In most cases, a seemingly negative post actually falls somewhere in the middle of a grey area, not positive, but not truly offensive. In this post I’ve distilled the experiences of several great community managers into a spectrum of vandalism and listed how the best in the biz have handled each situation.
Before we get into the different ways you can hug it out with a digital naysayer, let’s be clear about true vandalism which should definitely be flagged then deleted as soon as possible.
True vandalism is any post which has zero conversational value or is written for the sole purpose of being shocking and/or antagonistic. This includes lewd, gratuitous, or pornographic images, personal attacks against a page member or organization, racism, sexism, homophobia, flooding, hijacking, and any content that may be deemed personally offensive to readers or is 100% irrelevant.
If it’s not true vandalism, the post will fall on a spectrum between annoying to you and seriously problematic for your institution. Below are a few examples based on real scenarios, three options for each case, and who to call in a pinch.
Friendly spam — a community member, usually an alum, hijacks your glorious comment-rich stream of scanned nostalgic archive photos with an ad about their new yoga studio or the like.
- The Sad Irony: A community manager will proudly post a “feature” about an alum’s new business one day and then later view a self-generated “ad” as an eyesore.
- Good Way to Handle: Post another compelling photo and let the comments push the ad into oblivion.
- Better Way to Handle: Zap the post. Call the alum for a quote. Polish that turd into another awesome feature!
- Best Way to Handle: Move the post to the school’s LinkedIn group. Promote the move in the comments with a link to LinkedIn, then ask the poster to delete their own post. The idea is to gently shift the community toward knowing to use the LinkedIn page.
- Who to call with Specific Questions: This one falls under the category of channel planning and is adapted from the playbooks of masters like Stephen Johnson and Jay Goulart.
Misinformation — Over zealous freshman: “So stoked for the big game at 7 tonight!” In your head: “Oh snap! The game is at 4!”
- Sad Irony: That kid will have your job in 10 years.
- Good: Immediately post a correction, both in the stream and in the comments of the original post.
- Better: Post corrections with a link to your online calendar or a story about the game to drive traffic to the place where good information lives.
- Best: All of the above, plus a blast to your community through whatever means (Twitter, email, etc.) you use to notify everyone. Chances are the kid isn’t the only person who thinks the game is at 7 and you don’t have time to track down the source of the bad info. Better to blast everyone than have the head of school come for you after a prospective donor misses the big game.
- Who to call: The person who sets the schedule. What if your little successor is right?
A Matter of Opinion — Some communities will debate about anything. Let’s say your head’s latest “consultant” convinces them to paint the main office building “an inviting shade of orange.” Some will agree it truly positions the main office building as a conceptual gateway to the enduring spirit of the school’s founders. Others will fight to the death on your social media stream until the building is returned to its rightful “Seahawk Blue.”
- Sad Irony: You hate the orange too but have to defend it.
- Good: Wait for a bit and then engage the mob, calling for a diplomatic end to the discussion. Assure them you appreciate the feedback and that the appropriate people have been notified and are taking the comments into serious consideration.
- Better: Send somewhere else! It’s a legitimate conversation, just not very flattering on an admissions Facebook page or HoS blog. Have them head over to the OpEd page on the student online newspaper or host an internal forum.
- Best: Let them debate for as long as they want (as long as it’s civil).
I know it sounds crazy, but this really is the tried and true best solution for a number of reasons. Proof is in the next two paragraphs.
EdSocialMedia Director and former Northfield Mount Hermon admissions associate Jesse Bardo grew the NMH Facebook fan page from around 500 to just under 3000 fans in two years (the page is now on the verge of hitting 5000). He said he saw no true vandalism while monitoring the huge community of active users, but noted the occasional heated debates definitely sprang up. His advice, “Let it happen because community members will come to your rescue.” Jesse says the result after a few cycles is always a flood of overwhelmingly positive posts trumpeting the school’s good qualities, ending in a peaceful agreement to disagree. He emphasizes the goal of social media pages is to create conversation among constituents that is emotional and relevant to each individual.
Jesse says the heated debate will eventually fade away, but letting it run its course, however alarming to admins, represents a significant investment in engagement which will pay off several times over in continued interaction and increased growth rate. “You might say, ‘wow, there’s a lot of negativity’ at first,” He says. “But remember, it’s really all about people joining the conversation.”
- Who to call: Jesse Bardo and Chuck Will both have tremendous experience trusting their communities to self-regulate and can attest to the benefits. They can also offer great advice on how to convince admins you should let a debate run its course, which is probably the hardest part of embracing the tactic.
The Inconvenient Truth — This topic is no laughing matter. Very rarely an institution will encounter a poster who has a valid concern which is very volatile and needs to be addressed directly. Something on the order of, “I would never go to your school because it’s only 8% minorities.” or “When are you going to tell everyone the school is built on an industrial waste site?”
The procedure for these uncomfortable situations comes straight from vandalism guru Mike Richwalsky, who developed similar tactics to those in this post for his work at the university level. He offers this at once calming and unsettling observation, “These conversations have been happening all along,” Mike says. “It’s just that now, with social media, you get to hear them and participate.”
Awesome! Sorta. Now what?
Mike’s advice is plain and simple. Speak to the person through social media as if you were speaking to them in person. Be courteous, listen to their concerns, and then try to address them as best as possible. From a strategic perspective, you are not so much trying to change the mind of the poster as you are trying to stop an avalanche of aggression from people who may agree on some level, but would only be compelled to jump in when they saw no response from a school official or an attempt to silence the whistle blower.
The good news? It’s likely you’ll go your whole career without having to deal with any of this. Remember 99% of all posts will be totally positive. Of the 1% that are less than positive there is an overwhelming probability they will fall into either the friendly spam, misinformation, or opinion category. So rock on with reckless abandon, it’s what all of the best strategists are doing!
Now’s your chance to help us! Since negativity on school social media streams is so rare, we could all use more information about real life incidents. If you have a story involving a negative post situation please take one minute to post it to comments so we can all learn from it. Thanks.
Image Banksy courtesy of wikinut.com