The first rule of community management: Do not delete

do not deleteAny community manager worth their salt would probably agree that one of the first rules of community management is this: D.N.D.

Do Not Delete.

It’s almost incredible to me that we continue to see brands screw up their social media responses. The industry is no longer in its infancy and there have been enough disasters to learn from that you’d assume anyone paying attention would know what not to do. And yet…

Paspaley was one recent example. As critical comments began to be posted on the brand’s Facebook page, in what I can only imagine to be an ill-prepared panic in reponse to the Four Corners’ investigation into the death of a young pearl diver, Paspaley employee Jarrod Hampton, the page manager deleted a number of comments.

A spokesperson brought on to help manage the crisis told Mumbrella that the comments had been “offensive, or contained swear words”. I have no evidence of this, but I do know that the comments left by members of the public claiming they were reposting previously deleted comments contained no such offensive material.

Eventually, almost a day after posting the original statement, Paspaley’s Facebook manager posted a response explaining that the brand was not able to reply to specific questions due to the pending legal investigation. Later that day Paspaley apologised for deleting comments.

It’s clear that the entire incident was a regrettable response to a tragedy from a brand which had predominantly used its Facebook page as a repository for marketing material.

But Paspaley are by far from being the only brand who have reacted in this manner. In February of this year, Westpac made the news after it deleted comments from customers angered by its increase in mortgage rates. According to a statement the bank made to Fairfax, it was to stop “partisan views’ having an impact on potential customers seeking information.

Gloria Jeans FacebookGloria Jeans Facebook

Coffee franchise Gloria Jeans is currently engaged in what seems be something of a war of attrition on Facebook, deleting comments from consumers angered by its financial support of anti gay rights group the Australian Christian Lobby. The brand claims “we have removed posts that do not meet our social media House Rules” but consumers on the page claim their comments were deleted because they expressed a point of view contrary to that of Gloria Jeans’ management.


But why shouldn’t a brand feel free to delete comments on its own Facebook page? Bear in mind that the ACCC has indicated it holds a company responsible for the content on such a platform, and in addition the fact that what legal precedent we have suggests that brands in social spaces are considered publishers, and as such are as responsible for their electronic properties, just as a paper would be for inaccuracies or libel in print. So isn’t it safest to remove content that might be risky? It is, after all, the brand’s neck on the block, not the commenters’.

This view, however, doesn’t take into consideration that while a brand on a social platform is throwing the party and inviting guests to come, what makes the experience meaningful is the attendees.

No community and there’s just a lonely host in an empty room with a bowl of dip and a forlorn expression.

sad birthday cat

Without the community, there is no value for a brand in being on social media, and ensuring that an atmosphere of trust and openness can flourish is the only way to make the value exchange work.

As consumers we permit brands to sell to us -albeit in a subtle and long-term fashion -by opting in to these communities.

In return we expect fair and straight dealing that respects our needs and rewards our attention.

I’d suggest there are a handful of circumstances in which comment should be deleted, and by laying them out clearly in your Facebook page comment policy brands can avoid the necessity of deleting at all.  Broadly, comments that are abusive, hateful, libellous or batshit insane should probably go – Facebook’s continual revisions mean that currently simply hiding posts from Timeline may leave them visible to some users. But rather than deleting them like a thief in the night, the community manager should explain why and refer to the code of conduct set for the page. If they’re spammy or off-topic, a rebuke followed by blocking repeat offenders should do the trick.

But other than that, if you ask people to tell you what they think, it seems churlish to then remove comment on the grounds that you don’t agree.

And the worst case scenario is that consumers will respond to this sort of censorship with vigorous protest – the Chapstick backlash in the States is a good example of how damaging that can be – Adweek’s Tim Nudd described the results as a “social media death spiral.”

A negative comment is the beginning of a conversation; it’s a brand’s opportunity to respond to criticism in an open and direct fashion. And it’s free market research to boot.

So what are the other essential rules of community management?

I asked some of Australia’s best and brightest community wranglers, and this was the general consensus, (in no particular order).

1. Be human
2. Have a clear objective and reason for being there
3. Listen
4. Love the data
5. Do not delete

Are there any other fundamental principles we’ve missed?

