Recognizing the Consequences of Hiding Social Comments

laptop with comment bubbles

This article originally appeared in the “GovGirl on Social” column in Government Technology Magazine.

It’s a fairly common practice for government agencies to “hide” social media comments for violating their social media policy, rather than delete them. There is a sense that hiding comments isn’t as bad as permanently removing them. But hiding is actually far worse and can have unintended implications for government.

Citizens have a right to disagree with what your agency does and even to be downright angry, thanks to the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Freedom of speech gives citizens the right to express opinions without fear of persecution or censorship by government. First Amendment protections also extend to certain statements made on social media. Therefore, your social media policy should be crystal clear about any circumstances that would give your agency the right to remove comments, such as the use of profanity, discriminating remarks or threats. It’s common for governments to have a comment moderation policy such as this.


When government social media administrators use Facebook’s tool to hide a comment, no notification or other indication is sent to the person who posted the comment. The citizen likely has no idea that their comment was hidden. Some social media administrators believe hiding is appealing because it feels less obtrusive for the commenter than entirely deleting their comment. Others believe that if the citizen has no idea, then they can’t voice additional anger or post disgruntled rebuttals. It defuses the situation.

But here’s the problem: The real trouble in hiding comments on Facebook is that the commenter, and his or her Facebook friends, can still view the comment. Not only this, but they can continue the conversation by replying to the comment, without knowing that the comment is no longer public on your page.


The problem with hiding comments is that it’s a purposeful move by an agency’s representatives to be secretive about displaying something a citizen wrote on their department’s Facebook page. If your agency ever had to argue a position in court, you would likely need to fully disclose your intention in hiding the comment. Even if a comment egregiously violates your comment policy, and you hide it, what if someone in that person’s friend list posts a reply to it? Maybe the friend’s comment doesn’t violate your policy and contributes to useful public discourse. Unknown to them, their reply is hidden from anyone outside their friends viewing it.

If you’re dealing with a company or business in the private sector, hiding comments might not be a big deal. But when you’re a government agency, it’s a whole different story. If a social media comment is worthy of deletion because it violates your official social media comment policy, then delete the comment while following your records retention protocols. Be cautious of looking to hiding as a less severe alternative.


Social Media Humor in Government

laughing emoji

This article originally appeared in the “GovGirl on Social” column in Government Technology Magazine.

“See you in the funny pages!” I remember my grandpa frequently using this good-natured colloquialism when saying goodbye to friends and family. It referred to a time when comic strips, a.k.a. “the funnies,” were published in the back of printed newspapers. Everyone flipped to the back of the paper to follow their favorites with each new issue.

Viral humor on today’s social media might be a close equivalent to yesterday’s funnies. We not only share these witty posts and clever burns with our friends and family, we also intentionally follow profiles that consistently use humor. Humor is a legitimate tool for earning a social media following, and the benefits of funny posts go well beyond simply getting one-time social media shares. Brands such as Wendy’s maintain a loyal following online, entirely derived from the tone of their social media presence.

For example, in June 2018, IHOP (the International House of Pancakes) temporarily changed its Twitter handle to IHOb to publicize its new burger menu offerings. When a fan tweeted this news to Wendy’s, its hilarious burn — “Not really afraid of the burgers from a place that decided pancakes were too hard” — was widely praised on and off social media.

But does humor work for government? Absolutely. Several government agencies have cracked the code in terms of effectively incorporating humor in their mainstream social media activities and striking a balance between the funnies and getting important government business done.

A quick look at the Lawrence, Kan., Police Department’s Twitter profile reveals why it’s known for its use of humor. Hats off to LKPD Officers Drew Fennelly and Derrick Smith for continually raising the bar for government humor. Not many agencies can say they’ve earned over half a million interactions on one tweet alone. In real life, their department is recognized, and even defended to outsiders, by citizens as a direct result of its Twitter style. Here’s one of my favorites:

Growing your online reach and getting positive public sentiment are both important goals. But what about using humor to actually get people to do something? A classic example of a humorous post getting people to take action — in this case, apply for a job opening — is a January 2018 tweet by the city of Los Angeles:

The response was resounding, and gave the city a new avenue to create engagement around employment opportunities.

