When Deleting Social Media Comments is OK

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    What needs to be removed, and how to do it without creating a crisis

    We often espouse the importance of allowing stakeholders to share their opinions and experiences, whether positive or negative, on your social media pages. Overprotective admins seeking to guard their company’s online image have sent more than one organization rushing into crisis management mode when hasty use of that “delete” button in reaction to a few agitated posters attracted the web equivalent of a torch-carrying mob.

    Sometimes, however, there are completely legitimate, even compelling, reasons to wipe a post from existence. If you’re unclear on where that fine line lies, it might be a good idea to print and distribute the following list, from a Edelman digital blog post by Phil Gomes:

    1. You Used Foul Language or Imagery

    This one is pretty obvious, so I’ll get it out of the way first. It surprises me how shocked (SHOCKED!) people are when they find that their profanity-laden diatribe “goes 404,” that is, gets deleted. Too many drive-by commenters appear to confirm in the 21st century what Captain Kirk observed of 20th-century language in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home: “Nobody pays attention to you unless you swear every other word.” Anger, though often persuasive, is not an argument.

    2. You Spammed

    That acrid smell wafting from Prineville, Oregon comes from the servers melting down at Facebook’s data center after you, a group of you, or a bot cut-and-pasted the same angry shot-off-the-bow over and over again. The community and the community manager got your point the first 174 times. Thanks.

    3. The Audience is There for Different Reasons Than You Are

    The members of the Facebook page for Gretsch Family Farms Rhubarb Co. are probably just there to talk about rhubarb, share recipes and maybe even snag a coupon or two. Granted, some community managers take the overly heavy-handed approach of deleting any such post that isn’t “on-brand” or responding angrily or sarcastically–an approach that certainly deserves some amount of ridicule. The best community managers, however, recognize a responsibility to the audience. They balance the ideal of maintaining an open forum with providing an experience commensurate with the expectations of the community members. At a certain point, the community will expect that the community manager will start to bring things back to “business as usual.”

    4. You Violated Clearly, Narrowly Drawn Rules

    For reasons ranging from regulatory matters to the lack of hours in a day, many community managers will post a series of guidelines that describe what will trigger a deletion, suspension or outright ban. Their page, their rules. Such rules might include prohibiting comments that violate the privacy of a non-public individual. For a health-related company, it could include any discussion of the off-label use of a drug or medical device, or even mentions of speculative science way outside of the mainstream. For a technology hardware company, it may be the description of activities that could cause physical harm or violate warranty terms.

    5. You Violated Facebook’s Terms-of-Service

    Superseding the company’s rules for its Facebook page are, of course, Facebook’s own terms-of-service. These terms have plenty of language around “Safety” and “Protecting Other People’s Rights.”

    Realistically speaking, regardless of why you delete a post, the author will be upset about it. The difference is that if their post is really out of line, the bandwagon won’t jump on their cause and ignite a bigger scene.

    One suggestion that we would offer is that when you know a deluge of upset folks are about to hit your page – as in any time a crisis goes public – throw some guidelines for discussion up in a visible location. Acknowledge the public’s right to comment and converse, and clearly indicate what type of behavior will call for deletion. Just as in other online reputation management situations, be up front, communicative, and use a good mix of brain and heart for judgement. It will show in your results.

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    For more resources, see the Free Management Library topic: Crisis Management
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    [Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc., an international crisis management consultancy, author of Manager’s Guide to Crisis Management and Keeping the Wolves at Bay – Media Training. Erik Bernstein is Social Media Manager for the firm, and also editor of its newsletter, Crisis Manager]