Cathie McGinn 


  1. paul
    13 Jul 12
    12:34 pm

  2. I don’t think there is anything wrong with deleting comments especially if I am using Facebook as a pure marketing tool. If people want to make complaints then they go through the contact page / numbers and go through those channels.

    Personally I see a Facebook page as just an extension of my existing marketing collateral. If people are having a go at my station / magazine selection etc then I don’t think that should be shown on the wall of the facebook page. If it is constructive criticism of a product or a lack of service then i think it’s ok to keep the comments on. It’s only when things become personal or people making judgement calls based on misinformation that I think it’s ok to remove the comments

  3. Zac
    13 Jul 12
    12:41 pm

  4. I agree with much of the specifics in this piece but I disagree with the broader point that community managers should never delete comments.

    There are many situations where it’s entirely appropriate to delete a comment.

    A site such as Mumbrella should, and does, delete comments. It’s actually not your right to be able to say whatever you want, contrary to what some posters think. It’s a privilege to be able to comment and debate on a site such as this or other high quality sites. And not deleting tasteless comments detracts from the great ones.

    On our own sites, we delete thousands of comments each month. And the result is a far better site (we receive around 40,000 comments monthly).

    How this applies to the brand examples above is much more complex. But to say the first rule in community management is not to delete is, in my opinion, simplistic and in fact wrong.

    If you want to see what happens when you don’t delete comments, just look at youtube comment threads.

  5. Barb
    13 Jul 12
    12:49 pm

  6. Facebook is not a pure marketing tool but a customer engagement tool. It’s not one way communication. Once on there, you need to engage with the good and bad from customers. I think the only way you can delete without backlash is by pulling out the “refer to our policy” guide. This is the only way to control the conversation (and yes, i used the word “control”!) :-)

  7. Em
    13 Jul 12
    1:13 pm

  8. Hey Paul, isn’t that censorship? What about people being free to say what they want? You don’t go around putting muzzles on people too, do you?

  9. Evelyn
    13 Jul 12
    1:21 pm

  10. Hmm…I think it’s not so black and white. I do get how some consumers may see deleted comments as the company ‘hiding’ negative feedback, but at the same time I see it as ‘damage control’. I know that I have been turned off from visiting a company’s FB page because of the constant complaints.

    Another thing, there’s a fine line between “complaint” and defamation. Many comments that I come across are on the verge of defamation. Comments like that can be damaging to a company because it turns into a snowball effect and legally a company could sue someone for taking it too far.

    In America it is ‘free speach’, but in Australia it is seen as defamation.

  11. Brendan Yell
    13 Jul 12
    1:31 pm

  12. I agree with Paul, there are plenty of situations where it is appropriate to delete a comment on YOUR brands page. I know some brands that delete EVERY negative comment, even though if they had read the responses, other customers had already come to that brands defense or corrected the mis-information. We delete comments that are designed to be divisive and argumentative, as we believe it just leads to hurtful volleys of abuse between people that don’t even know each other.

    Em, it might be censorship but they are people can say whatever they want in plenty of other places.

  13. dont delete me
    13 Jul 12
    1:36 pm

  14. Paul,

    How you use facebook is not how the Public use Facebook. if you want to play in that space you must accept the good along with the bad. You cant play in social media and expect everone else to want to play by your rules.

    Social media is a two way conversation that is happening whether you like it or not. You can choose to participate in this, but the conversations are going to happen with or without you.

    If you cant accept that then perhaps you should not be using Facebook as a cannel to communicate with the public and instead keep it to your own website.

  15. Barb
    13 Jul 12
    1:49 pm

  16. What’s the point of those brands being on Facebook if they delete comments they don’t like (Brendan)? Why don’t they just produce an email newsletter instead to their “happy” customers?! Seems a bit odd to me, and I would think that the smart customers would see through this type of communication on a social media site. It can only last so long before those brands face a PR crisis.

  17. Alison
    13 Jul 12
    2:09 pm

  18. I have to echo Zac’s articulate response. I think this also serves to further simplify the community management role which is already misunderstood. (Sorry Cathie *guilty face*).

    Moderation is a vital part of the community management role, it creates tone and builds culture. It’s two fold – it removes content but it places emphasis on what you leave behind. Poor experiences drive away productive participants.

