One of the most useful aspects of social media marketing is the capacity for public, two-way conversation with your audience. For many, it’s also the most terrifying. The good news is there are plenty of ways to ensure you’re managing the activity on your properties while avoiding censorship in social media.

Reviews, comments, shares, reactions, replies and more – there’s a breadth of terms and placements for where your audience can express their opinion on your shiny new social media properties. Ideally, everyone would love to have these consist of nothing but glowing statements of praise and a thriving community of ambassadors. But as anyone familiar with the anonymity-emboldened comment section warrior will tell you, that may not always be the case.

So how do you deal with the naysayers? More often than not, businesses can be tempted to shoot right for the all-powerful ‘delete’ in an attempt to manage reputation.

More often than not, that’s the wrong decision. It’s important to be mindful of potential risks of censorship in social media, and other brand reputation concerns. Before you click that button, be sure you take these few factors into consideration:

Be Human

Nobody is perfect. Folks know that, and expect the occasional complaint with any business or organization. What’s important on your social media is not always to have just a page full of gold stars and unconditional support, but to have a showing of active engagement with your audience. When a complaint rolls in, the best thing you can do is engage and show your community you are listening. A page with a few bad apples that have at least been attended to often looks more human than just a page with a few five-star reviews.

From Attention to Advocate

A good brand advocate is the holy grail of social community members. Many times you will be able to earn the trust and attention of these folks from your product, service, or message. Other times, they can come from the other side. By showing attention to resolving the concerns of a negative comment, that community member can feel valued enough to be converted from a naysayer to an enthusiastic supporter. It also provides an opportunity to correct misinformation and educate your community.

Avoiding Censorship in Social Media

No one likes being silenced. This is particularly true on social media, where community decorum dictates free and open dialogue (within reason, but we’ll get to that a little later). If users notice their (or others) comments being removed from content, this can quickly bring about swift and enhanced backlash. This may cause more comments, accusations of silencing criticisms, and the necessity to ban antagonized users from your community just to manage the firestorm.

Outside of emotional reactions, there can also be legal ones. Governor Paul LePage of Maine has recently found himself in hot legal trouble for blocking users and deleting comments. The ACLU has filed a lawsuit against Maine’s governor, claiming that since these actions are from a government official, they constitute censorship and violation of free speech.

Don’t Feed The Trolls 

All the above being said, there is no pleasing everyone. Even after an attempted mitigation of a negative comment, the user can remain unmoved, or occasionally even angrier. Sometimes you will get those who are just looking to baselessly complain and others who recently discovered they can curse on the Internet. When launching your social media properties, consider creating a Social Media Policy that clearly states rules and terms of use for engaging with your page. As a last resort for when these terms are violated, comments can be deleted and harmful users can be banned.

At the end of the day, community moderation is a dynamic practice that should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. It is also a very valuable tool to engage with your audience. Consider working with your community manager to create engagement guidelines of common scenarios you may encounter to help streamline the process without silencing, participating in censorship in social media, or missing opportunities.