Have you experienced this? You have published an article on a (supposedly) uncritical topic and suddenly the comment section literally explodes? One of your members polarises with a comment which ignites a heated discussion.
How can and should you react – and when? How do you defuse the situation, enforce the rules you have set up for your platform and resolve the situation as quickly and professionally as possible so everybody can return to their daily routines? No question, this is a delicate situation that has made many professionals sweat!
1. Stay calm and collected:
Do not let yourself be affected by emotions. Keep a cool, clear and neutral standpoint, but take criticism seriously at all times and acknowledge and respect the opinions of critics. The first step in this situation is to develop an awareness of the difference between reality and (subjective) perception. Being right or wrong doesn’t always count as much as what the critical voices think is right or wrong at that very moment. All you can do then is defuse the situation. The purpose of crisis communication can therefore only be to show honesty and effort in the crisis and to handle it in such a way that everyday routine can resume for your association as soon as possible.
2. Resolve major potential conflicts through direct dialogue:
If the atmosphere becomes particularly negative, you should engage in a direct dialogue with the member and clarify the situation. You can emphasise the importance of the issue by asking the management or a responsible person from the very top to contact the member or volunteer directly.
3. In case of netiquette infringements take transparent, consistent & friendly actions:
4. Maintain a professional approach:
If critical political opinions that have nothing to do with the subject at hand are expressed, then you may and should also point this out. e.g. “This political statement has nothing to do with the topics we focus on in our extranet. It is therefore not a topic for our member platform. Please use another platform for that.”
5. Do not forget the passive readers:
Critical and even unwelcome comments should not be left uncommented. Be aware of the multiplication effect. The person that wrote the critical comment may very well be beyond convincing, but instead there are numerous other people who will read this comment and perhaps form an opinion from it that is disagreeable or critical, and above all based on insufficient facts. Therefore you should at least publish a basic statement or response below it. This slows or stops the negative multiplication to other readers.
6. A membership platform does not work without rules:
Clearly defined rules are the absolute basis for being able to act in the event of a potential crisis. Whether you call these rules “terms of participation” or “netiquette” is up to you. Nevertheless users should explicitly confirm these rules when they register on the extranet for the first time. A link to this in the main menu is also very helpful.
7. Isolate unwanted promotion:
If unwanted advertisements or promotions are posted on your platform, start a group for promotions and move the post there. Don’t forget to openly communicate to everyone that this specific group exists solemnly for this purpose.
8. Learning from criticism:
You see criticism as a potentially helpful guide to improve communication and action in the future. In other words, learn from the criticised weaknesses (if justified) and adjust your communication and behaviour in the future.
9. Appreciate criticism:
Critics who give feedback have made the effort to point out what they think is wrong. Do not take that criticism personally! Provided that the proper tone has been upheld, you should also always show gratitude for critical feedback. If your association were indifferent to the critic, he or she would not have bothered to voice criticism at all.
10. Solve problems nevertheless:
If criticism is also justified in the matter itself (apart from form & tone), then the underlying problem should also be addressed and solved. This also takes away the basis for the criticising person to continue addressing it. Be sure to keep a balance of both sides here: The problem pointed out must be solved, but your rules (netiquette) must also be consistently enforced.