Beliefs, Lies & the Internet

 As your organization continues to grow and your online reach expands, you will encounter negativity. On the web, where the cloak of anonymity allows the worst in people to emerge, online hostility, harassment and intimidation have become commonplace.

As a non-profit organization operating in the public sphere, how should you address negative comments on social media? And when does it cross the line?

1. Do some background work.

When someone leaves a negative comment in a public sphere—such as on your organization’s Facebook page or by mentioning you in a tweet—your best bet is to respond by first taking a deep breath and calming yourself, so you don’t respond without thinking first.

Then, find out: Where is the negative comment coming from? Is it a response to a specific event or outreach program? This may provide some background to the negative comment that isn’t obvious in the remark itself.

2. Respond with humanity and positivity.

Try answering the comment with something constructive. Does someone object to one of your organization’s goals, or had a bad experience interacting with one of your volunteers? “We’re sorry you feel that way,” or, “We understand your concern,” are both great ways to start.

Acknowledge the concern, and then address it directly: “Our mission was X, Y, and Z, and our outreach program/event/volunteer work was intended to meet that goal.” Reinforcing your organization’s mission enforces a positive brand identity.

Finally, if the negative comment presents a valid concern, let the commenter know you’re addressing his or her interests.

This not only lends humanity to your organization, which makes you look better to everyone else who may see the comment (and the response), but it can also potentially turn a negative interaction into a positive one.

This is how the American Red Cross gracefully recovered from a Tweet gone rogue.

3. Deleting negative comments.

The customer is always right—to a point. While it’s important to take negative comments in stride, don’t become a punching bag. Repeated, unconstructive negative comments may warrant a different response: deletion. As the operator of a Facebook fan page, you have administrative control over what does and does not appear on your page. Hate speech and cyberbullying certainly exist against organizations and it is important to take extreme comments down.

At some point, negative comments may take up too much page real estate and you’ll want to delete them so the positive comments remain visible.

In the case of a social media platform like Twitter, where you have no control over another user’s Tweets, simply ignoring continued negative comments is a perfectly acceptable approach. Here are other response ideas.

Remember: establishing clear social media guidelines for employees or volunteers operating social media accounts is key. Don’t vent using social media accounts, which can inadvertently provide material for haters to work with.

In the face of these new online threats, it’s still important to foster brave ideas and interesting, new ways to use social media. Cultivate a social media team who can balance creativity with sensitivity to what should and shouldn’t be posted online, and can handle online hostility with calmness and composure.

As a nonprofit, what do you do when someone leaves hate speech on your Facebook wall or Tweets your organization? How do you respond?