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Appropriate responses to social media abuse

Appropriate responses to social media abuse


Emma Maule advises on dealing with the uglier side of the online world

While social media can be a force for good, it also provides the perfect medium for the worst of humanity to express their opinions. The disgruntled, the disenfranchised, and the angry gather together in their new battlegrounds – social media’s purpose built communities – as do those who have had a bad day and just need to vent.

What might have once been a complaint over the watercooler, a rant down the pub, or even a heated argument has morphed into vicious comments which are liked, shared, and amplified until the smallest incident is whipped into a mini-fury, with the commentators gainingmore andmore social authority and online actualisation as their vitriol is distributed further. So what can you do when faced with abuse or negative comments online?

Digital strategies

For law firms, it’s important to have a written policy for managing your social media community. This strategy should include what to do in a crisis, whether that’s a cyber-security issue, firm-wide restructuring, or an error of judgement by one of your people. Lay out the steps to take and identify the appropriate senior individuals to involve in each case. If you can, hold workshops for staff to practise reactions. As well as a plan, hire the right staff for the job – you need a professional in charge of your social media, not the intern.

Many law firms devise a well-thought-out policy only to lock it away. Make sure all staff receive training, can access your policy, and are alerted to updates.

Prevent crises before they escalate. Social media lets you gather feedback from clients by listening to their online chatter. There are plenty of tools to help you. Use Google Alerts tomonitor mentions of your company and employees, and listening tools such as Hootsuite or Brandwatch to track sentiment among your audience. Make sure you include clear post-moderation guidelines about what is acceptable to post online and what will be removed. Don’t simply remove unpalatable comments if they’re not breaking these rules – resolve them instead.

Posting a steady stream of positive content will also help to mitigate any negativity that might arise when people search for you.

Reacting to negative comments

Use the following three-part rule to react appropriately to negative comments:

  • Decide whether the message is genuine. Delete or ignore hateful, abusive, or defamatory messages, or those breaking the platform’s terms of service – you do not need to respond to these. Then report, block, or mute the sender.

  • Acknowledge genuine comments, such as constructive criticism, complaints, and questions straightaway. It’s important to be timely as most users now expect a response within the hour.

  • Take the discussion offline by responding neutrally, saying: ‘Thank you for contacting us – please let us have some more info to help resolve your issue. Please DM/email us.’

In many cases, responding to the message will neutralise it, as posters do not always expect a response and will slink off.

Social media tends to bring out the worst in some, so youmay find yourself targeted by a peer, competitor, or rival. This is a tricky path to navigate, as you are still having a public conversation with this individual, however unprofessional they are being.

Two golden rules: stay calm and take the upper hand. They are unwittingly providing you with an opportunity to show the world that you don’t sink to their level.

More options for responding

  • Go on the defence: Some individuals – for example, the classicist Mary Beard and Stella Creasy MP – have reacted to trolls by retweeting the abuse and the threats to their much larger audience. The audience then defended them by attacking the troll. This is a risky strategy and one which could backfire. It might work for well-known individuals but is not recommended for law firms.

  • Use humour: When a Sainsbury’s customer complained that his chicken sandwich ‘tastes like it was beaten to death by Hulk Hogan’, customer support replied: ‘Really sorry it wasn’t up to scratch. We will replace Mr Hogan with Ultimate Warrior on our production line immediately.’ Remember that not all people share the same sense of humour, and following up on genuine complaints with concrete actions is generally advisable for firms and chambers.

Whether or not you have an active presence, social media’s global audience of billions may be talking online about you and your brand. Social media is no longer a choice – the choice is now how well you do it.

Emma Maule is head of digital at Byfield Consultancy