As someone who works closely with many charities across all aspects of their social media, I often get asked about how to deal with negative comments online. During a training session a few months ago, I was asked for my advice by a small charity that had been reportedly receiving a lot of adverse comments on social media from an online harasser, or someone was making inflammatory and provocative posts.
When I sat down with them, however, the posts weren’t the usual kind of abuse – they were extremely specific, and were mostly about the quality of driving from a van which carried the charity’s branding. Although not a positive comment, the user was actually providing valuable feedback to the team, alerting them to a reputation problem offline. So when is an online harasser not an online harasser – and how can your charity deal with negative comments online?
1. Be open to feedback
The beauty of social media is that it’s a two-way conversation – and, like all conversations, not all are going to be easy. You need to be responsive and open to feedback, especially if someone is asking a genuine question in earnest. People will use social media channels to air grievances, and it’s always so much better to be seen addressing a problem, rather than sweeping it under the rug.
A few years ago, several for-profit brands (including a feminine hygiene brand) made the mistake of simply deleting posts that responded negatively to their ad campaign, which escalated the problem further, and even ended up making it into the press.
By acknowledging the problem, and resolving the grievance (privately, if possible), you can help control your narrative.
2. How do you spot an online harasser?
Not all negative comments are from online harassers – they could be from someone who is just misinformed. Some people, however, might simply disagree with the politics or mission of your organisation, or could be serial harassers. In this case, we’d recommend blocking the account, and reporting it to the platform (while keeping a screenshot) – and if they threaten anyone directly, to alert the proper authorities.
3. Have a plan of action
Prevention is always better than the cure – and having a plan of action for social media backlash is strongly recommended. Always be prepared; who is the responsible contact within your organisation to answer any queries in case there is a digital comms disaster? Who needs to be informed, and what is the process? This will help protect your organisation and its employees.
In partnership with Hollaback!, Social Misfits Media have created a flowchart (see below) for dealing with online harassment. We want to help charities and nonprofits be better prepared and empower them to be more responsive to conversations online. Hollaback! have also created some great resources about developing policies and procedures to support your team, helping you save time – meaning you can spend that time having the right conversations.
We spoke to Nick Harvey, Head of Communications for Doctors of the World, about using the guide to deal with online abuse. “We help refugees and migrants in the UK get the healthcare they are entitled to, which is a lightning rod for negative comments from some people,” says Harvey. “Having a simple flowchart that our staff and volunteers can use to check how they should respond, on a case by case basis, is a really useful tool.”