Policing social media – 5 steps for preventing a crisis on social media


In the wake of the terrible tragedy at Corpus Christi Catholic College yesterday, where 61 year-old beloved teacher Anne Maguire was stabbed by one of her own 15 year-old, pupils, my thoughts turned to the difficulty in policing social media. In a situation like this, where the identity of an underage offender must be protected in the media, how do the West Yorkshire Police Service and the school’s teaching staff prevent any of the 950 college students from discussing details of the case openly on social media? The long and short of it is…they cannot.

Social media is a platform for free speech and if the anger and hurt being felt at the college fuels a public conversation in which the suspect is named, there is really very little that anyone can do to prevent it. Unlike official media companies and publications, sanctions and threats of prosecution on the children of the school are both unlikely to be affective or adhered to. Therefore, the only prevention of such a problem lies in the education and explanation of the severity and negative impacts of discussing sensitive information on social media and trust in the children’s understanding and respect of the situation.

This is a particularly sad and, thankfully, rare example of social needing to be policed. However, in the professional sphere, protecting brands and company policy – the need to police social is very much an everyday problem for organisations across the world. I think we all remember back in 2013, when HMV went into administration and committed a mass-firing of several of their employees. They neglected to make sure that those losing their jobs had their access to social media revoked. Subsequently, HMV employee Poppy Rose live tweeted from the firing room using the hashtag #HMVXFactorFiring and gave detailed information about what was happening in the boardroom.

Fortunately, there are a few simple rules that you can follow to prevent such a crisis and ensure that your company limits the chances of a social crisis.

1. Bring out the rule book!

It is important to have a set of social media rules and guidelines outlining policy for using social media. This provides a level of best practice intelligence and structure for employees to work from, outlines any illegal or disallowed behaviour and can also help to give structure to the social brand with a consistent message or tone of voice.

2. Call in the SAS (social activation squad)!

It is important to have a dedicated social media team with an understanding of their duties, actions and levels of contribution. Once these people are in place there is no confusion about who is accessing the platforms and posting. If this all goes through one central sign off process then further prevention of bad messages and mistakes can also be achieved.

3. Keep your eye on the ball!

It is important to be monitoring, listening and tracking your activity on social media – what is being said? How often are we saying it? Who (in the team) said it? How do I punish and reward positive and negative social activity if it cannot be traced internally? There are a variety of tools that can help with this, find one that works for you and use it.

4. Don’t forget to lock up!

It might seem incredibly obvious, but as demonstrated in the HMV example cited above, you need to ensure that only the correct people have access to social accounts and that you know who those people are. Make sure all passwords/logins are changed if people leave the company, give out different levels of access & keep track of those that have access. Simple stuff but it can be incredibly dangerous if a scorned ex-employee holds the keys to your largest marketing platform!

5. Hashtag hijacking!

When running a campaign, consider the risks and possible negative impacts of what you are doing. Don’t forget this is an open forum and even with all the above points in check, this is one that you cannot forget. Only last week the New York Police Department had a campaign hugely backfire when their hashtag #my NYPD was hijacked by people posting pictures of the NYPD engaging in police brutality rather than the loving, neighbourhood police pictures it was intended for.


All that said, social media is about free speech and we now live in a world where information is always available, a vast array of opinions are accessible. There is nowhere to hide and the truth will always out! Therefore, as prepared as you may be to prevent crisis, we just never know what will happen when we have conversations in the public domain. But, even in the face of a crisis, with quick thinking and humility brands can recover themselves and sometimes being in the public eye and letting the world see how well you deal with a problem can be your greatest asset.

To leave you with a positive final thought, phone network provider O2 came under fire when their network went down. They were inundated with angry tweets, but instead of offering up a generic corporate response, they dealt with each message individually, offering a personal reply, which dramatically altered brand sentiment and was ultimately a win for the company. There is hope for us all!

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