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Prevent Social Media Scandals

Three smart tips to prevent social media scandal

Social media scandal. It’s a dreaded thought for any communications manager. And it seems that more cases of social media missteps are published every week. Most recently, there was a public outcry against the Latah County Sheriff’s Office, which published a flippant Facebook post about a young man, wanted for several crimes, who subsequently committed suicide. It was a sad story which again raised questions about organizations using social media to communicate with the public. Do the benefits outweigh the risks?

Despite stories like the one mentioned above, it is possible to effectively use social media as an organization. But there are specific steps that should be taken in order to prevent mistakes, and to handle them properly when they do happen.

  • Have a social media policy and inform employees of the rules.

Social media’s explosive growth caused many companies and agencies to become active on social networks without taking the time to develop and implement social media policies. We would be willing to bet that the Latah County Sheriff’s Office did not have a social media usage policy — or if it did, that the guidelines were violated by the recent controversial post. Having a policy in place allows your employees to engage with customers, while preventing thoughtless posts. Not sure where to start on your policy? Here are some excellent tips on how to write one.

  • Apologize for mistakes, but don’t reactively delete posts or comments.

It’s a guarantee — something will eventually show up on your social media feed that doesn’t reflect well on your company or agency. Whether it’s a poorly-composed post by your company, or a negative comment from an upset customer, the temptation to delete can be strong. But deleting posts or comments (or your entire Facebook account, as the Latah County Sheriff’s Office did in the wake of the scandal) is never a good idea. It can lead to charges of spoliation of evidence in court, or damage your company’s reputation for integrity. Instead, apologize for mistakes and respond calmly to negative feedback. Then your social media will be an honest reflection of your company’s communication with the world.

  • Capture and save all social media content, in case of litigation or records request.

There may be times when you do need to remove content from your social media page — for instance, in the case of spam or wrong information — and you should be prepared to keep records of the content even after it’s deleted. For the sake of regulatory compliance, open records laws, and just plain common sense, every organization should employ a solution to capture ALL their social media content and preserve it in a secure, searchable format. That way you can safely delete content while retaining a record of it.

None of us expect to be be involved in the type of social media scandal that has overshadowed the Latah County Sheriff’s Office — but the truth is, the Digital Age has added a new level of liability to public communications. The steps outlined above will empower you to prevent and handle social media mistakes, so you can continue to engage online with confidence.

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