If you’re anything like me, you continue to follow these profiles to see what these agencies will think of next. And maybe I’ll see you in the funny pages…


Getting Boss Buy-In on Social

This article originally appeared in the “GovGirl on Social” column in Government Technology Magazine.

Is your boss completely sold on the fact that your agency is using social media? While many cities across the country have had a presence on social media for years, I still hear from staff at agencies who are having a hard time convincing their managers to let them fully engage on social media.

Even agencies that are active on social media need trust from leadership to fully embrace the platforms and to get the resources they need to operate a well-run program. Why is leadership sometimes so hesitant to authorize more than using the platforms for one-way information blasts?

While government leaders may be great at what they do to improve their communities, some of them just don’t realize the importance of social media in providing a valuable customer service resource for the people they serve. And more often than not, they’ve seen some very public social media fails and they’re afraid of what could happen.

The good news is that many agencies have been down this road before. Here are some tips for gaining boss buy-in.


Inevitably, another government agency will be highlighted in the news for a social media fail. This type of thing makes managers very nervous. Use this time as an opportunity to explain why the post failed in specific terms (e.g., not simply that the agency “was trying to be funny,” but that its attempted use of humor failed to consider its audience and the context of the situation). Show your boss that the reason for the fail isn’t a mystery, and illustrate that you can be articulate about what went wrong for the other agency. Finally, remind them that social media training is important — both for social media managers and agencywide staff.


Asking your boss to trust you on social media is very broad. It may be difficult for them to wrap their head around exactly what you want them to do. The reason behind their “no” may be that they actually appreciate your efforts, but they’re concerned that giving you the green light means you’ll be doing some major avant-garde social media experimentation.

Instead, break it down to more specific requests by articulating what their support would look like. For example, if you want to break away from simply spitting out press releases and move toward promoting two-way communication, you might ask for their support in a series of posts designed for engagement related to a particular topic. Maybe you want them to help you internally route questions and feedback from the public to the appropriate department, or maybe you want their assistance with getting your summary report to specific agencies.

Always make sure to show your boss the success of their buy-in, including the impact and engagement with your constituents.

Finally, it’s always easier to get your boss to listen to your advice if you can show that you have solid social media management experience as a practitioner in the field. Hone your skills with membership in relevant organizations, participate in educational conferences, learn from webinars and get any other training you can find.


Value of including leadership in your social media efforts

This article originally appeared in the “GovGirl on Social” column in Government Technology Magazine.

Government social media coordinators are sometimes so focused on doing their work well that they forget the tremendous value of bringing in agency leaders. There’s an art to doing this strategically, and it ensures a consistent reminder to leadership of the good work you’re doing for your organization.

Don’t get into the mindset that as long as you remain under the radar, your social media program can continue to function unbothered. While this may be the case for some agencies, more often than not, communicating your successes to leadership will help reinforce buy-in and ensure continued growth of your program. Social media should be constantly evolving, adapting and meeting your citizens’ needs. The best way to keep that happening is to loop in leadership on your social media successes and strategies to earn their ongoing support.


Virtually all the social media platforms you use offer some type of data analytics. This ranges from information on reach and impressions to demographic characteristics to full-blown charts and graphs. Before you start pulling together 20-page social media reports with all the supporting data you can find, take some time to consider who you’re preparing the reports for, and appropriately tailor the style and information you present.

Department heads are usually interested in social media results that pertain directly to their programs, while the highest-level reports are most likely to resonate with executive leadership and elected officials. I always recommend using visuals with charts or graphics that highlight the pertinent information and make it easy to digest with only a glance (which is usually all the time leadership can afford to spend). Keep in mind that leadership has many demands on their time, and a short executive summary of the key highlights is usually preferred.


Another approach for looping in leadership with your social media strategies is to directly involve them in some aspect of it. For instance, ask them to participate in a particular tweet-along, live video or live tweet. This tactic can be fitting for department heads, commissioners, mayors, chiefs — virtually any leadership position.

Make sure that you’re extremely organized, the activity is well-planned and they’re well-coached. Include an outline, talking points and anything else that will enhance an agency head’s experience. The point is that they’ll see your behind-the-scenes process, which is likely much more sophisticated than they expected.

