Tue - 16.01.2018

May day! May day! Dealing with the hazards of social media

May day! May day! Dealing with the hazards of social media

Social media is a powerful tool for media organisations. It can be used to gather news, connect with audiences and increase the impact of stories. But social media can bite the hand that feeds it too - it can turn into an equally powerful forum to spread mistakes and amplify negative reactions to a brand.  

How can media companies handle these kind of situations to maintain the trust of their communities, deal with negative comments and ensure that they are sharing accurate information?

A panel discussion at the Social Media World Forum in London today, featuring representatives from a variety of industries including broadcast media, the police force and social networks themselves, tried to provide some answers.

Here's what they said:

 - Be prepared in advance.

As David Bailey, neighbourhood communications manager for the Staffordshire police put it, “you can’t learn social media while the streets are burning.”

If a big, negative story is about to break, you have to already have built up a connection with the community, and know how to respond to your users comments and criticisms. Colin Smith, the UK’s director of marketing solutions for LinkedIn backed Bailey up, emphasising that “people respond well if you’ve already built up trust.”

Colin Watkins, Digital Communications Manager for Channel 4 suggested that it was a good idea to imagine all the worst-case scenarios – however bizarre – and design responses to them, because one day, one of them is sure to happen. “My best advice for anyone in the industry is ‘make yourself match fit’,” he said.

- Don’t stay silent

It might be tempting when facing a barrage of negative comments simply not to respond, but there was a consensus among the panel that this was a mistake. This kind of reaction “stops the ball from rolling,” said Watkins, and it does nothing to address the negative reaction. Instead Watkins recommends that companies take their time to come up with considered responses to negative feedback, which can be shared alongside the criticism.

However, he does recommend choosing the right moment to respond to negative feedback. He gives an example: if Channel 4 is being criticised on social media for a program that has not yet been aired, it may wait until the program is broadcast before it responds to comments.

 - Take an authoritative position in the conversation

This is particularly important when dealing with misinformation, suggests Bailey. The police communications manager states that he regularly deals with rumours of crime, which turn out to be unfounded. He implies that the best way to deal with this false information is to try to take control of the conversation. In his unit, says Bailey, members of the community are encouraged to share information on the police’s own page, so that it can be corrected easily if it turns out to be wrong. Members of his team also work to respond individually to each mistaken claim, so that the rumours are dismissed before they are spread.

-       Look who is talking and where they’re talking. Distinguish noise from genuine, widespread concern

Catriona Oldershaw, the UK managing director for social media monitoring company Synthesio, says that when monitoring the seriousness of negative comments (and thus how much damage control needs to be done to counteract them), its important to look both at who is writing and where they are publishing. An individual user might have a low influence score on social media, but may still have a significant negative impact on your brand if they’re publishing on a large forum.

 - Be prepared to think on your feet

According to Bailey, responding to a social media crisis has a lot to do with professional judgement. “How you manage a problem, if you have it, shows how good you are with social media,” he says.


Hannah Vinter


2012-03-27 17:56

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