    Whilst it’s absolutely true that you should explain why you remove comments though I think the infractions mentioned failed to showcase the depth of legal understanding a community manager should have – defamation, copyright, contempt of court, family court, harassment, discrimination etc. Beyond legalities there’s a huge grey area around content that might need to be removed – especially if you’re working with high-risk or controversial topics.

    One only needs to look at what’s been happening to Anita Sarkeesian (@femfreq) to understand the need – and obligation – to moderate across the social space. Sure most that hate campaign is outright illegal.. but it’s a sad indication of the unmoderated wasteland out there. You too YouTube.

  19. Nicky Bryson
    13 Jul 12
    2:12 pm

  20. Thanks for this article, Cathie. Very interesting perspective.

  21. One size fits no one.
    13 Jul 12
    2:27 pm

  22. Community moderators and discussion threads work much better when they’re set within certain boundaries. I agree with Zac and others that conversations are much better when they’re managed, as opposed to just left alone.

    To Barb’s point, (and not to draw the ire of Barb but) the argument “What’s the point of those brands being on Facebook if they delete comments they don’t like (Brendan)? Why don’t they just produce an email newsletter instead to their “happy” customers?!” If we’re going to be completely honest, this is a bit of a strawman argument. How many companies publish every piece of feedback they get via email, or the post? Newspapers don’t publish every letter to the editor. Every phone call a company receives isn’t posted online to be listened to.

    As the article starts off with “the industry is no longer in its infancy”, too right. And with a maturing platform come adjustments. To expect social media to be a ‘special’ place where anyone from anywhere can post anything from incredibly positive feedback to some of the most filthy and foul tirades imaginable isn’t realistic. For example, just the other day mUmbrella noticed that an excplicit image had been posted on a certain brands Facebook wall – should they have deleted or not? How can one argue for and against the same moderation behaviour from a company? Is an explicit image bad enough to moderate, but not an explicit word?

    One size, fits no one.

  23. Norelle Feehan
    13 Jul 12
    3:14 pm

  24. I agree with all those who think it fair and better to manage the comments. Especially on Facebook where you are supposed to be a ‘friend’ or ‘like’ them. the internet has unleashed some sad and angry souls, mostly anonymous.

    There’s a top US blog, Big Picture (Barry Ritholz), and in his terms of engagement to readers he basically says something like … ‘ if you don’t like what I cover here or my opinions, go start your own blog (which by the way, is hard work)’ I’m with him on that – it’s sort of like it’s my party and I’ll invite who i want to.

  25. Hannah Law
    13 Jul 12
    3:28 pm

  26. Good list Cathie! Another one I’d add to the list is setting expectations with the community – help them understand what the page is for, how it should be used, expected behaviour, and who will be moderating it at what times of the day/week.

  27. Martin
    13 Jul 12
    4:03 pm

  28. Just because it is called Facbook doesn’t mean it’s not a forum. People will flame and be flamed. There will be haters and advocates. Forums have rules and the users respect the rules.
    Unless I am mistaken Dell has used the “ihatedell” forum to listen to its customers and improve the customer experience. When problems are resolved due to the forum Dell are credited. Smart cookies.
    Whoever said “the negative comment is the start of a conversation” is correct. But if people get abusive outside of the forum policy then, delete the post, explain why it has gone as “moderator”, warn them and if they do it again block them. It’s not Rocket Surgery.
    (NOTE” if anyone disagrees with me then I am deleting this comment)

  29. Meljay
    13 Jul 12
    5:29 pm

  30. In a community meeting, rather than, say a “party”, you don’t get to air personal attack and vitriol, use offensive language or racist or sexist terms. While clearly not the same as a community meeting, “batshit insane” should be deleted, and the legalities are not to be under-estimated. As a company director, I could be personally sued for what goes on in our social media. But i posted complaints on sites of some household names, respectful but pointed, and felt that was an appropriate use. These were not deleted. In an era of reputational risk and heightened sense of corporate social responsibility, social media empowers us to pressure bad corporate behaviour.

  31. Warren
    13 Jul 12
    6:24 pm

  32. Yep,

    Have to agree with the majority of comments above.

    It’s fine to have a rule of thumb. I’ll let a point of view stand. I think it’s great people can have their say about a brand or product on the page. Beats calling the service centre. We should encourage that. But when comments are factually incorrect and intending to harm the brand or page I’ll take them down.

