Management Partners Special Advisor Linda Barton attended the Texas City Management Conference earlier this month and sent this report.
The topic that continued to emerge in sessions was the impact of social media. The concept of social media is relatively new, but the impact has been enormous. There are instances where individuals have lost their jobs, elected officials have been recalled and organizations have been thrown into chaos due to rants on social media. There were sessions on ways that public organizations can effectively use social media as well as minimizing negative impact if backlash starts toward the organization or toward individuals. Even more important was the number of times speakers in numerous sessions talked about how a variety of issues escalated due to the social media discussion.
Very few cities have a social media policy that apples to the public. More, but still few, have a social media policy for employees. Most of the principles of a policy are common sense—no anonymous posts, no personal attacks, no profanity, no threats. If these behaviors occur, the public organization indicates they will remove the post from their site.
In cases of attacks on sites not owned by the city, it was recommended that responses be factual and in sync with organizational policies. If the comments are positive, it is important to respond and thank publicly. If the comments are negative but a common issue, acknowledge and respond, which shows that the organization is listening. If the complaint is specific to an individual or small group, the recommendation was to publicly request a private meeting with the individual. Sometimes, in the case of outrageous comments, others may address it on your behalf and you do not have to say anything. But, never engage in negative emotion, be concise and be strategic.