A sticker with an extended blue Facebook hand giving a thumbs down through the top of a laptop screen sits on my desk. Written across the top in large white letters is: “Remember: There’s a human on the other side of the screen”.
This is the tagline of a podcast called “Conversations With People Who Hate Me” by Dylan Marron which is about taking contentious online conversations offline – where he talks about his experience with an avalanche of negative comments and how it feels like hate. While Dylan is talking about personal comments, the tagline is something that I wish people understood when I managed social media.
When a charity I work at is under attack, I cannot block people. I have no choice and sometimes have been expected to read through thousands of negative and hateful comments. Whether I’ve made a mistake or whether I’ve had little to no control of the actions of the organisation I am still the person who is forced to bear the brunt of the online negativity.
In my experience, senior managers are concerned with the impact of social media on the reputation of their organisation but have rarely been concerned with the impact the negativity directed towards an organisation has on the mental health of social managers. In an age where people think calling out a brand on Twitter is the most useful and productive way to make a grievance, there is often nothing we can do but sit there and take it.
There are a few things individuals and teams can do to make this less horrible.
- Demand PR training. When entering a new organisation you can’t be expected to know how to address all topics or audiences it deals with. There could be a history with a certain audience who you assume you can talk to freely but can’t without reopening an old wound. If you’re expecting to manage social media or write content for social media, demand to have training with the PR team on audiences and subjects. Social media can often operate in a PR space so it’s important to develop a good relationship with your PR team so that you can work together when any crises arise. They’re also a good place to check with when you aren’t sure on how to respond to something.
- Find already available internal resources. I’ve never worked at an organisation where there was training or guidelines in place for the mental health of an individual managing social media – but many charities have helplines. Individuals who work on helplines may manage very difficult calls and may have training designed to help people manage their mental health while dealing with emotionally charged information or discussions. Unless there is some hard and fast bureaucratic rule about you attending that training, ask for it.
- Create or design an escalation plan. Very few people plan for a deluge of angry tweets as a ‘crisis’ that needs management. Make sure that social media is part of a crisis plan and there is clarity on when and how to escalate it to the right people. My experience has been that when it is unplanned, it gets escalated higher and higher up the ladder to people who are less and less experienced with social media and more prone to knee jerk reactions as to them Twitter can seem even more alarming than one negative article in the press.
The important thing to remember though is that If you plan ahead and make sure you delineate who needs to know what, you will be less likely to have to read through every negative comment you see and will know where you should respond and when to hold back.
- Take breaks and allow yourself to vent. If you are the only individual who manages social media, make sure there are other people on your team who are at least capable of managing it too. See if there are volunteers you can get from other departments who are able to at least read through social media posts or comments and tick them off or do any reporting as needed. Other people should be able to take over and help you for a few hours or even just an hour a day to help break up the negative monotony. Also give yourself permission to be frustrated, and complain through proper channels to the right people. Even if you think the criticism against your organisation is deserved or understandable, it can still have a negative impact on your mental health.
- Demand changes in the future. Sometimes you don’t know how ill prepared you are for a social media crisis until it happens. It’s important that you work for an organisation that is willing to learn from a crisis and change internal behaviours and processes to make another crisis in the future easier to deal with. If you work for an organisation who is eager to get the situation over with, sweeps it under the rug and doesn’t engage in discussions with you about how to either avoid or cope with a crisis better, then it’s worth you considering whether or not you want to continue working there.
I don’t know if it’s possible for anyone to prevent these types of situations, nor do I think people should avoid criticising charities on social media for fear of upsetting the individuals who manage those accounts. Sometimes very public critique from the outside world may be the only thing that spurs an organisation’s senior management to take criticism and their decisions seriously. But there are ways that we can make the lives of people who manage social media a little easier.
And remember: There’s a human on the other side of the brand.