people are actually quite few, although when you get two or three ‘having a go’ at once, and your bosses get nervous, you really can feel under siege.

    That’s when you need to take a deep breath and read the above advice. Several times. And then make sure you show what you have written to colleagues that are also experienced in customer relations. Then sleep on it. Then read it all afresh, before hitting send or submit.

    The other thing to say is that other blog or twitter readers, the ones who typically don’t enter the fray, do know when someone else is being unreasonable and unnecessarily aggressive or ranty. Quite often people come up to me and said things like: ‘I saw soandso having a bit of a go at you – they do like to go on, don’t they?’.

    Other times people will pitch in and post a response showing that they disagree with the criticism, or that they think someone has gone too far.

    Which is not to say that you don’t also need to be prepared to be honest and admit it if you’ve made a mistake or got things wrong, or expressed something badly. This can be difficult if its not you personally that is responsible for the policy or whatever, and you have to persuade colleagues of the need to engage and to be clear and straightforward in doing so.

    So, its not easy, this engagement thing. But constructive criticism can actually be invaluable, certainly in helping clarify a position or issue, and sometimes in changing it. And, like a lot of things that take us out of our comfort zone, it can be hugely rewarding.

    1. Great comment, Vicky. Thanks for taking the time to post it.

      Michael Grimes’ flowchart is an important contribution to encouraging online conversations and he should be really proud of it.

      The BBC talk about a 20 minute response to online discussion when their whole website down as being too slow.

      They then followed it up with a liveblog of what they were doing to fix it.

      There’s no way in the world most organisations can manage that speed. However, maybe there is something to learn from posting updates as you wrestle with the bigger picture.

      But you do make a good point – supported by the flowchart – that sometimes maybe reflection is needed. Count to ten. Roll with the punches. It’s not personal, tell yourself.

      Over a period of time you build up more experience of when and how to respond.

      My uncle once told me to never argue with an idiot. They drag you down to their level and to a passer by its just two idiots arguing.

      Thankfully, idiots are very, very rare but the Citizenship Foundation guidelines really formalized that advice and make it easy for the less web- savvy and more experienced hands alike.

  2. Nice one Dan. I’m really dead chuffed that the politicians and senior management at Walsall Council support what we’re all doing on the toes in the water front.

    What cheers me more though is that some of the “non-believers” are getting on board. After showing our Regulatory Services Manager the new Walsall Public Safety facebook page this morning, he asked if we can target urgent messages geographically. From building relationships with local bloggers, yes we can. For example, if our Trading Standards folk know of some scammers door-knocking in Pelsall, we can let know. And ditto for Brownhills folk via .

    I’d love to see more local blogs get going. We can work with them i think.

  3. I was just re-reading this before adding a link to it as a very useful post for those in cultural institutions who are new to social media.
    Listening, really understanding what the other person is communicating, is important, whichever medium of communication is used.
    Took me ages to work out why people thought I was so radical when I was in my first job, and that it was because I wanted to have a dialogue with them.

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