Blane Warrene

Tackling Vitriol in Your Digital Spaces

Blane Warrene has contributed a great deal to the spread of social media among financial advisors—both in terms of educating advisors and developing technology for social media archiving. In this guest post, he suggests techniques for handling nasty comments on social media websites where you have some control over what gets posted.

Tackling Vitriol in Your Digital Spaces

By Blane Warrene

Unpleasant, angry, and hateful speech doesn’t get the attention it deserves in discussions of social media. If you plan ahead, you can handle these situations better. This preparation will make your reaction much more thoughtful when you tackle vitriol in your digital spaces. When I say “digital spaces,” I include blogs and the online communities of Facebook, Google+, and LinkedIn. I’m not including communities that you create specifically to discuss your business services.

Start by understanding human nature. Many years of tradition and training often suppress emotional reactions well, in most cases, ensuring civility prevails. But not always. It is in our nature to be passionate, angry, protective and aggressive—otherwise we would not be human. To our credit, most of us have also learned to manage these powerful emotions. Remember the difficulty of taming emotions helps with your preparation.

Here are some key steps you can take:

  1. Declare your policy candidly—be clear with your participants about what you do and don’t allow as conversation in your digital space.
  2. Use moderation tools—groups (and all community-based tools) offer moderating capabilities, both manual and automated. Turn them on and make use of them to allow you efficient, effective management of that engagement.
  3. Be fair in your moderation—offer a second-chance edit on posts or comments you consider inappropriate. Only block or remove group members who do not follow the rules after a second chance.
  4. Network with your frequent participants—the ultimate goal of being social in business is developing new relationships. You may find individuals who are interested in contributing more regularly, aiding in moderation, and promoting your group.
  5. Follow your own rules!—you are not exempt from following the policies you put in place. Otherwise you will lose credibility and your group will devolve into something less meaningful.

Policy Suggestions for Your Digital Space

What belongs in your policy declaration? I suggest making the following points to your group’s participants:

  1. No self-serving veiled commercials—let your space be a reprieve from commercialism, where participants can learn and help one another. Remind participants they can of course take techniques they learn in your space and use them in their commercial pursuits.
  2. No posts that lead to paywalls or data collection—if someone is giving away a white paper – truly give it away in your group, otherwise don’t post it. Remember #1.
  3. Focus—ask your participants to focus their comments on the purpose of your space. Focus helps the conversation provide more value. You’ll make this easier for them if you clearly define the purpose for your space.
  4. Show respect—remind your participants to act respectfully. There is rarely unanimous agreement on all topics. If you foster civil discussion, the debates and disagreements should also remain civil.

Remember that one of the goals for your online space is to foster conversation and idea-sharing. These rules will help you to achieve this goal. A focused, engaged digital space can be very rewarding for you and your participants.

Handling Complaints about You or Your Company

Complaints aren’t the same as vitriol. It is important to fine-tune your customer service radar when considering what might seem like negative engagement. If a closer look shows that unfiltered anger stems from dissatisfaction with the service or products delivered by you or your organization, then you need to respond with procedures that you’ve developed in advance.

Acknowledge those comments or posts and then take them offline—not to hide them, but to ensure they are addressed appropriately. If your interaction allows you to respond to the original negativity with a follow-up post, then do so.

When You Can’t Control Posts or Comments

Most of us participate in digital spaces that we don’t manage. What should you do if you’re disturbed by comments or post in a group over which you exercise no control? The answer depends on the goals of your participation in those spaces.

Often saying nothing is the best approach because you’re not fueling a fire.

If you must respond, remember that civility rules the day. The passions that drive us, when governed, can feed creativity and thoughtful response. This can have a positive impact on difficult discussions.

Your polite response means that members of your network will consider you to be fair and balanced, even when they disagree with you. This gives you a voice in important conversations. Reasonable disagreement can lead to meaningful outcomes in many cases.

When faced with pure anger and hateful speech, there are not many ways to facilitate a positive outcome in an online discussion. The engagement can be taken offline where cooler heads can prevail. Or, when faced with unapologetic trolls, you should refrain from engaging with the provocateurs. An online stream of tit for tat will not benefit anyone.

Finally, always consider our own history of failures when you feel the urge to strike online at an individual or organization that has erred publicly. Taking the higher road is never a sign of weakness.

Blane Warrene writes and speaks on the balance of marketing, privacy and digital communications in financial services. He co-founded Arkovi and can be found at @blano on Twitter.

4 replies
  1. Theresa Hamacher
    Theresa Hamacher says:

    Great post! Very workable guidelines. The only thing that I would disagree with is your ban on posts that lead to data collection. At NICSA, we’re ok with disclosure that “registration is required.” Readers can decide for themselves whether it’s worth it or not.

  2. Susan Weiner, CFA
    Susan Weiner, CFA says:

    Blane and Theresa, I also was a bit surprised at Blane’s suggestion to avoid content that requires data collection. However, I agree with the ban on content behind paywalls–paywalls are so frustrating. Also, nobody likes the relentless self-promoters.

  3. Blane Warrene
    Blane Warrene says:

    Hi Theresa and Susan. For clarity – my ban on data collection was focused on communities you would manage like a group or other curated digital gathering. There I believe you prohibit paywalls of any kind. However I’m in no way opposed to paywalls or email gateways for marketing purposes.

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