As our co-op colleagues continue to work tirelessly dealing with the damage and flooding from Florence, now is a good time to remind folks of some best practices on how to deal with negative comments and trolls on social media.

First, don't panic. This stuff usually passes, and it is very common for loyal consumer-members to jump to your defense.

But it is always good to have a plan in place. Cogan Schneier, NRECA's social media editor, has put together some tips on handling negative comments.

1. Planning Is Key. Have a plan for dealing with negative feedback on social, and if multiple people manage your social handles, make sure everyone is aware of the plan.

2. Standards for Moderating Comments. Not every social network allows for comments to be deleted, but be sure to have standards in place for when you would delete/hide a comment, such as if it contains personal information or threatening/inflammatory language. Try to make this policy clear on your page (some do this in the "our story" or "about us" section on Facebook).

3. Identifying Trolls. Try to recognize a troll versus an actual member. A troll is someone who may try to start arguments by posting off-topic messages or false information. Trolls are often best left ignored, as responding can usually fan flames.

4. Addressing Rumors. If a troll is posting statements that are provably false, and members appear to be parroting the information, consider publishing a post to address the rumor. A lot of co-ops were doing this in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Florence, when rumors swirled that the co-op itself would actually turn the power off before the storm. Many posted information about why that was not true, and they "pinned" it to the top of their pages or posted multiple times.

5. Tackling Emotions. For customers, think about the emotion behind the comment—Anger? Disappointment? Confusion? What kind of response would help with this emotion? Respond as quickly as you can, with as much information as you can. Consider directly private-messaging the user instead of posting publicly, to avoid amplifying the issue. If the user was incorrect or you solved their problem, it's OK to ask them to correct their negative comment. You want the best, most useful information out there for your members.

6. Learning Opportunities. Use the opportunity to learn and improve by taking screenshots or saving negative comments from actual customers for a post-storm debrief. If you are getting multiple comments from real members about the same topic, it may indicate that you need to produce stronger or clearer communication on that issue.

7. We're All Human. One of the benefits of social media is that it humanizes businesses. In times of crisis, it can be easy to resort to vague, PR-esque replies. But when possible, try to remain human and show personality in your responses, even when dealing with unreasonable customers. It reminds folks that there is a person on the other end, and especially with co-op members, that person is often a neighbor.

Earlier this year, we did some research for a presentation on the Communications Professional Communities page about how co-op communicators handle this issue generally. The name of the discussion was "Social media replies and comments"—check out that conversation.

Please feel free to reach out to JessicaO' or directly with any questions or concerns.