Social media is a great tool, but like every tool and technology it comes with risks. Having instant access to the masses can lead us to saying or sharing things in the moment that, with cooler heads, we would filter out. However, that’s no the concern of this post. I’d like us to take a few minutes to reflect on the potential troubles that come with using social media to promote a church event.
As you might have heard on episode 61 of the ChurchMag Podcast, my church throws a huge event every year on the Sunday before Independence Day, the finale of which is a twenty-minute professional fireworks display. In order to promote this event, I created a Facebook event and shared it from our church page. I also auto scheduled a few posts so that they would go out when the event started and a then a little while after.
It went all well and good until the weather turned on us. Storm clouds rolled in, and it began to rain. Then, the rain passed, and the event began. The first hour or so went really well, until storms warnings began to be issued. Suddenly, people were commenting on Facebook, asking if we were going to cancel the event.
Now, if you’ve ever had an event, you know how hard it is to cancel/reschedule. Tons of volunteer effort go into these events, and any change in plans is going to result in major hiccups and, probably, the loss of a lot of money. This particular event is one that we hold knowing full well that we will lose money no matter what, so rescheduling is a big deal, since it means increasing that loss and increasing the burden on our already heavily burdened volunteers.
I answered a few comments with a noncommittal “Not yet” or “We’re hoping this storm will pass us by,” but the questions kept coming. For a few minutes, I felt like I had a good handle on this whole thing. I was the social media guy; I was on top of this…until the trolls emerged.
All of a sudden, we were being hit by negative comments and complaints about our “refusal” to cancel our event in the face of inclement weather. I tried to reply to these people, but some of their comments were so nasty that I became paralyzed, unsure of what to do. And then, it got worse. Some people began to defend us by attacking the trolls, and it went from bad to worse. I eventually starting deleting comments, but by then, whole threads of conversations began to turn sour, so I had to delete the posts that had become cancerous. Unfortunately, I neglected to delete the event page until an hour later. By then, we’d had several negative and, honestly, hurtful comments questioning our leadership, our judgement, and even our Christianity.
All because we wanted to throw a party for our community and couldn’t reschedule. People, huh?
It’s amazing how much you can learn through a very frustrating failure, but that’s how we redeem our failures, I guess, by learning from them and sharing that knowledge with others. To that end, here are a few things that I wish I had done differently (and will do differently next time.)
1. Have tighter social media control before the event
I do my best to manage our Facebook page, keeping it update, sharing event info and inspirational stuff as much as possible. However, I could have done a better job. First of all, I should have turned off comments on our page. That’s not to say that I don’t want to hear from people who’ve liked our page, but I’d rather have them message us directly, especially since message notifications seem to go through faster than general page comments. Also, removing the ability for the masses to make comments defuses some of the trollishness that people are prone to when they know they have an audience. Secondly, I probably shouldn’t have set up auto-shares without having the app (Hootsuite) loaded on my phone so that I could have altered, delayed, or deleted those posts as conditions on the ground change.
2. Have an idea of what to say should something go wrong
No one can prepare for all contingencies, but I should have prepared a few statements, in advance, in light of the potential for rain. In fact, I could have written a blog post explaining the situation, kept it under wraps, and then shared it if/when it was needed. That way, I would have a message ready, one written with thoughtfulness, not in the rush to get a message out while under duress. At the same time, having my iPhone in my pocket, I’m without excuse for being better prepared. I could have had a whole Evernote notebook dedicated to prepared responses ready to be shared at a moment’s notice.
3. Ignore baseless complaints/don’t feed the trolls
When the complaints started rolling in, I took it personally. I let it all get to me, and that kept me from thinking rationally and taking effective action. I should have remembered the age-old expression, “You can’t make everyone happy.” I should have just ignored the nasty complaints and worked on answer legitimate questions, while making sure that I was in charge of the conversation by posting updates, even if I was merely repeating vague reassurances. Instead, I tried to reply to and calm down angry people, but that didn’t help. When you reply to angry people, you validate their angry comments without disarming them. Face to face, a calm response can be very disarming, and you can usually validate a persons’ concerns, while ignoring their tone. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work out on the Internet.
4. Emphasize the positive
All while this was going, there were several positive comments being made, and even several adorable photos of the event being posted to our wall. I should have been interacting with these individuals. Sharing their posts at that moment might have been a bit like waving a red flag in front a of bull where the trolls are concerned, but that’s definitely something I did do after most of the Negative Nellies had given up for the night.
I’m sure there are some more great lessons I could have learned from this incident, but those four are what I’ve got. I hope you can learn from my failure like I plan on doing.