When using the show-don’t-tell approach, don’t forget to come full circle when the social media activity is complete and provide them a mini-report showing them the direct results of their involvement. Seeing the impressions, reach, comments and so on can show them how their participation resulted in tangible interactions. Sometimes, drawing the direct connection between effort and real-world results can make all the difference.

It continues to be an exciting and important time for social media in the public sector in 2018, and support from leadership can be critical to your agency’s efforts.


Best practices for elected officials engaged in social media

This article originally appeared in the “GovGirl on Social” column in Government Technology Magazine.

In an ideal world, we want elected officials to feel comfortable about embracing social media yet balance that energy with the knowledge of how to properly administer their profiles.

As Twitter gains momentum as a platform for public-sector leaders, it’s more important than ever to take the opportunity to review best practices for use of social media by elected officials.


Many government agencies have an official social media policy in place, which is a good thing. But most of those policies don’t address what elected officials can do on social media. Elected officials have a role at your agency that is inherently different from regular staff. Your social media policy — or a separate one unique to electeds — should be very clear in social media guidance for elected officials. You want to be specific about what they can and can’t do, but still encourage their use of social media.


While there are many things elected officials shouldn’t do on social media, there are also a few that they can’t do. At least, if they don’t want to violate any laws.

Federal and state open meetings laws ensure that the actions of public bodies are conducted openly and citizens are given proper notice. If a quorum of any public body (usually three or more elected officials) merely comment on the same social media post, they could be in violation of open meeting laws. Make sure your electeds know this.

Does your agency have administrative or communications staff who maintain social media profiles for elected officials? While this is a common practice, it’s important to make sure everyone (staff and electeds) is aware of what needs to happen during campaign season.

Public employees can’t use, or be directed to use, official government profiles to campaign for candidates or for ballot measures. This is because government funds, including staff time, can’t be allocated toward pushing a particular candidate or referendum. There is a fine line between educating the public about various sides of a ballot issue and violating campaign laws, so always include your agency’s legal counsel when you’re crafting your policy language and training program.


Keep in mind that elected officials can be sued for blocking Twitter users. Our First Amendment protects freedom of speech from government interference, and governments need to be cautious about censoring an individual’s right to free speech. If a commissioner or council member blocks a social media user, it could be argued that they are blocking future speech made by that person. If your sheriff, for instance, deletes a negative comment, that could be construed as blocking free speech. Your electeds should be educated about how these laws are interpreted with their social media profiles. Again, involve your legal counsel in these decisions.


How do you get elected officials engaged with your agency’s social media efforts? Here’s a pro tip: Always show them the results of engagement that they produced. For example, if they participated in a live video, share with them a brief report showing them the impressions, the reach, the comments. When they see how their participation resulted in tangible interactions, they are more likely to remain connected to your social media program.

Help your elected officials to be comfortable about embracing social media, tempered with the knowledge of what they can and can’t do on social platforms.


Is it time for a social media coordinator?

This article originally appeared in the “GovGirl on Social” column in Government Technology Magazine.

When government agencies began experimenting with social media profiles a decade ago, there was a chance that their citizens would view their efforts with discontent. Why waste time and resources on a public resources machine?

Times sure have changed. These days, the general public is more likely to notice when government agencies don’t have a decent social media presence.

So why do some agencies still not have a dedicated social media coordinator? There are a couple common arguments against it.


Your communications coordinator likely has the aptitude and is qualified to handle social media for your agency. In fact, they’re probably already doing it now. But have you ever heard the phrase “jack of all trades, master of none”?

To make it easier to tackle, many agencies bundle social media responsibilities into an existing position such as a communications specialist or public information officer. Heck, my own title was “E-PIO” in my first role that involved managing government social media.

No one wants to call it what it is.

Here’s why I hate “bundling”: Your comms person, and anyone else you might assign social media to, already does the job of a small team. They may be the media liaison, publisher of print communications, newsletter writer, spokesperson, speechwriter, public relations guru, website content writer, plus a host of other things. To do social media well takes work and no small amount of time.

The No. 1 complaint I hear from people who manage social media is not having enough time to do everything well. If you think managing social media just involves writing a few quick Tweets and Facebook posts every day — think again.


