How do brands decide when to ban someone from their social media accounts? What are the criteria? There’s a need for brands to have social media guidelines in place to discourage harassment and trolling, and then take action against those in violation of those guidelines.
Recently, Twitter banned high-profile users over harassment (or incitement to harass). After Ghostbusters and Saturday Night Live star Leslie Jones and Teen Vogue contributor Lauren Duca escalated these issues, the users trolling and posting profane and abusive content directed toward these women were removed from the platform. Martin Shkreli was one of the offenders suspended on Twitter for harassing Duca.
So what should you do if you or your brand account on Twitter, Facebook or another social media platform faces targeted harassment?
Brands should carefully consider whether they decide to block users from interacting with them or ban them on Facebook based on their social media posts.
Comments to their brand pages on Facebook or Instagram should not be removed if they refer to genuine customer-service issues or contain criticism posted by legitimate activists. If the company does begin to censor those posts, its current and potential customers will judge the brand based upon the way it handles negativity and complaints. In fact, these interactions should be treated maturely, with facts, politeness, and empathy. This is a clear demonstration of your ability as a business or executive representing the brand to learn, grow, apologize unreservedly if it’s called for and do better in the future.
While this advice is based on patience and understanding through communication and conversation, it does not apply to persistent trolls and those intent upon abusing the brand, its employees or your customers. You do not have to show “tolerance” for this kind of discourse, and you are within your rights to remove inflammatory or profane content and ban or block those who perpetuate its spread.
As a user, and not as the administrator of a dedicated online community, your brand’s social media properties reflect the company and what it represents. This includes being a welcoming interactive space for all. Removing harassment and trolling improves the social environment and enables your customer-service agents and social marketing teams to focus their attention and time on real conversations and issues in order to serve them better.
Take appropriate action across social media channels
Twitter presents a unique challenge, as it is a less-controlled platform. Brands should first try to ascertain whether the user is a real customer venting because they’re legitimately upset, or if the company failed to deliver their mom’s birthday present on time. If you can constructively listen and assist them, you can often defuse their anger, change that customer’s point of view and possibly win them over.
On any platform, you can also invite the customer into a private conversation and ask for their contact details to address their complaint via email or a phone call.
However, if you’re being mentioned repeatedly without @name tagging (“Brand X sucks. I hate their widgets!”) and the person does not respond to attempts to engage, you can mute the offender. And if they are tagging you by name and/or pestering the brand while ignoring your attempt to assist them, you can filter out their mentions by shadow-blocking them using available software solutions.
If your brand is being attacked with profanity, offensive slurs or personal harassment, block the account and report the user to Twitter using the platform’s reporting tools. Blocking will also remove the user’s ability to respond under your tweets and engage negatively with customers with whom you’re having legitimate product/service-related conversations.
Some brands, like @Wendys, may choose to engage humorously with less vicious trolls. If you plan to be irreverent and commit to this course, be aware that your replies will be retweeted and will become screenshots and shared—widely.
While on Facebook Messenger, it’s become a game for trolls to bait brands like kids used to prank call stores and ask if they sell Prince Albert in a can. Only now, they screenshot the results and post them for their friends.
Your best course is to ignore the meme bait and terminate the conversation; they’ll get bored. If the troll is abusive or profane, ban them, as they’ll only distract you from tending to legitimate customer engagements.
The same advice applies to Instagram trolls. You can block a user, but you must also delete their comments in a separate action. Don’t forget to occasionally review your banned and blocked users to determine if it’s appropriate to reverse the decision after some time has passed.
On Facebook, it’s de rigueur to address real complaints in a visible way on your page. Occasionally, brands are called out for deleting comments, but if the channel is being misused by people spamming, using vulgarity or threatening to attack the brand or employees personally, you should remove the harassing content.
However, legitimate activists should be treated differently; develop a response that addresses their concerns and engage appropriately. And if their comments also cross the line into abuse, you can either hide a comment and it will remain visible to the poster and their friends, or remove it if it’s objectively reprehensible.
If the behavior persists, banning the perpetrator from your page is your best option.
You can also report posts or comments to Facebook anonymously if they contain inappropriate content.
Your social media properties should link to usage and behavior guidelines, and these guidelines should clearly articulate what is or isn’t allowed by topic. Otherwise trolls will find a way around them and argue their points. “Please be kind and keep the conversation civil and polite; we do not tolerate abuse, profanity, threats or spam,” is clear enough and provides justification for dealing with inappropriate interactions.
If a brand has this problem and chooses to delete comments or ban a user after their content has been seen, it’s usually a good idea to make a public comment (utilizing your customary brand voice), stating that while the brand “has a general policy to allow criticism and not to censor, when content breaks the rules, it will be removed to prioritize a welcoming environment where all users can participate.”
If blocked or banned, users will typically complain elsewhere about you suppressing their “freedom of speech.” Keep in mind that graffiti on your storefront or a visitor creating an offensive disturbance without being handled appropriately will leave a far worse impression for your other customers who can’t avoid seeing it.
Remember, the social space you’re creating is a party, and you’re the host. Whether it’s a lively “swinging from the chandeliers” bash, an amiable coffee klatch or a sedate conversation over a game of chess, your customers and fans deserve to feel comfortable and safe from abuse.
Peter Friedman is a social media visionary and veteran with 32 years of online community and social media experience helping companies engage one-on-one with customers at scale. He is the founder, chairman and CEO of LiveWorld, a trusted social media partner to the world’s largest brands, and author of The CMO’s Social Media Handbook: A Step-By-Step Guide for Leading Marketing Teams in the Social Media World. Connect with him on Twitter.