All that glitters is not social media gold: when high-engagement isn’t always good news

You are having a great social media day. A post goes viral, notifications are bursting out of your screen. Followers, comments, likes and shares are soaring. Perfect, until you realise your comments section has been overtaken by people complaining about your organisation, or even worse - your post is being used to spread misinformation or abuse. It is important to immediately address the negativity, take control of the situation or re-examine your strategy.

As Spiderman’s social media manager probably said - with great engagement comes great responsibility.

diverse group of people with negative emojis for faces

Situations when high-engagement is a problem

1.      Negative engagement

Negative engagement is when all the interactions on social media are critical, hostile and generally unfavourable to your organisation. For example, customers expressing dissatisfaction with your organisation, sharing negative feedback and complaints. Negative engagement can also be directed at individuals associated with your organisation.

“Negative engagement can spiral, people may jump on it and it can get out of control. Sometimes this can involve arguments and abuse between residents,” says Scott Hornsby, Senior Social Media Advisor at Essex County Council. “If it is a positive post, it will totally flip the narrative of what we are trying to do and develop a need for us to move away from the original conversation.”

What should you do?

First, assess if the comments are genuine complaints and feedback, or if it just trolling. If it is valid, then react appropriately. That could mean apologising, taking some action, or addressing the problem and offering a solution. It is important to be transparent and avoid being defensive. All this will show the public that you empathise with your audience and take their feedback seriously.

Remember, even if the feedback is valid, the commenter could still be engaging in online harassment and in such cases it is okay to disengage and stop responding. But never delete a complaint or negative feedback. “These are from residents with opinions and we should not be quietening their voices or making our posts look perfect by removing any negative sentiments,” says Scott.

2.      Misinformation and Trolling

Sometimes high engagement on posts can be driven by people trolling or harassing a part of your audience. People can also spread lies and rumours via social media reactions. Such engagement can damage your organisation’s reputation. For example, if a council’s social media engagement is fuelled by a rumour about the council’s decisions or plans, it can cause the public to lose trust.

What should you do?

Try and correct the misinformation and counter it if needed, with facts and credible information. You can reach out to the commenter either publicly or privately, depending on the type of misinformation and the topic being discussed.

If someone if being abusive or harassing others on your platform, it’s okay to silence them. “Offensive and abusive comments should be deleted or hidden, although if the setting on the Facebook page is set correctly, there are a lot of words that will be auto blocked and posts hidden,” says Scott. Read more tips on how social media managers can squash trolls.

3.      Engagement without desired result

Sometimes, your social media post experiences a flurry of activity, but the engagement does not translate to your desired outcome, or is from the wrong audience group. An example is social media posts by charity organisations. The posts get high volumes of comments and positive reactions, but only a fraction convert to donations.  Such engagement is like people crowding a bookstore, browsing books but not buying any. (Yes, you in the glasses, we are looking at you.)

What should you do?

This means it’s time to evaluate your strategy. “This would need us to reassess how we’re using the channel. Reconsider whether it was the right post, and if it was published at the right time and if we used the right asset,” says Scott.

There are a few more steps you can take, like:

  • evaluating your content and its relevance to your target audience.
  • checking if your content was consistent with your brand guidelines.
  • examining your call-to-actions and assess if they were compelling enough.
  • try testing variations of content on a fraction of your audience before making the final post.

4.      Engagement that causes a strain on resources

High engagement is great, but an overwhelming volume of comments and reactions can become difficult to manage and organise. This can cause delays in responding to your audience or missed opportunities to have deeper engagement with your target audience. This can be especially challenging if the social media teams are small.

What should you do?

Prioritize your platforms and focus on responding to comments that are time-sensitive, or relate to sensitive issues. You can also:

  • use automated responses and canned responses, they are useful in buying you some time.
  • to reduce the overall workload, use social media moderation tools to automatically filter out offensive and abusive comments.
  • consider posting a public statement explaining the high traffic and acknowledging their feedback. Set clear expectations of the timeframe within which they can expect to hear from you.

Get help if you feel overwhelmed

Negative engagement can also affect the morale of the social media team. “When working in social media you have to have thick skin,” says Scott. “People behind the screen are happy to vent not thinking about the person reading all the comments. Sometimes we will respond to let people know we’re actually human.” If you are overwhelmed or stressed by the high-volume of comments, talk to someone from your team about it. It is also important to take a break from the negativity, and find ways to not let it affect you personally. Remember that your well-being takes priority over everything else. Read more tips on how to protect your mental health while working in social media.

Dealing with negative engagement and managing occasional high volumes of comments on social media is an essential skill for social media managers. It’s crucial to be able to stem the negativity as soon as possible and try to shield your organisation’s reputation. Knowing when to empathise and when to disengage is also key to managing negativity and your mental health. And all this must be done in a calm and professional way.

The next time someone says social media management is a breeze, do send them this post (and err…ask them to share and comment.)

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