You bet! Besides “simply” writing content, the social media coordinator needs to manage citizen comments and complaints, analyze data, evaluate ads, train employees on the right way to use social media, create reports, work with video and graphics, and more. This person should also be involved in writing social media policy, as well as strategic planning to facilitate agency goals via social platforms. He or she needs to understand social media archival, as well as First Amendment issues and sunshine laws as they apply to social media. This is not a simple undertaking.

Keep in mind that your agency won’t be a trailblazer for having a social media coordinator. It’s becoming more and more common to see this role in government. Agencies such as Mecklenburg County, N.C., and the Ohio Department of Public Safety are just a couple of entities that have staff in a dedicated social media role.

Government increasingly recognizes the value in social media. In many cases, the only interaction your citizens and constituents will ever have with their government is via social media. (How many people actually show up to your public meetings?) I encourage someone in your agency to spearhead the effort to hire a social media coordinator. Will you be that champion?


3 Ways to Make Social Media in Government a Team Effort


This article originally appeared in the “GovGirl on Social” column in Government Technology Magazine.

Most of your agency’s employees are not directly involved in managing social media or even contributing content. That’s not necessarily a bad thing (managing 1,000-plus contributors is tricky), but you should consider the benefits of getting all staff members involved with your agency’s social media presence.

Why bother? It’s really hard to present a united front when most of your staff members are unaware of your agency’s social media strategy. Department representatives might not even know what profiles your agency maintains on various platforms. They might also be unaware that they can contribute content (can they?) and the process they can use to do so.

There are likely a large number of staff members who work for your agency, but don’t work with programs that traditionally have public-facing social media content because they are an internal-facing division, such as auditors or fleet maintenance. But there are still opportunities to get them involved with your agency’s social media presence. This leads me to my first recommendation, which speaks to how you develop the social media strategy in the first place.


A good social media strategy starts off by identifying goals. Involving other departments at this stage ensures that the high-level goals of your organization as well as departments are considered and incorporated from the beginning.

Social media strategies should be unique to each organization — what works for one city or county does not necessarily work for another. A comprehensive social media strategy is guided by a number of variables, ranging from the high-level mission of the agency, to the strategic goals for key departments, to the city’s communication goals. Setting social media goals that complement the government’s guiding principles will help ensure a consistent and meaningful message.

Here’s a pro tip: Many department goals can be found in annual budget documents. While some of them will be very project specific, the higher-level goals may be a perfect fit to incorporate into your social media strategy. Better yet, talk to department representatives and ask them what the long- and short-term goals are. For example, if the public works division has a priority over the next couple of years to conduct major traffic flow infrastructure improvements, that can evolve perfectly into a new social media goal: educating the community about alternative mobility options. Be creative and get agency staff involved in social media goal-setting.


A best practice I like to teach is empowering agency staff to monitor social media for citizen activity related to the programs and projects that directly relate to their role. Several free online tools can easily allow staff to monitor keywords and hashtags while also keeping track of conversations and posts related to a specific subject matter. Free tools available today include setting up Google alerts or using Twitter advanced search and social mention services.


Offer regular social media training agencywide for all staff, leadership and elected officials — not just for social media content authors. Consistent training helps employees and electeds stay up-to-date about the policy, rules and legal aspects of posting on social media, as well as stay informed as to why certain social media platforms were selected for an agency presence.


Top 10 Things People Do When They Find out Your Job Involves Social Media

Top 10 Things People Do

I had some time on the general session stage at #GSMCON2016, so I wanted to do something fun. My original idea was to do a spinoff of reading “Mean Tweets”, which would be “Mean Conference Feedback”, but Mai Linh Johnson, our director of events, told me it wasn’t a good idea… So instead, I presented the “Top 10 Things People Do When they Find out Your Job Involves Social Media”.

#10. They ask if you can fix their Facebook.

#10 They ask if you can fix their Facebook

Because you have nothing better to do. And not their “Facebook page” or “Facebook Profile”, just “Facebook”.

#9. They cut out newspaper articles that mention using social media & save them for you.

#9. They cut out newspaper articles that mention using social media & save them for you.

