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Social-media management—communicating with the naysayers

Government agencies and leaders are increasingly harnessing the powers of social media for anything from forecasting elections to disseminating info on trash pick-up and snow removal. In fact, even the secretive Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and National Security Agency (NSA) have recently joined the ranks of Twitter® and Facebook®.Social media just makes sense for government. It provides yet another way to communicate with the public; it’s an efficient means of getting important information out fast, and it provides an added element of transparency—something most would say they want from government agencies anyway. But before your agency takes the plunge, there are a few social-media guidelines to follow—especially when responding to questions, comments and debates that are less than positive.

Communicating with the naysayers

Do you ever feel as though you’re darned if you do and darned if you don’t when it comes to responding to certain social-media posts? It’s often difficult to determine whether you should respond to, ignore or block certain content. Here are some tips to help you make the right call.

  • When to respond: Remember, not everyone is going to have positive things to say about your department, your agency or its leaders. However, that doesn’t mean concerns aren’t valid and comments don’t deserve discussion. Constituents looking for a genuine debate on an important issue or an answer to a question should be met with a thoughtful response. Respond with the facts, be respectful, and don’t make it personal. You could even ask followers to suggest better solutions to a problem your agency may be facing. Encourage thoughtful participation by holding a contest for best suggestions. Prizes could include a cooler/grill combo, Bluetooth® speaker or roadside-assistance kit.

If someone has a legitimate complaint about a department, service or even an employee, you may want to move the conversation offline. Ask to chat in person or over the phone to get the facts and work toward a resolution. Regardless, make sure they know you appreciate them taking the time to communicate with you. A tumbler or first-aid kit is a nice gesture that may leave your constituents thinking of you or your agency in a more positive light.

  • When to ignore: When the conversation is no longer constructive, and the sole purpose is to criticize and berate, it is OK to end the discussion. It is completely acceptable to quit engaging when political insults are hurled, provoking comments are made or continuous badgering occurs. In your post, simply say you will be ending the discussion as it is no longer constructive.
  • When to block: Deleting comments or blocking someone from posting is a slippery slope. But when constituents’ posts become offensive, vulgar, slanderous or threatening, it may be time to pull the plug. Just be sure your publicly posted social-media policy outlines exactly what will not be tolerated and that you reserve the right to delete or block such content from your page.

Remember, social media and government can make a great team. Just don’t let your page become an outlet for public lashing. Use the parameters above to help guide you and your community of friends and followers. You may even make a new friend or two.

Grove, Lloyd. “From Hush-Hush To Tweet-Tweet: Why The CIA Is Embracing Social Media.” The Daily Beast. Newsweek/Daily Beast, 11 June 2014. Web. Retrieved 12 May 2015.

“How Social Media is Being Used by the Government.” MPADegree.org. N.p., n.d. Web. Retrieved 12 May 2015.

Schlossberg, Mike. “When Things Turn Nasty on Social Media.” Govtech. N.p., 17 Mar. 2015. Web. Retrieved 12 May 2015.


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