    Those with a grievance are free to start their own page and put hundreds/thousands of hours into building something with their own perspective. I might even visit and comment on it.


  33. Please Delete Me, Let Me Go...
    13 Jul 12
    8:33 pm

  34. I think it’s totally acceptable to delete comments. Much like in life, some people criticise you and are worth listening to, engaging with, or letting your fans engage with them. Some aren’t in it for the conversation, they just want to spout shit on your page and leave.
    “Your customer service isn’t good enough – I waited 2 hours for a call the other day and won’t use you again” – Respond and leave.
    “U SUCK” – Just delete. It’s adding nothing to the conversation. Feel free to note the feedback first though!

  35. Jules
    13 Jul 12
    9:36 pm

  36. I was one of the people who left a comment on the Paspaley page – it was subsequently removed and I was blocked from making any further comments. I went to great lengths not to swear, use capital letters (the equivalent of shouting on Facebook), or make remarks which were untrue. I merely expressed my disappointment at their lack of workplace safety measures and suggested they put basic safety before profit. A friend of mine had her comment deleted after writing “pearls, schmearls, I won’t wear Paspaley” – hardly abusive comments. Paspaley chose to delete all comments made the night of the 4 Corners episode (yes, every single one) – the sign of a company which has something to hide. Want to see a good example of a company which responds well to negative comments in the social media space? Check out Virgin or Jetstar – both these airlines handle negative social media feedback very well.

  37. David
    13 Jul 12
    11:37 pm

  38. Great article Cathie. Its recieving great praise over on the Boycott Gloria Jeans facebook page and I couldn’t help but agree with your points and the points of commenters for pro-DND.

    Marketing is all about presenting the best face to the public in order to impress, attract and keep the consumer attention focused on your brand and product (and away from competitors). Large organisations are no longer able to be the faceless producer/seller when they choose to use a social media/networking hub for marketing promotions. The key word is ‘social’ and the organisation creates a voice for itself by using this website (a great example is the QLD police force facebook media page).

    I believe it is a bad decision to ban, block or delete comments from customers who want justification for their bad experience[s] (myself being banned from posting a negative comment to GJ’s page). *ANY* form of social networking these days is going to become a forum of mixed ideas and opinions [just look at the comments on this page] … and a smart marketer will use this to his/her advantage. I don’t believe a smart marketer simply deletes comments. Using the above QLD Police service example, I have seen the page administrator reiterate the specifics, hows and whys of traffic legislation to disgruntled or confused commenters in order to “clear the air” and they regularly post “Legislative Q&A with an expert” threads. They use the soapbox as a chance to listen but also be heard.

    Deleting comments creates the connotation of the ‘faceless organisation’ and the attitude of ‘Your with us; or your against us’. I don’t believe that is a healthy attitude for a marketer to have or portray. Creating a page where a company not only promotes its brand but actively listens and interacts with the public is what builds customer confidence and respect. KIA is a great example of an organisation which interacts with its facebook followers for no reason other than to create dialogue.

    I shall get off my own soapbox now. This is, after all, only my opinions. Thanks!

  39. theperfectnose
    14 Jul 12
    1:59 pm

  40. I’ve had my comments deleted off the Gloria Jean’s page and no way was I hateful or negative. I simply stated that I would not be buying their coffees as I did not wish to contribute to bigotry and homophobia. Not only did they delete my comments they banned me from further comments, which is awesome because it just proves they’re in the wrong and can’t come up with an acceptable response to being called out as bigots. So they delete the call out. What they can’t do (and have forced by deleting comments on their page) is block callouts on all the other pages on FB, which is where everyone is now commenting. I.e. I just make an anti-GJ comment on my own timeline and it adds to the negativity surrounding the brand online. Great job Gloria.

  41. Peter
    15 Jul 12
    6:16 pm

  42. Gloria Jean have acted appallingly. The attempt to “ride out” the current problems they face is just farcical. On facebook, in my respectfully worded post, they did specifically advise my in a post, that they would get back to me. That was a month ago. They advised those with concerns to email them directly. I have sent 4 follow up emails to my ignored original email which was sent a month ago – for all of them to be ignored. This organisation is doing itself no favours…

  43. Anna
    16 Jul 12
    8:22 am

  44. It’s the company’s prerogative to manage their channels to best represent the brand (including social media). However, unless the comment is “abusive, hateful, libellous or batshit insane” it is an opportunity to respond to customer feedback – which they have provided in their medium of choice.

