The hardest time of my life as a social media manager started in fall 2017. At the time, I was working at a mid-sized university in Ontario. I still remember getting home on a Friday night and receiving a text from my manager asking me if I had heard about an article that was going to run on Saturday. I immediately felt nauseas. Even though I didn’t know what the article was about, I knew it wasn’t good. But what I didn’t know is that I would be fielding hate and vitriol on social media for more than a year.
The controversy surrounded a meeting that a graduate student/teaching assistant had with her advisors over a video she showed in class. She recorded the interaction. When the news broke, the headlines quickly spread from local and national media sites, to international news, and the dark web. Videos shaming the university for what it had done were created by people from all over the world. The most popular post was by a YouTuber in Australia. At the peak of the controversy, podcaster Joe Rogan also weighed in.
While this was a difficult situation, it’s by no means unique. When it happened to me, I tried to research my way out of it. I watched this TedX talk by Jon Ronson on public shaming, and picked up his book, “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed.” I tried to keep everything very impersonal, and see the messages and posts directed to the university as separate from me. But in the end, I was the one taking the verbal bullets, and it was just too difficult to detach myself from it.
I hope you never have to experience this. But chances are if you use social media — personally or professionally — you’ll see some version of this. This blog post is my attempt to help support you when and if you do. And below I’m going to share some of the things I did, or wish I did.
Show, don’t tell
You’re going to need support, and in most workplaces, you will need to emphasize the urgency and need. I always found the best way to do that was through visuals and reports. Provide screenshots and metrics reports to prove how dire the situation is, as well as quantity of info you’re dealing with. Continue to provide updates throughout the crisis to emphasize that need for support.
Use conversation controls
Turn off replies on Twitter for any new posts, and consider turning off Facebook reviews (reviews are often “weaponized” in a controversy). Each platform also offers the ability to block certain words. You’ll definitely come across a few words you will want to block.
Share the burden
My manager would often cover off for me in the evenings so I could take a break. It was an enormous gift. If you don’t have similar support, consider turning on message notifications in the evenings.
Find a way to recharge
In the midst of the controversy, take your mind off of social media in your off hours by engaging in things that you love. And if social media is what you love, try engaging on platforms that tend to be more positive in nature. Also, don’t hesitate to unfollow anyone negative.
Take time off
Once the controversy has slowed down, take a break. This could be a holiday and/or a digital detox. Either way, you’ll need to be off social media for a while just to rebalance your mindset.
Seek out other social media folks
This is something I wish I had done. I was so focused on trying to keep quiet and keep it all together that I didn’t want to share. But I know there are other social media managers out there who have experienced this and who have could have been a support to me. I’m also here if you ever run into this type of situation, and would be more than happy to be your support. Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Seek professional help
Many employers offer EAP or counselling services. Use them. I still pause before posting to social media because I’m worried about the anger it could cause, and I know that’s a result of what happened.
The good news is that the crisis will end. But you want to limit the scars. Take good care of yourself.