When Should You STOP Talking On Social?
I’ve done enough work in social media to have a pretty good series of steps to follow when things go right. Do the right things, get certain results, repeat. I use my personal social media accounts to do experiments on what is/isn’t appropriate and to try out new tools so that I don’t do stupid things with client’s accounts.
But what do you do when the proverbial feces hits the ceiling mounted air circulation device?
Usually when a company runs into problems on social media, it’s because the person behind the Twitter account typed something stupid. This is something I’ve addressed many times before, because EVERYBODY tweets stupid things from time to time. In almost every case, the answer is to delete the offending post or tweet, and then apologize. In time, it will blow over. But what if the problem is even bigger than that? What if your company causes the death of a bunch of people, like what happened to Maple Leaf Foods in 2008 when a Listeria outbreak caused the deaths of 22 people?
Or, what happens if a member of the Regina Police Service shoots a dog in a private citizen’s backyard?
First, let me be clear that I’m not passing any judgement on the police officer or the actions of the police officer. There will be an investigation, and the truth will come out. Instead, I want to talk about the way that the Regina Police Service handled their social media – specifically their Facebook account.
This was the right call in this situation.
Some people will say that this is exactly when social media should be used – so that the public can have their say and get their message out. And I agree. Except when this happens:
A Social Contract
There aren’t enough police officers, members of the military, or Boy Scouts in the world to keep the rule of law if people don’t act appropriately. We have a social contract in our society.
“Thomas Hobbes famously said that in a “state of nature” human life would be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”. In the absence of political order and law, everyone would have unlimited natural freedoms, including the “right to all things” and thus the freedom to plunder, rape, and murder; there would be an endless “war of all against all” (bellum omnium contra omnes). To avoid this, free men contract with each other to establish political community i.e. civil society through a social contract in which they all gain security in return for subjecting themselves to an absolute Sovereign, preferably (for Hobbes) a monarch.”
We have a society with free speech not because of the things our politicians tells us, but because we all agree that we should have a society with free speech. We have a society with laws because we all agree that we should have a society with laws. There aren’t enough police officers to actually ‘enforce the law’ as we like to say – just enough to enforce the law among people who have chosen not to abide by the conventions of our society.
In social media terms, our job is to engage stakeholders in discussion. But there are times when discussion is no longer what is occurring. Mr. Perrini, from the clip above, shows his location as Tuscon, Arizona. Mr. Perrini is not a stakeholder of the Regina Police Service, nor are his comments discussion – they are inflammatory and designed to evoke feelings of anger and malice. Then there are these two:
Again, these are not topics of discussion. The Regina Police Service can not debate, educate, or engage with people who make comments like this. So they did what I would do – created a post which says that they are closing the account temporarily and explaining exactly why they are doing it.
I honestly don’t know what happened in that yard – the incident is under investigation, and the truth will come out. But this post isn’t about the truth, it’s about people posting hateful things on a Facebook wall. And in your business, you don’t need to let people post hateful things on your Facebook wall. It is not your responsibility to provide an outlet for people to vent. So, let them know that the conversation has taken a turn that you cannot abide. Thank them for their opinions. And lock the wall down for the time being. Step away from the Twitter. In time, people will calm down, and things will return to normal.
So, in my professional opinion, the Regina Police Service did the right thing by closing their Facebook wall for the time being. I stated above that the incident is under investigation – and that is a key factor in all of this. The Regina Police Service is going to have to come back online and tell everyone the results of that investigation. And when they do, they are going to get a load of hate mail again. When they do that, they will need to realize that this time – they have started the conversation, and they are going to have to let people say what they want to say. Here’s how I would handle that:
Create a single post which states that you will be sharing the results of the investigation. Admit that not everyone is going to be happy with the results. Ask them to keep their comments respectful and within the post – not on the wall, or in the comments of other posts, etc. And then tell the people that their opinions are important to the Regina Police Service, but that they will only be taking comments on this post for 48 hours, after which the comments will be archived and the comments turned off. In truth, they’ll probably have to simply delete the post after recording everybody’s comments.
And that’s it. You can’t make everybody happy in every situation. Sometimes, you need to pull the plug on social media for a short time. But before you do it – you need to make sure that you are completely transparent as to why you are doing it. Even something like this will blow over in time. However, if the RPS had kept their page active, had continued to let people from around the world vent and shout, eventually someone would have done or said something which could not be forgotten – a criminal threat perhaps – and that would not have simply blown over.
As much as the internet allows us instant access to the sum of the world’s knowledge and the ability to communicate instantly with anybody, anywhere – it also affords us one other luxury: the ability to take a moment, gather our thoughts, and let cooler heads prevail. When you are responsible for a Facebook page, it is your responsibility to make sure that sometimes you give people the opportunity to cool down.