Tackling Hate in Social Media Communities

December 7, 2018

Digital Marketing By Bradley Hearn

You’re a savvy seller. You know that social media is an important part of any seller’s marketing strategy, and you’ve researched how to get started and how to avoid some of the pitfalls and mishaps that dot the landscape. You know it can be more than click rates and ad spend: it can be personal interactions that build loyalty and drive engagement. It can be relationships. It can be community.

When you create an online space, you create space for a community to grow. And in any online community, eventually you’ll find a comment that makes your eyebrows shoot up and your gut clench. It might be an angry review, and responding to it the same way you would respond to a poor review on Amazon, eBay, or your own website may be the right choice. Even if it isn’t something you can fix, a thoughtful reply will look better than deleting or ignoring it. But if it has obscene, threatening or discriminatory language, or if it’s aimed at hurting, scaring or silencing someone, you may need a different approach.

Many brands — 89%, according to the social media agency We Are Social — choose to delete or hide offensive comments because the line between debate and abuse can seem fuzzy. But this can look like censorship, and potentially misses a chance to demonstrate your brand’s values. Some brands choose to take a stand against hate speech, and some flip the hate on its head, like when Honey Maid turned a big backlash into a powerful message for diversity. How you respond will depend on the platform, your policies, and your resources.

If a comment violates the platform’s terms of service, report it using the tools made available by the platform or by contacting their Support team if the tools are unavailable; that’ll often be the end of it. But while most social media sites are taking a more active approach to tackling hate speech, there’s still a lot of disagreement about what’s offensive enough to be removed. Plan for what to do if the comment violates your policies but not the platform’s terms of service.

And be sure you have policies. You don’t have to address every issue during its fifteen minutes of hashtag fame, but your community is your space, and you decide what’s acceptable there within the bounds of the law. Most social media platforms give you a way to highlight your policies, so post them where they’re hard to miss.

When an abusive comment does pop up, the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers (ISBA) suggests that if it comes from someone with only a few followers, report it but don’t respond — silence denies them the attention they want. But silence can look like support, so in Braving the Backlash, We Are Social offers “The Three Rs” approach of grouping comments into those that can remain, those that need a reply, and those that should be reported — as well as advice on when to use which approach and how.

Regardless of the approach you take, empower your community managers to respond quickly and consistently to problems. Replying to a week-old comment brings it back to the top; if you’re going to reply, do it within 24 hours. Applying policies inconsistently erodes trust; know when to reply, delete or report. And while parroting the same reply to every comment makes it look like a bot is managing your site, a set of basic replies ready to be tailored to the situation can help your team work efficiently to keep your community thriving.

When you create a space for community, you have a responsibility to protect and support the people who gather there and a responsibility to show your brand in the best light possible. Handling hate speech the right way can help alleviate its harmfulness, cultivate your relationship with your audience, and ultimately strengthen your brand.

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