You don't have to look far online to see why social media comment policies are necessary! Yes, social media offers amazing opportunities to connect with audiences, share opinions, and spark important conversations—but it's also a space in which bad behavior runs rampant, and democratic debate can quickly spiral into downright offensive outbursts.
No one is immune to the dark sides of social. For students in digital marketing training, an important part of preparing a communications strategy is figuring out how to tackle offensive comments from fans, followers, and the public at large.
When it comes to maintaining "social" order, and protecting your employer's brand, prevention is key. That's where the social media comment policy comes into play. When the rules are laid out, clearly and persuasively, you have a better chance of avoiding inappropriate messages—and if they do happen, you'll have a plan in place for how to respond.
More and more public figures, corporations, brands, and businesses are creating social media comment policies. After you graduate, you may be tasked with developing one, and at the very least, should know how they're put together. This post will walk you through the building blocks.
Start with a statement of company values
Most online comment policies start by laying out a set of values—the ideals the company or brand believes in, and wishes to maintain across all digital channels and conversations.
These values should outline the goals of your blog, social media channels, and any other online discussion forum. They will likely include a commitment to:
- encouraging feedback, comments, and questions from audiences
- generating insightful discussions and inspiring conversations
- creating a space where contributors feel safe, supported, and respected
- building positive relationships with fans and followers
Once you've outlined the core values, and the kind of atmosphere the company is looking to maintain across their online communities, you're ready to move on to the next step—defining the behaviors that run contrary to those goals.
Outline behaviors that will not be tolerated
Social media audiences span the globe and are by nature, incredibly diverse. No matter what kind of organization you work for after digital marketing training, you can rest assured audience members will have different ideas about what constitutes "acceptable" online behavior.
This is why it is crucial to define the online behaviors that your company will not tolerate, and give specific examples to clarify what you mean. For example, instead of writing "offensive" comments will not be allowed (leaving audiences to wonder exactly what you mean by "offensive"), you would present a list of items that will not be permitted on the company's social channels, such as:
- images or descriptions of violence
- hate speech
- defamation to a person or people
- profanity, obscenity, racism
- spam comments (attempting to sell a product or service)
While some restrictions may seem obvious, it is nonetheless important to break them down clearly, so there is no confusion or ambiguity. This way, when an audience member breaks a rule, you can simply point to your list, highlight the transgression, and move forward with any applicable consequences. Which leads us to our next comment policy building block...
Define clear consequences for breaking the rules
It's crucial to back up your social media comment policy with a detailed description of consequences for rule breakers. This is important for two reasons. First, you want contributors to think twice before posting anything offensive. Second, you want to reassure your audience that you're ready to fight to maintain a positive, respectful online space—and will act decisively when the company values are threatened.
So, when putting together your policy, you'll need to outline the steps that will be taken to deal with inappropriate content. These may include:
- immediately deleting the post
- issuing a warning to the contributor
- blocking the contributor from making any future comments (if the person violates the rules for a second time)
Ask participants to "opt in" to the social media guidelines
After laying out the rules and specifying consequences, it's time to ask your audience to "opt in" and agree to abide by the policy. This last step is important because it reminds community members that they will be held accountable for their actions online, and that by clicking their consent, they are committing to a certain standard of behavior.
One final tip
While the social media comment policy is indeed serious and necessary, try to keep it short, to the point, and not overtly threatening. Your purpose is not to discourage participation or scare off contributors. You simply want to affirm that you care about the quality of the conversations on your social channels, and are committed to making those spaces as safe and inviting as possible.
Click here to see an example of a brief yet effective social media comment policy from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
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