What are your social media fears?

September 24, 2019

We’ve been lucky enough to train and work with the public sector and emergency services across Canada, the US, and the UK but wherever they are in the world their social media fears have a lot in common.

We might be working with an organisation at the very beginning of their social engagement journey, or one who has social embedded throughout their agency along with an empowered staff. They've all got one thing in common though - however far they’ve come or still have to go we hear the same thing in terms of what worries them about using social media. From our sessions we’ve compiled these fears - which we encourage to be given anonymously during our training to encourage honesty in front of peers.

Do any of the top five strike a chord with you?

  • I’m scared of saying the ‘wrong’ thing
  • I’m worried about not responding quickly enough (to an incident, a public enquiry, a media request for comment)
  • I don’t know if I can get ‘management sign off’ quickly enough
  • I’m worried I might miss ‘something’ (evidence, comments, calls for help)
  • I’m not sure how to deal with criticism or negative comments online.

Facing your social media fears

We’ve trained more than 500 people at all levels in these organisations and across teams including media, customer services, IT, HR, legal, and operational - but we’ve never held a session where these fears haven’t been mentioned. The great news is that these fears are relatively easy to overcome with the combination of right tools, policy, support and training.

Here are our suggestions for facing those social media fears;

Saying the ‘wrong’ thing

If it’s your role to issue statements, speak to the public or simply ‘engage’ then your communication is your strength. Just because you’re doing it online it doesn’t mean it suddenly turns you into a litigious risk for your organisation.The fear stems from the thought of ‘going viral’. This really doesn’t happen as often as people think (or maybe secretly want to) and a good rule of thumb is; don’t say anything you wouldn’t say to someone in person if you think it’s going to cost you your job. It's also worth considering that your opinion is not necessarily more important than the aims of the organisation you work for.

Equally, if you're just dealing in fact - and you know it to be a fact that can be discussed then it's (usually) pretty safe. Policy and procedure might be boring but it does give that sense of safety and confidence - especially in organisations where policy and procedure is the vital fabric of things running well.And if you’re concerned about a team member’s first foray into using the official social media accounts of your organisation, adopt a tool that enables monitoring of posts before they go live.

Not responding quickly enough

People are worried about not responding quickly enough - to an incident, a public enquiry, a media request for comment - but what is quickly enough? Sometimes it’s pretty clear that if all else have been tweeting about a major catastrophe and you’re still showing your tweet about a drop-in event four days ago, you might well come in for some criticism. Holding lines can be exactly that - you’re aware, you’re letting people know you’re dealing with it and you’ll be posting a further update soon. Sometimes it even helps to ask people to be patient. Better that than looking like you’re blissfully unaware of the world falling apart.

Sometimes it helps to use social media as a signpost - if you can’t cope with all that’s going on because of resources - point to one page on your website and just keep that updated.It's also worth considering that a few moments of pause to check who is asking you to respond could save a whole lot of time down the road. It's very easy to be caught up in the 'now' of social but sometimes you can set things off before looking at all the facts. Breathe, think, respond.

Not getting management sign off quickly enough

This is one of the most frustrating parts of social media - it moves lightning fast in comparison to internal sign-off mechanisms. So, it’s time to be prepared. There are going to be recurring themes, questions or incidents, issues that you have to deal with. Can you get together a list of these themes and do a broad sign-off ‘in the event of’?

Yes, there will always be difficult and complicated issues that have no answers in the first instance but if you really think about it there will always be key issues that you can prepare lines in advance (and fit to each platform and translate into your legally required language should you need to). MusterPoint has a feature so you can store all these lines and pre-approved images so you’re ready to go should the worst happen.

Missing ‘something’ (evidence, comments, calls for help)

Just like if the phone goes and you’re not at your desk, or if you’re walking down the street and just miss something happening - missing something on social media is an inevitability. You can’t be all things to all people, but just like anything it’s how you deal with it afterwards that counts. In your role you are responsible for specific things and each role is different.

That’s why ensuring everyone in the organisation has an idea of what they are responsible for when it comes to social media is important. It shouldn’t just be corp comms, control room, customer services, IT - it should be everyone. Just in case, we have a function that records everything in MusterPoint meaning it can be reviewed later for post-incident debriefs and learning opportunities. You can also assign something that you see for the attention of the right person in the organisation.

Not knowing how to deal with criticism

It happens - we all get criticised and it’s sometimes hard to deal with it when it’s aimed at you or your team or department. Social media has made us feel more connected or open to people and there are fewer barriers in how we engage. Sometimes this means we are more open to criticism, and sometimes it is a personal thing, but by ensuring there are mechanisms in place to know how to deal with criticism at an organisational level we can handle it right.

What is acceptable and what isn’t, should be in line with organisational values and knowing you have the support in place to deal with it is crucial. It’s OK to step away when things get personal or traumatic and it’s important to get support from colleagues. It’s OK to remind anyone stepping over the line from criticism to abusive comments of acceptable ways to engage online, just as you would in other channels. And simple tools like our social media traffic light system and dealing with complaints flowchart can help you face into difficult comments and respond in the right way. Contact us to get copies - they’re being used by teams all over the world.

Face your social media fear, do it anyway

Whatever your worries about using social media know you aren’t alone and peers from other agencies and organisations are facing those same fears. With social media a part of everyday life the things you fear about being active online have to be dealt with head on as the conversation about your organisation and your work is happening anyway - you need to find ways to worry less and engage more.


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