When you throw a dinner party, you dream of achieving the ideal – excellent company, good food, a constant stream of conversation. So what happens if your moment of dread occurs? Silence falls around the table as two of your guests begin to heatedly debate their differing viewpoints on one topic. As a diplomatic host, you understand that you have a few options to diffuse their disagreement (whilst hastily pouring all of your guests an extra cup of wine, of course).
For social media managers, the situation is largely the same. Your community is your guest, and you are the host. If your guests begin to misbehave, how exactly are you supposed to moderate this large, chaotic dinner party?
The World Editor's Forum recently published a guide and study on the area of comment moderation. This guide concludes with six pointers for publishers to "promote respectful dialogue and conversation rather than uncivil rants and insults, and allow intelligent, thoughtful input to shine". So what exactly are these pointers?
1. Publish guidelines for commenters
These should work to describe the kind of environment your website wishes to create. Clearly stating that no offensive language is to be used is a key example of the first basic step of great moderating. Many social media platforms have a keyword filter system, which can be utilised to ban swear words, or even specific keywords regarding topics which are banned from discussion. Your page guidelines for commenters don't need to be complicated. The example below comes from the Freedom Furniture Facebook page. It goes on to say:
"Our mission is to create an interactive, accessible hub for style aficionados. To share tips, tricks, insights and updates for those who love furniture and design. Please treat each other with the same respect you extend to your real-life friends. Freedom does not accept online bullying, harassment or trolls. Wall posts that are deemed as inappropriate or as spam will be removed."
2. Work with a Community Manager to keep on top of conversations
Making sure someone is keeping an eye on your social media channels can be a massive boost to a business with a large online presence. This could be you or someone you choose to hire. A community manager will ensure that the standard of conversation remains high, whilst encouraging comments which further your brand's goals.
3. Encourage staff to participate in conversations
Staff participation is widely believed to improve the quality of discussion, and if their comments are both entertaining and intelligent, then it's more than likely to get readers coming back for more. Your writers can respond to criticism and highlight the most interesting points of their pieces. The Guardian UK even stated that:
"Having that staff presence early on in threads on our site, dramatically increases the tone of the conversation that follows. It lessens the need for moderation as well because it sets a high barrier and also gives people direction."
4. Find ways to surface most valuable comments
Letting readers like or dislike comments is a great way to start this, and whilst making the good comments more visible — this also rewards the commenters who have made contributions that are actually worth reading. Findings by Statistic Brain detail that each user spends 15 hours and 33 minutes on Facebook per month. Social media consumption is growing exponentially, so it's well worth entailing your brands success by encouraging valuable comments and commenters. As the graphic below from Statista shows, the time spent on mobile devices is growing fast. It's particularly the case for photos, maps, games and increasingly, social media.
5. Give feedback and educate your readers
Commenters who might not have intended to offend will probably be confused if you just delete their comment, so it's important to tell them why their comment was removed, rather than simply deleting unsuitable content with no information. The BBC UK said on the issue "what we try and do is when you remove a comment the moderators can choose from a drop-down list of reasons for why the comment has failed. That’s something that the user would see.”
6. Seek legal advice and share with staff
Due to a lack of prior instance, we have very little information on the technical legalities of online commenting, it can become difficult to define defamation or even discrimination when anonymous commenters may just be attempting to express their opinions. Nevertheless, any moderators, community managers and indeed writers should be kept up-to-date with knowledge of the situation.
Differences in opinion are what promote conversation and engaging discussion. Without it, social media would be a dull platform for promoting your brand. Although it can become tempting to switch off comments altogether, it’s important to remember that the more conversations people are having, the more popular your brand is becoming. Just keep those trolls away!