What are your social media fears?

I’ve delivered training to various public sector and emergency services agencies in the past few months right across the board. I’ve been lucky enough to do this in a number of different countries.

These agencies have been in Canada, the US, the UK, Ireland and they have been small, large, at the beginning of their social engagement journey right through to having social fully embedded.

What’s interesting is that regardless of all of these factors there is one common theme - they all have the same social media fears.

After compiling these fears (which are given anonymously to encourage honesty in front of their peers), these are the top five;

  1. People are scared of saying the ‘wrong’ thing
  2. People are worried about not responding quickly enough (to an incident, a public enquiry, a media request for comment)
  3. Not getting ‘management sign off’ quickly enough
  4. Missing ‘something’ (evidence, comments, calls for help)
  5. Not knowing how to deal with criticism

There is not one place I’ve been to where these haven’t been mentioned. In total, we’re looking at in excess of 500 people trained at all levels in the organisation - from media handling to customer services teams with IT, HR, legal and operational teams in all in the mix.

The great news is that these fears are relatively easy to overcome with the combination of right tools, policy, support and training. Here are some suggestions;

Saying the ‘wrong’ thing

If it’s your role to issue statements, speak to the public or simply ‘engage’ then your communication is your strength. Just because you’re doing it online it doesn’t mean that it suddenly turns you into a litigious risk for your organisation.

The fear stems from the thought of ‘going viral’. This really doesn’t happen as often as people think (or maybe secretly want to) and a good rule of thumb is; don’t say anything you wouldn’t say to someone in person if you think it’s going to cost you your job. It's also worth considering that your opinion is not necessarily more important than the aims of the organisation you work for.

Equally, if you're just dealing in fact - and you know it to be a fact that can be discussed then it's (usually) pretty safe. There are no common sense rules, because we are all different, but with support from management then you should feel more confident in posting. Policy and procedure might be boring but it does give that sense of safety and confidence - especially in organisations where policy and procedure is the vital fabric of things running well.

Equally, if you’re concerned about a team member’s first foray into using the official Twitter account of your organisation, adopt a tool that enables monitoring of posts before they go live (MusterPoint has training mode which provides moderation before being published live).

People are worried about not responding quickly enough (to an incident, a public enquiry, a media request for comment)

What is quickly enough? Sometimes it’s pretty clear that if all else have been tweeting about a major catastrophe and you’re still showing your tweet about a drop in event four days ago, you might well come in for some criticism.

Holding lines can be exactly that - you’re aware, you’re letting people know you’re dealing with it and you’ll be posting a further update soon. Sometimes it even helps to ask people to be patient. Better that than looking like you’re blissfully unaware of the world falling apart.

Sometimes it helps to use social media as a signpost - if you can’t cope with all that’s going on because of resources - point to one page on your website and just keep that updated.

It's also worth considering that a few moments of a pause to check who is asking you to respond could save a whole lot of time down the road. It's very easy to be caught up in the 'now' of social but sometimes you can set things off before looking at all the facts. Breathe, think, respond. 

Not getting management sign off’ quickly enough

This is one of the most frustrating parts of social media - it moves lightning fast in comparison to internal sign off mechanisms. So, it’s time to be prepared. There are going to be recurring themes, questions or incidents, issues that you have to deal with. Can you get together a list of these themes and do a broad sign of ‘in the event of’?

Yes, there will always be difficult and complicated issues that have no answers in the first instance but if you really think about it there will always be key issues that you can prepare lines in advance (and fit to each platform and translate into your legally required language should you need to).

MusterPoint has a feature so you can store all these lines and pre-approved images so you’re ready to go should the worst happen.

Missing ‘something’ (evidence, comments, calls for help)

Just like if the phone goes and you’re not at your desk, or if you’re walking down the street and just miss something happening, this is an inevitability. You can’t be all things to all people, but just like anything it’s how you deal with it afterwards that counts should you miss anything. In your role you are responsible for specific things and each role is different.

That’s why ensuring everyone in the organisation has an idea of what they are responsible for when it comes to social media is important. It shouldn’t just be corp comms, control room, customer services, IT - it should be everyone.

Just in case, we have a function that records everything in MusterPoint meaning it can be reviewed later for post-incident debriefs and learning opportunities. You can also assign something that you see for the attention of the right person in the organisation. 

Not knowing how to deal with criticism

It happens - we all get criticised and it’s sometimes hard to deal with it when it’s aimed at you or your team or department. Social has made us feel more connected or open to people and there aren’t those barriers anymore. Sometimes this is a personal thing but it’s about ensure there are the right mechanisms in place to know how to deal with criticism at an organisational level.

What is acceptable and what isn’t should be in line with org values and knowing you have the support in place to deal with it is crucial. It’s OK to step away when things get personal or traumatic and it’s important to get support from colleagues.

Simple tools like our social media traffic light system and dealing with complaints flow chart can help. Contact us to get copies - they’re being used by teams all over the world.


MusterPoint was created by me and a great team because we’ve all worked in the public sector and emergency services. It’s a social media and media logging dashboard created just for the public sector to overcome those unique challenges we all face when managing social media in unique environments. See more of our features and book a demo.