Some of our favourite social media accounts to follow are the clever folks behind the Ministry for Primary Industry handles.
It is evident they work hard to build rapport, educate thoroughly, communicate effectively. They do it all with a healthy dose of humour - in the right places. With this in mind, we reached out to ask how they cope with cantankerous comments, frustrated followers, mean messages, and prickly people.
1. A tough comment comes up on one of your posts what is the first thing you grab? A fire extinguisher, a hose or your superhero cape?
We try to make sure people find our social media to be a good space to ask questions and provide feedback in, rather than extinguish conversation, so probably our capes! We’ll fly into action once we’ve established if it’s a legitimate question that relates to the work that we do. (And once we’ve grabbed coffee #priorities)
2. Now seriously, What is your strategy when it comes to dealing with tricky comments on your social media content?
It’s pretty simple, we take all questions in good faith, because we’re the public service, and work for the public. That means we always try to provide clear information and answers, and to correct misunderstandings. So we try to respond to everything we can, as long as it’s actually related to our work.
We try to anticipate what questions might arise from our content, and always have a Q&A ready before a big campaign. If it’s not our area, we try to be helpful and point them in the right direction. We really try to act as advocates for the public, and we have a lot of support from our wider comms team, who help us navigate the organisation and make sure we’re talking to the right people to get answers quickly.
3. What is your best piece of advice for dealing with negative comments?
Figure out what’s really upsetting the commenter. Are they feeling like no one is listening to them? Are they pointing out a genuine mistake? Can we resolve their issue?
If it’s that they feel no one is listening to them, getting their contact details and having an expert call them can be really useful. Acknowledging mistakes is really useful too. But sometimes people want to be negative for the sake of being negative. If they just want to complain about government, that’s okay (as long as they aren’t being offensive). We live in a democracy!
On a personal note, this type of job can be draining, so our advice is to practice resilience and make sure you have time away from the ‘front line’. There’s two of us in the team and we take turns on publishing, so we regularly get a break (and time to do some planning!). We use humour wherever we can which really helps keep us going, we also celebrate all our little wins to keep ourselves on a positive track. Oh and cake. We like cake.
4. When do you make the call to respond, take the conversation offline or hide comment?
Wherever possible, we prefer to respond to people publically in the channel they have chosen to contact us, as this doesn’t just answer their question but possibly that of other people with the same question. If they have specific personal details involved (such as their own food control plan, or follow-up on an animal welfare complaint for example) we’ll get their details and get in contact with them directly. We do hide comments though if they identify individuals or use offensive language or themes. No one should be exposed to hate on a government Facebook page. Our Community Guidelines clearly state we won’t tolerate it, and we regularly refer back to them if threads get heated.
5. Do you have a rule of thumb around response times - e.g a damaging comment is spotted at 11.30pm, what is your next move...
Our channels are monitored 9am-5pm on week days. That’s stated on each page along with an 0800 number that people can call 24/7. We use filters to automatically hide offensive words, which tends to manage any immediate concerns, and we’re occasionally be on call during responses (e.g. a fruit fly biosecurity response).
We sometimes find that other people jump in to correct or help on our behalf, which is great as we’ve put a lot of effort into building relationships with some key influencers, but we still respond officially in the morning. During work hours we respond as quickly as practicable (we aim for a 2 hour max turnaround) even if it’s just with an acknowledgement if the answer might take a little longer.
Obviously we’re digital folk though so we do check the accounts every now and then on our own time. As a comms team we’re always technically on call and we can easily raise any concerns with our team if we see anything that needs addressing. But MPI supports us to have a good work life balance so we’re not expected to be always online!
We’re nice humans, and we try to treat everyone else as nice humans too.
Yes, yes you are. Thanks for taking the time to share this insight into you social media strategy. We appreciate your honesty and have learned a lot about healthy boundaries and setting ourselves up for success when it comes to hugging our social media haters.
If you, as readers, have any questions - feel free to shoot them our way.
The really punny, level-headed, digitally savvy, coffee loving team behind the MPI social media accounts. Rock on team and keep up the awesome work!