Am I the only one? Relatives and their friends do this to me all the time. It will literally be a random article that happens to mention that a business has a social media strategy or something.

#8. They nod politely and secretly have no idea what you do.

#8. They nod politely and secretly have no idea what you do.

Happens. All. The. Time.

#7. They ask if their taxpayer dollars are paying for this.

#7. They ask if their taxpayer dollars are paying for this.

There are always some people who don’t see the value in social media for the public sector.

#6. They ask you to make sure something goes viral.

#6. They ask you to make sure something goes viral.

Because it’s that easy. Don’t you think if we could make everything go viral, we’d do it for every single post we made?

#5. #They #assume #you #love #hashtags #on #everything

#5. #They #assume #you #love #hashtags #on #everything

Please, #StopOverHashtagging

#4. They say, “Does that mean you’re going to tweet what we’re saying right now?”

#4. They say, "Does that mean you're going to tweet what we're saying right now?"

Well, I wasn’t going to. But if it makes you uncomfortable…

#3. They try to test you by referencing the most obscure social tool or platform they know of.

#3. They try to test you by referencing the most obscure social tool or platform they know of.

Because if you’re unfamiliar with a random social platform that only 5 people are on, well you must be a fraud.

#2. They ask if you have a real job.

#2. They ask if you have a real job.

They are probably wondering if this is really what you do for a living, because it couldn’t possibly be your bread & butter. But ouch.

#1. They ask if you’re hiring.

#1. They ask if you're hiring.

Because you obviously just play on the computer all day!


3 Ways to Take Advantage of Your Social Media Downtime

Woman typing on laptop & coffee

This article originally appeared in the “GovGirl on Social” column in Government Technology Magazine.

Your public agency’s social media program is in a good place. You have already developed a social media policy, implemented strategy, trained staff and are posting regularly using a social media management platform. What to do now that you’re done? The truth is that social media is never actually “done,” but here are three things you can work on when the rest of the process seems to be running smoothly.

1. Work on a process for resolving issues

What is your customer service process for responding to inquiries that are sent to your agency via social media? Do you have a 100 percent response rate displayed on your Facebook business page? Practicing and testing your citizen response process is something you can always work on.

Ensure that your process for answering citizen questions on social media has been made clear. Your profile pages should explain the timeframe in which accounts will be monitored, how quickly to expect a response, and include alternative methods of contact if necessary. Internally, staff members should understand the workflow for responding to inquiries and be ready to do their part.

2. Craft crisis messages

Something big might happen in your community on your watch. It could be a major weather event, large-scale accident or something more nefarious such as a major shooting. When a crisis happens, the onset is usually swift and you’ll have little time to sort out what to say on social media.

While most communications your agency makes on social media will be very specific to the crisis, there are some messages that you can write in advance. These pre-written crisis communication templates are better handled in your social media downtime, not during the disaster.

Consider the first thing your entity should say to your citizens on social media when a crisis happens. Your first response should include a statement that your agency is aware of the situation. You also want to let them know that you’re in the process of looking at it. Finally, your last two elements of that first message should be to express that you care and state that they will hear back from you. While the particulars of these four points will change based on the crisis, the basic template can be prepared ahead of time.

3. Make a list of influencers

Social media influencers are important because their networks tend to be large, so they might be able to help grow your reach by sharing or drawing attention to your posts. Cultivating a decent list of influencers is a good use of your downtime.

How can you find key influencers? Jot down who any influencers might be as it relates to your agency, department or program. These might be people of recognizable status in the community, leaders of boards and commissions, or active participants at public meetings. Search Twitter and Facebook to see if the size of their social media followers reflects their offline status. If so, make an online connection with them.

Perhaps the key online influencers in your community are entirely different than the major players offline. You can use free online tools such as Social Mention or Topsy to discover the handles of online influencers. Simply search for hot topics in your community and take note of the active users. Many times, these individuals are happy to help share or retweet posts by your agency if they align with the type of messages they typically send. You won’t know until you reach out.

Your work is never “done.”

Hopefully these ideas will kick-start your approach to social media downtime and get you thinking about other ways to strategically use these quieter intervals. Remember, you are actually in a lucky position that many social media managers never get to experience.