When you’ve developed a vibrant social media community, it’s inevitable that you’ll get some negative posts. Most of these posts, handled well, create an opportunity to strengthen your community by solving a problem or generating a good discussion. Some may require a team response. Here’s an overview of what to do.

Take a deep breath. It’s important to be calm, thoughtful and strategic when dealing with a negative post. The person who wrote the post is often upset and may have launched a personal attack; never respond in kind. Take the time to consider whether and how to respond.

Analyze. Try to discern the intent of the post. You’ll want to have a conversation, either publicly or privately, with members of the WSSU community who are truly concerned about an issue. It’s fruitless to try to have a conversation with a “rager” (the social media term for a person who is chronically angry) or a “troll” (the term for people who enjoy stirring up trouble). You can usually tell the difference by looking at other posts by that person.

Confirm facts. Make sure you know the facts and current university policies and procedures related to the post. Contact a supervisor in the affected area. He or she may have handled similar issues before and can help you craft a response. In some cases, you may want to send an e-mail to the person who wrote the post to get additional facts.

Sympathize; consider whether to apologize. Often people who are upset simply want to know their complaint has been heard. Saying, “I’m sorry that you’re unhappy. How can I help?” can go a long way toward turning a complaint into a conversation. An apology conveys that the university has done something wrong. If you, your supervisor and the supervisor of the affected area agree that a mistake was made, then an apology is appropriate.

Consider going offline. In many cases, the person who wrote the post will be willing to talk with you if you provide your work e-mail address. This is important to preserve people’s privacy or to get all the facts before finding a resolution. If you and the person work out a solution, consider whether to add a post that you successfully resolved the situation.

Say “thanks.” Social media depends on conversations to thrive. And, one of social media’s great strengths is its ability to help identify issues. It’s good practice to thank people for their posts, even if their post is a complaint or otherwise negative. Use judgment here—you don’t want to thank someone for posting something that violates community guidelines—but saying thanks is a way to underscore WSSU’s commitment to personal attention and civil discussion.

Clarify. Sometimes social media posts are so brief that they can be misunderstood. Make sure your intent is clear. You also may want to be sure you understood the intent of the person who posted. If the person seems really upset or the topic is sensitive, you may want to do this offline.

Monitor. Often a broad, hostile statement draws no attention at all. Keep an eye on it, and if no conversation develops, leave it alone. You may want to contact the person privately to see if you can provide assistance.

Let your group help. Frequently, other members of your social media community will spontaneously rise to the university’s defense with counterarguments and useful information. Allow time for this to happen.

Use the channel’s rules. Every social media channel-Facebook, YouTube, etc.-has rules in its Terms of Service regarding hate speech, harassment and similar attacks. Cite these rules when you remove such posts and, if necessary, block repeat offenders.

You are not alone. A number of people at WSSU have experience in social media, crisis communications and the specific needs of groups such as students, alumni or community activists. If you are unsure how to proceed, contact the Digital Communications Strategy Manager.