The first rule of community management: Do not delete
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.
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.
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
4. Love the data
5. Do not delete
Are there any other fundamental principles we’ve missed?