How to avoid an almighty social media fail

Over the last few weeks I’ve been reminded that social media can do good as well as evil.

With up to 3m slurs being shared on Twitter each week, according to figures published in Daily Mirror earlier this year, almost anything can fuel trolls’ fire to spread negative and hurtful comments. More recently the Star Wars film trailer launch triggered a series of ‘boycott’ hashtags, further proving that these groups spoil the Internet for everyone.

And, although it’s not right, in the short-term all we can do is ignore them.

There’s other instances brands need to ignore people online too. Perhaps when there’s been a crisis,  complaint or hoax (depending on the situation), adopting social media silence can be for the best – something Merseyside Police needs to consider.

This weekend, it responded to a football-related tweet. Sounds innocent? Here’s the exchange:

Merseyside Police tweet

Brandon: “Hello. I’d like to report an incident of rape that occurred at Goodison Park, Liverpool, on November 1st at 3:00.”

Merseyside Police: “Just confirm there was no actual rape. Sunderland certainly got caught with their pants down.”

Shocking right? From the start, let’s make it clear that rape isn’t a laughing matter – ever.

Aside from the fact that the very institution that’s meant to protect people from sexual crimes is playing along with this tongue-in-cheek conversation,  I still can’t understand what its social media team wanted to get out of this banter process.

All tweets, however casual, should have an objective. Whether that’s to sell, recruit, raise awareness or boost brand loyalty. There are no accidents; every 140-character construction means something. If the team attempts to excuse itself by saying it didn’t mean anything, then the police shouldn’t be using social media full stop.

So, that’s the mistake. But, what should Merseyside Police do going forward?

Join the (right) conversation
Know when it’s right to get involved. Brandon’s tweet could easily have been ignored. It was a bad joke that didn’t require a laugh.

Create a watertight social media plan for dealing with negative (and miscellaneous comments)
Having a clear process in place – including who to escalate issues to and how to respond – will reduce confusion and increase efficiency.

Encourage social media teams to test themselves 
PR matters – both internally and externally. That means everyone should consider asking themselves ‘what will people think [of me/of this]?’ before pressing the button.

No interns allowed
If social media is important enough to your business strategy or company vision, you won’t let just anyone take to the control decks. Interns want to learn the ropes, so allow them to watch and make suggestions. Once, you’re confident they understand the brand values, tone of voice and policies, then they can get involved – preferably with supervision.

Don’t rely on the delete button
We’ve all made careless typos on Twitter, but don’t rely on the delete button to get you out of trouble. Cyber space is a big place and you can assume that someone, somewhere took a screen grab. If that’s the case, know how you’re going to deal with that.

The team have since apologised to their 63,000 followers (and many more onlookers thanks to coverage on BBC News and the Guardian to name a few.) But, it’s actions, not words, which will help the Twittersphere to trust Merseyside Police again.

If you want any more advice, guidance or training, tweet me on @dmhwhite (if you’re allowed).

Merseyside Police's response


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