    Deleting comments creates their impression that you don’t care, are hiding something or simply don’t want to engage with them. And for every customer that openly provides feedback there are many who are simply moving their business to your competitors.

    This is an invitation from the customer to engage in conversation, why not take advantage to respond to the feedback in an open forum.

  45. Elizabeth Flaherty
    16 Jul 12
    8:59 am

  46. It was interesting observing the social media outcry on Channel 10’s facebook page during the fire storm that broke out after the base comments made on The Circle regarding VC recipient Ben Roberts-Smith. I wtinessed perfectly polite but critical posts deleted…but interestingly the crass, racist or threatening remarks were not deleted. People on facebook were asking why this was occuring and then of course their comments were deleted. The balance of the comments was clearly being manipulated by Channel 10 and a few days later Channel 10 used these in their PR response of “stop picking on Yumi”. Channel 10 were highly criticised for their inappropriate comments during the program, with no moderation or deleting of the staff members involved with the comments, yet their response and management of the social media backlash was just as unethical. It was also interesting that the “old media” seemed threatened by the “new media” mechanisms of direct feedback from their audience. Something good media of all forms and indeed businesses should take heed from, not censor and manipulate.

  47. Business Bull541t Bingo
    16 Jul 12
    9:32 am

  48. Rule 101 for community managers:

    Do not post “reach out to me” when engaging your audience. Leave your text book jargon in the classroom and be real please.

  49. anna
    16 Jul 12
    10:43 am

  50. Having worked in a fairly controversial area in sport we took the attitude we didn’t delete comments unless they used profain language or were libellous .

    I had someone accusing a horse trainer of using IPO on his horses, I deleted the comment and contacted the person via private message and said why I’d deleted it and if they did it again I would have no choice but to block them.

    They said fair enough and never had another problem for them.

  51. Daniel-Jacob Santhou
    16 Jul 12
    10:51 am

  52. Interesting Article. I enjoyed the responses better.

    The beauty/or beast of any given topic like this comes back to the simple fact that:

    facebook, twitter etc… are just platforms.

    The brand or account user, decides what they wish to do that. There are no restrictions or boundaries unless otherwise stated by the top guys.

    Sometimes, people need to put themselves in a Brands’ shoes:

    “If my friend posted something negative about me, it ruins my reputation, or that might not be true…I don’t wan others thinking this about me… How dare they… I thought we were friends…Say good things about me, post pictures that make me look good, share things I will be interested in”…


    A brand is a reflection of the people that manage and run it.

    It is also an extension of a story being told. How well we tell that story truly defines our intended message.

    Facebook, is just an avenue to disseminate that message.


    Daniel-Jacob Santhou

  53. Nathan
    16 Jul 12
    11:40 am

  54. DJ, medium is the message.

    If brands want to just broadcast a message, there’s plenty of channels for them to do it.

    A brand is not your ‘friend’. Perspective is needed. We are on these channels to make a connection with a consumer, to influence their connections with our brands in the hope that it will influence their purchase decision (or their friends) at the check-out – and the medium defines how we do this – through conversation.

  55. David Olsen
    19 Jul 12
    9:19 am

  56. While I’m wholly in the ‘let the community debate and the truth rise to the top’ school of community management, for both reasons of legality and extreme trolling or situations where the community could be at risk of violence or online attacks by other members where deletion of some comments on a case by case basis is needed.

    In order to establish and maintain a consistent history of action in these cases, be as transparent as possible and establish the community rules that detail the action you will take BEFORE an incident takes place.

    Our community rules could probably do with a refresh now I look at them, but if anyone wants to steal them to use elsewhere, feel free to do so:

  57. Jerry
    20 Jul 12
    3:03 pm

  58. What was silly about this whole debate was the hypocrisy of those claiming Gloria Jeans was deleting their posts, while the whole time advocates information and factual information was being deleted consistently from the ‘Boycott Gloria Jeans’ Facebook page. Social media is just giving minority too much power – and from a marketing point of view – a vocal 10 people can ruin a marketing campaign aimed at thousands from social media. There needs to be more accountability for whats said in social media in contexts such as these by the users of the social media.