6 Tips for Handling Sensitive Topics on Social Media

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Whether politics, religion or an unfortunate tragedy, it’s difficult to know how to handle sensitive topics on social media platforms, and tougher still when managing social profiles for your brand, or a client’s brand. As a professional who’s active in social media, and someone who has managed multiple social media profiles for clients, it’s important for me to know how to behave professionally not only on my own profiles, but in my clients’ best interests. So, I’ve pulled together 6 simple rules that can help you navigate the complexities of sticky situations in the very public eye of social media.

Rule #1 Sit Tight. When tensions are running high and news first breaks, the best thing to do is sit back and watch what happens. I know the first instinct is to jump in and make your opinion known, but especially in light of Twitter’s ruling that every single tweet can be searched and found, I promise you it’s best to stay silent for the time being. Just as you learned early on in your career that the first time you sit around a conference table at a client meeting, it’s best to take it all in. If you have something constructive and positive to say, then by all means, go ahead. But if you’re going to speak out with a one-sided opinion without knowing all of the facts and hearing both sides of the full story, it’s best to stay quiet. Don’t speak up just to be heard. It’s an amateur move that will cost you later.

Rule #2 Know this: just because people don’t agree with your views does not make them bad people. You can, and should, agree to disagree. This is what makes intelligent conversations. It’s what this country was founded upon. And it’s a sign of intelligence. So, don’t prove us wrong here, folks. You are intelligent. Opposing views are okay – good even! Don’t alienate a client or potential client by being disrespectful of their views. Be careful with your word choices. I saw a tweet from one young professional that read “This guy is an idiot.” She had included a photo of the “idiot” in question. I’m quite sure she alienated half her followers that day. Remember what your mother told you… If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. Not sure if it’s nice? Refer to Rule #1.

Rule #3 Keep It Separate. If you simply must speak out, stick to your private social media accounts. This is why I’ve always said it’s best to keep personal and professional accounts separate! Alienating friends is one thing, alienating your clients is quite another. Unless of course your friends pay your mortgage.

Rule #4 Rise Above – The John O’Leary approach. Some of you know him. Many of you have heard of him, or have read his blogs. http://rising-above.com/the-movement/ If you haven’t, I highly recommend you take a moment to do so. Here is someone who has clearly been through a great deal in his own life. Yet, he has turned his own tragedy into a life that means something and he knows that people are listening to what he will say and write about when the proverbial shit hits the fan right here in our own town. And he did speak up. But he did not take a side, at least not publicly. Certainly he has a position. But what comes through loud and clear on his blog, his website and each and every public profile is this: Compassion. For both sides. For all people. It makes everyone sit up and listen. Consider this tactic if you must speak up. Take a bold stance… for the middle. And stand on a platform of love and understanding. Amidst all the violence and hate, choose instead to bring a voice of hope and compassion to the masses.

Rule #5 Don’t Fake It. If your clients look to you for advice on how to handle the situation, and you aren’t sure yourself, don’t fake it. Tell them you’ll get back to them once you’ve considered all the possibilities

. The last thing you want to do is make a rash decision just so that you have something to say immediately. Give yourself time to weigh the pros and cons. I have a client whose twitter feed was exploding with hate from both sides during one media maelstrom. We chose to remain silent about the events because A) my client has nothing whatsoever to do with politics. And B) my client has customers on both sides of the debate. It does no good to alienate anyone and we can see both sides of the issue. Regardless of what my client’s personal beliefs are, those beliefs have nothing to do with the products he sells and the customer service his company provides. What we did do, and this is very important is…

imagesRule #6 Review and Revise! Take a close look at any posts and tweets you have scheduled that may be taken the wrong way during this time. For example: Let’s say you are XYZ Laundry detergent company. And you have scheduled tweets to go out every day of the week. On the day of a shooting incident, a scheduled tweet will go out at 2pm that says: “XYZ will get out even the toughest stains.” Not good. These are the types of things you must double check. Any time there is a crisis, or major disaster – check your social dashboard for any scheduled posts or tweets to ensure nothing you have scheduled can be misconstrued.

It can be difficult to watch heated conversations flying across the digital landscape and not get involved. But when it comes to professional profiles, tread carefully. If you feel compelled to speak up, do so with compassion. And keep it brief.

About Beth M. Wood

Beth M. Wood is a marketing and writing professional. She's been working in the marketing industry since the early 90s, and feeding her shopping habit with copywriting gigs since 2004. On August 1, 2013, she made the jump to full-time freelance writer, marketer, and social media manager. Beth is highly adept at creating and managing integrated marketing programs that get brands noticed. She's also well known for creating and maintaing a strong brand voice across all channels. She is a word geek, a grammar snob and a boot camp junkie. Which means she believes in giving 100% to every project she takes on - large or small. She earned her BA in writing from Webster University and serves as Senior Content Strategist at Scorch.
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