In a PRSA discussion group, Matthew Eaton, a corporate communicator at a healthcare organization, relayed that the organization finally banned two commenters who repeatedly attack the organization. The critics had also urged their private group members to join their attacks. Attempts to respond and explain the organization’s beliefs brought no relief from the ongoing assaults. Was banning the critics the right decision?
While PR and social media experts generally consider banning people from Facebook pages a last resort, sometimes continual abusive and off-topic comments leave no other option. Facebook itself recommends banning people who continually publish spam on your page and explains how.
Choose Who Plays in Your Sandbox
“It is your sandbox and you get to choose who plays in it,” writes Kellie Moeller, president and owner of Salt & Light Consulting Inc. “If the troll is on your property, page, site, etc… you have the right to choose the content and players.”
Allowing customers to voice some irritation or disapproval on your Facebook page allows them to vent steam under your watch. They can cause much worse reputational damage if they lambast your brand in a forum beyond your control, although a media monitoring tool can alert you of their criticism.
What is the best way to handle criticism on your social media accounts?
Differentiate carefully between spammers and critics. Blocking or banning spammers has few consequences and your other participants will appreciate their disappearance from the account. A different, more engaging approach is required in handling critics.
Responding promptly and professionally can diffuse complaints. Answering in a human voice rather than in stiff corporate speak is more likely to assuage feelings.
For more belligerent and irrational posts to your page, consider these options before banning someone.
If an accusation is true, correct the error. Even trolls can sometimes be correct. Fix the situation, apologize, and publically communicate how you fixed it. Humility wins over pride every time.
Ignore them. Sometimes it’s better to keep your mouth closed and make them wonder rather than open it and expose their stupidity.
Get counsel. Consulting a lawyer may be warranted, depending on the severity of the attack. Harassment is a legal charge that can be applied to trolls who step outside legal boundaries. If someone makes a threat, get legal counsel before responding.
Respond with a photo or meme. A picture may alert others in a fun way to troll behaviors. Insert a troll illustration with no words.
Bonus tip: Never click on links in a troller’s post. They are known for inserting malicious links.
The Facebook Filter Solution
Facebook’s filters, found under settings, can largely negate the need to ban commenters. Set the page’s profanity filter to strong to block common profanity. You can also add keywords you’d like to block. The filter automatically marks posts or comments as spam if they include one of those keywords. Page administrators can even upload a CVS file of keywords to block, and then choose to approve or delete comments.
If you ban someone, they know they are banned and their comments are gone. If filters block their comment, only they and their friends will see it. Nobody else will. “This way, your commenter thinks their comment made it to the Page,” says Tod Maffin, president of engageQ digital, a social media agency.
Still, Maffin says he would ban a person who clearly posts spam, such as the same comment on multiple posts, or keeps adding off-topic or unbearable comments.
The ability to add keywords to block may be Facebook’s best hidden feature, writes Chris Silver Smith, president of Argent Media, in Marketing Land. A company facing an embarrassing lawsuit could add words like: lawsuit, court case, sued, suing, law suit, legal proceedings, class action.
Posts with one of the banned keywords are automatically hidden to all except the poster and their friends. They’ll think it’s still there. Your harassers might figure out that others don’t see their posts and try alternative spellings. “So try to add in alternative spellings of banned words, and if someone’s gotten creative with their spelling to bypass the filtration, just ban them,” Smith concludes.
Appropriate management of spammers and critics on your social media accounts can help preserve your organizations reputation and make the account a friendlier place for all participants.
Bottom Line: PR and social media people have a right – and even a responsibility – to ban malevolent posters from their Facebook Pages and other social media accounts. However, they can take less drastic actions before reaching that decision. Filters that block profanity and selected keywords can help control unwanted posts. Responding appropriately to critics can diffuse anger and earn accolades.
William J. Comcowich founded and served as CEO of CyberAlert LLC, the predecessor of Glean.info. He is currently serving as Interim CEO and member of the Board of Directors. Glean.info provides customized media monitoring, media measurement and analytics solutions across all types of traditional and social media.