Meet our first client blogger Joe Freeman.

Joe is an experienced digital lead, focussing on communications and engagement:

“I’m passionate about how we can use digital for good, delivering better services and experiences. I currently lead social and digital media work for NHS.UK within NHS Digital, working across national health campaigns aiming to improve health and prevent long term health issues.

For a while now, I’ve been wanting to share some experiences of managing large, public social media channels during the pandemic.

There’s a lot to say, and I’ve not really been able to find the time or — to be quite honest — the motivation to put some words down.

One thing that caught up with me in the latter part of 2021 was the sheer volume of negativity directed at us through our social channels. It crept up on me, and that took me a bit by surprise.

“We manage social channels so we should just be used to all this, right?”

The negativity and criticisms felt like they all increased dramatically as we moved into winter. The threats, the wild misinformation, the accusations. The racism, and the xenophobia. The all-round hideous takes about anyone and anything; from the NHS itself to doctors and even the people posting content to social media channels. Nothing was off limits.

But it became sort of an addicitive vicious circle; watching the news or a PM’s press conference, publishing social content, watching the abuse roll in and deciding what to do about it… And it has been like this for nearly two years.

“Turns out this will mentally take a toll on you.”

Funnily enough, despite being immersed in this darker side of the pandemic and social, it wasn’t purely COVID content that triggered my slight struggle to deal with what we were seeing.

It was the backlash against the RNLI that caused me real pause for thought and the recognition of how I wasn’t quite handling things well.

It all made me very angry and made all the negative engagement I was reading online as part of my own job that little bit harder to deal with.

I got to thinking about tips on how to cope with managing social channels, because this anger and frustration at the abuse we were receiving wasn’t healthy.

My team and I chatted about all this in a quite open and honest conversation, and I thought others might appreciate a handy reminder of not only some advice we came up with, but a reminder also that managing social channels is hard and should never be underestimated.

Here we go…

It’s ok to get upset

You are human, and it doesn’t make you bad at your job. Just because you’re paid to manage social channels, that doesn’t mean you have a heart of stone or don’t care about people or the world.

There are some really awful and offensive takes out there and being surrounded by them all day — seeing a side of the world outside of your carefully curated social media feeds — will obviously have some impact on you. Don’t pretend otherwise.

Try to separate yourself from your organisation

You may love — or at least have a close affinity to — where you work, but the problems and challenges you read on social are those of who you work for, not you.

Your job is to understand what’s happening and choose to escalate or ignore these things as appropriate, using your excellent judgment in deciding what to do. Ultimately, your job is to be aware of what’s going on and in a lot of cases, share that so others have a better understanding of what’s happening in the world.

Often, it’s not a social media manager’s job to decide what should be done about something; you are part of a team who can collaborate and understand the bigger picture of what’s happening. You are a valuable member of that wider team, not the person who’s solely responsible for handling issues.

Report content

I could write a whole blog post on reporting content and the failings of social platforms. But where you can, report the stuff that is abusive, false or offensive.

This might make you more annoyed when Twitter come back and tell you the racist abuse you flagged doesn’t break their community guidelines. But every once in a while, it works. And makes you feel a little better…

Follow accounts that bring you joy

My Twitter feed is full of stuff relating to news and health, because that’s my job. It’s also full of wonderful people who do bring me joy, but will also talk about the stuff I would do well to avoid sometimes.

To counter that, follow more accounts that bring you joy. Things that make you laugh, ideally. Or just things to cleanse your timeline, like cats doing stupid things

I would highly recommend FessHole on Twitter as a good starting place for some joy and amusement.

And yes, this is 100% an open invitation for you to share your joy-bringing social accounts in the comments or by @ ing me on Twitter…

Recognise that for social managers, digital detoxing isn’t always possible

I see a lot of this; people taking a break from social, or doing a digital detox. It’s a great idea, and more power to you.

But for me, it’s hard. I do really love social media, generally. I like to be up to date and aware of what’s happening in the world — I just need to find better ways of handling the bad stuff. I struggle to switch off, and a lot of the time, I don’t actually want to.

So as a social media manager, don’t worry if you don’t feel you can turn your phone off or detox from digital completely. That’s ok. But instead, do things to reduce the frustrations…

  • Maybe commit to not using one app for a day, so you’re not always checking everything
  • When you’re not working, check in less often. Say, first thing and in the evening?
  • SHARE THE BURDEN. There might be others in your team or wider organisation who can do the checking in on socials for you. You are but one person, and you can’t do it all.

Remember; social media is not representative of everyone

The hideous words you read on social are from a relatively small (but annoyingly vocal) subset of people. They do not really represent the wider population or the most common opinion about a subject. It just seems that way because all these people are finding their way to your social feeds to share their unfunny, terrible takes on a subject that in truth, they probably know very little about.

Social media can be a huge force for good and you are right to champion this, but recognise the bad points and how detrimental is can be for everyone, on many levels.

Document your moderation guidance

What is offensive? What comments should you hide or delete? Write up your processes and policy for managing social channels, and what constitutes abuse that you won’t tolerate.

Provide clear examples for others to follow in their actions, and be open with these guidelines so people know what to expect. And deliver them consistently.

Call it out

This might be a tricky one, depending on where you work or what you’re allowed to do. And whilst I can’t always do this within my responsibilities for the NHS on social platforms, I 100% advocate calling out abuse and misinformation online.

I want to work on how we can appropriately do this more. Start by talking to your comms team. Your organisation will have values that should be present in everything it does; so stand up for people, challenge the abusers and state that you won’t tolerate offensive comments on your social platforms.

In the grand scheme of things, it might have little impact. But it will make you feel better, and rightly shows others what matters to your organisation.

Walk away

Not, like, forever. But take a break from the channels. Tell someone in your team you need a break for a while and share the load. This is ok. You cannot function if you’re always on, so manage your channels with the resource you have available. Definitely have an out-of-hours rota (note to self; write up formal out-of-hours rota).

If you’re in a small team, or you’re the only one who manages your socials, you are entitled to help. Talk to your manager/s and get the support you need.

So, that’s a list of some things that social media mangers might want to consider to help make their lives easier.

In fact, this should be read by everyone who works in any organisation that uses social so that they can all understand the pressures that their social teams often come under.

Do I do all these things? No.

Did writing about them help and remind me about my own mental health and wellbeing when it comes to by job? Absolutely.

As ever, this isn’t an exhaustive list and I recognise these tips won’t work for everyone. I would love to hear challenges on these and further advice of things that work for you.

Comments are open, and you can find me on Twitter if that’s preferred. Hopefully I won’t reply immediately as I’ll be taking a break… 🙂

Hat tip to Wunmi, Nicola, Cal and Eva for the conversations and listening to me moan.

A big thank you to Joe for being our first guest blogger from our group of super clients. Our team can certainly identify with this blog topic…