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.


City of Reno Proclaims June 30 as “Social Media Day”

As the host city of the first-ever state and local government social media conference this past April, the City of Reno, Nevada is the latest government agency to issue a proclamation naming June 30, 2015, as “Social Media Day”.

Social Media Day is the sixth-annual global celebration of social media. Conceived by Mashable in 2010, the day has become an opportunity for communities to connect and collaborate digitally and offline with citizens.


Five Timesaving Template Ideas for Government Social Media

Time Saving Ideas

Investing a bit of your time in creating social media content templates can be worth it in the long run, as your agency balances valuable staff time with the need for consistent social media posts. A template can simply be a text document with generic language and fill-in-the-blank sections. Here are five template ideas that can help you and your team lighten the load and boost citizen engagement.


Changing Your Name on Social Media

LOTR wedding

I recently got married (in an awesomely nerdy LOTR* themed wedding) and changed my last name from Fifelski to my husband’s last name, Dalton. Legally changing your name and dealing with altering it on your driver’s license, passport, debit cards, online billing, etc. is quite a process. However, this process was equaled in tediousness when it came to changing my digital footprint on social media.


5 Government Agencies Using Zombies to Raise Awareness

Zombie Preparedness

People just can’t get enough of zombies these days. These walking corpses with a hunger for human flesh are so popular, in fact, that they’ve become the focal point of video games, books, and even advertisements in addition to horror movies and gory television shows.

Companies such as Honda, Sears, and FedEx, just to name a few, have launched zombie-themed marketing campaigns, but you may be surprised that several public sector entities have also put zombies to work. Many of these campaigns involve social media.


Twitter’s New Advice for Government Features Info on Twitter Alerts

Twitter Alerts Illustration

It was reported last week that Twitter released a new best practices guide, part of which covers advice for government agencies using Twitter.

The section features a lot of old news that we’ve heard before – like advice on using photos and ensuring website integration. However, the best part about the new section is the comprehensive information on Twitter Alerts. The value of this new alert feature is that your tweets can appear on subscribers’ phones as SMS notifications when you mark the tweets as an ‘alert’. They will stand out in the timeline as well – marked with an orange bell.


Introducing Government Social Media

Social App Icons on Smartphone

This website is your new resource for all things social media- related in the public sector. Look for articles, news and training programs all right here. Make sure to mention this site to your friends in government who may be interested in learning the best and latest tactics for managing government social media.