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Negative comments, tweets, and posts on your nonprofit’s social media page can range from ruining your morning to ruining your career. Often the mission of a nonprofit centers around a divisive issue. You’re passionate about providing services to those you help and telling your success stories, but that segment of the population who is just as passionate about opposing you will eventually find you. You can ignore someone’s posts on their own Facebook or Twitter feed, but how you handle the situation when they bring it to your feed says a lot about you and your organization.
Don’t Feed the Trolls
Trolls are the annoying folks who only post comments to your social media updates in order to get a fight started. Sometimes they post just to get people to click back to their profile and increase traffic to their own social media pages. You can identify a troll because their comments often show a lack of knowledge about what they commenting on or it may be off topic. Don’t engage these people. If they are only ranting and not actually providing any real constructive conversation, go ahead and delete the comment and don’t look back.
Give It A Minute
As a child I had a temper. My mother taught me to hold my breath and count to 10 when I got mad. This exercise gave me time to let the anger subside and rationally think about what I was going to do or say next. In a recent presentation, an audience member asked about how to handle negative comments on social media posts. They had recently posted an image of a gay couple who had adopted from their agency. Many people posted congratulations and one or two made comments about how gay couple shouldn’t be allowed to adopt. Another audience member suggested waiting and watching. Often in these situations, your supporters and allies will step in to course-correct the conversation. A few people called out this person and many others continued with the congratulations until the negative comment was hidden from immediate view. Sometimes managing negative comments on social media means allowing your community to engage the situation so you don't have to.
This doesn’t always work, which is where the watching comes into effect. If a comment stream starts to go really far downhill really fast, it may become imperative that your organization steps in to regain control. If, for instance, in the situation above more people chimed in on the morality of the situation and the comments turned hateful, mean or threatening. Be aware of the conversations happening on your page and be ready to step in when necessary.
Let The Fire Burn
Last week I was listening to a podcast featuring Selina Tobaccowala who helped Survey Monkey in the early days. She talked about how they had many fires to put out, some which could have brought down the company and others that really weren’t that important. Design was a big fire with many complaints but compared to other fires, it was okay to let it burn a while. It wasn’t a priority.
Just this week, President Donald Trump gave a speech during the Boy Scouts of America Jamboree that garnered a lot of attention from the press and those who are not Trump fans. (Disclaimer: I’m pretty neutral on President Trump, so this isn’t about politics. I’m also not in any way affiliated with BSA and have no knowledge of their inner workings.) The response from BSA has also garnered some negative press.
In a situation like this, you have a few choices, but all of them will result in anger and frustration from someone. You can blast the President’s speech and distance yourself from it. You can support the decision to have the President speak. You can say his speech doesn’t represent your organization. You can do nothing.
Before you make a decision, know your goal. Do you want to calm donors? Do you need members or constituents to know you are on their side? Do you want to make a good statement in front of the press? Do you need a large majority of a specific audience to feel good about you? Do you really just need the support of a smaller, energized group?
It’s possible with a quickly moving news cycle, the whole catastrophe could be over quickly, however you’ll still need to address your board, donors and members for months to come. Know how important an issue is before you divert your attention to fighting the blaze.
Is It Your Fight?
When a national or local celebrity champions your cause, it usually results in many benefits including fundraising dollars and awareness among people who can help. It’s really a dream scenario...until that celebrity makes a poor choice and ends up on the evening news. What happens when a tweet or Instagram post with them promoting your organization was the last thing they posted before their arrest or firing? Maybe you even retweeted or shared it on your organization’s page.
The comments on those posts can get pretty nasty really quickly. Before you respond, take a look at the comments. If they are primarily directed at the celebrity, it might be best to let it go. Afterall, their fight isn’t necessarily yours. It’s not that you hang that person out to dry, but just realize your words might not actually help the situation but only fan the flames. (If their action directly relates to your organization, the fight then does become yours.)
Create A Crisis Plan
Every communications department should have a crisis communications plan. If yours has been collecting dust the last 10 years, it’s time to take it down and add some language on how to handle a crisis that lives out online. Social media for nonprofits must be included in your crisis plan.The tactics and timeline change here. Don’t be caught off guard.
Part of your social media management plan should include some specific language on your Facebook page about what will and will not be tolerated. That may include foul language, hateful speech, threats, etc. You don’t want it to be so strict that no one can voice opposition but make sure it’s in a truthful, constructive manner. You can then point people back to the rules of your page should a discussion become too heated or if you need to delete a comment or ban a user.
Handling a crisis on social media has no certain formula. Every situation will offer you unique opportunities to let it go or jump in and manage the blaze. Just make sure the situation is one you can, need and want to address before jumping in.