Adjusting content or moderating online conversations can make or break a brand. Whether you’re in PR or a Social Media Manager, knowing how to navigate online interactions is important. As is understanding the stakes your brand has in significant cultural moments.

Managing social media moderation is especially critical to plan ahead for as news becomes more continual and even more immediate. With fast-paced social feeds cycling from one event to the next, the internet can feel like the Wild West. In this guide, we will define social media moderation and how to leverage it to communicate during global movements.

What is social media moderation?

Social media moderation is the process of controlling the wanted (positive interactions or information) versus unwanted (offensive or discriminatory content) on platforms like Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.

Question mark icon above the title 'what is social media moderation' followed by social media moderation definition

Large-scale global events tend to generate a lot of social media comments and content that are ripe for questionable hot takes. As a brand or business, how do you ensure that the conversations you take part in are appropriate? Enter social media moderation.

Why social media content moderation matters right now

Moderation creates a safe environment

Offering support to audiences when they need it most builds loyalty. Consumers are becoming savvier. They know when there is a disconnect between a brand’s values and how they promote a product or service. In fact, according to the 2022 Sprout Social Index, most US consumers (71%) agree it’s important for brands to take a stand on sensitive issues.

List of popular consumers' POVs on brands involvement in sensitive topics with 71% saying they strongly agree or agree.

BBC Sport had a sound approach to setting boundaries on their pages amidst transphobic comments about Olympian Laurel Hubbard.

The BBC Sport account shared that they would:

  • Block people bringing hate to their comments sections.
  • Work to make their accounts kind and respectful places.
  • Keep growing their coverage of women’s sports, and keep covering issues and discussions around equality in sports.

This statement sets an expectation that not all comments can be resolved, but they can be moderated.

When forming your approach to moderation ask yourself: what is the balance of authenticity and remaining true to your brand identity? Speaking on issues like racial justice, LGBTQ+ rights or public health may receive pushback with many different opinions and commentary. By filtering out unwanted or offensive comments, you create a safe environment for your audience.

It provides your audience with a platform they can trust

Social and world events impact your presence and community. When there is high engagement, you want to have control of the information on your social pages. Some users leverage the comments section to share hateful messages or for personal gain to increase their own profile traffic. Moderating any misleading user-generated content ensures your audience has a credible source of truth. It also allows healthy interactions between you and your audience, enhancing your brand’s online presence.

Moderation helps protect your brand image

When running a social media campaign, you’ll have an objective to drive engagement or product awareness. Sometimes user-generated content can deviate from your purpose—even create an unexpected controversy involving your brand image. Implementing moderation reduces the risk of unwanted content while maintaining your brand identity. While not every negative comment is a crisis, the way you approach controversies can help curb one.

Creating a strategic communications plan for social media moderation

Let’s walk through turning this advice into action. Here are three things to think about while creating your strategic communications plan:

Perform a communications audit

Evaluating your current strategic communications is a necessary way to understand your situation. An audit can assist in understanding your audience’s needs and priorities. Conducting a SWOT analysis on your channels and communication style will inform your strategy and prepare you to be proactive rather than reactive to world events.

Assess which moments are right for brand involvement

As mentioned earlier, your core values should guide your social marketing efforts. Especially when relating to your audience. If you’re unsure when you should or shouldn’t be involved, you may want to consult your company’s legal team to assess when a response is needed vs. not needed. If a response is needed, they can help guide your interaction while protecting your brand.

Look at Peloton’s response to violent hate crimes involving Asian Americans. The exercise brand took to social media to announce that they were making a $100,000 donation to the Asian American Federation.

Peloton followers took to social media to applaud the company on its stance because the brand leaned into its company values in relation to the tragic events.

Screenshot of Facebook comments praising Peloton's donation to Asian American Federation

This is also a strong example of getting familiar with the current conversation before posting. Social listening is a great tool to assess the intersections between your audience and the larger situation. Explore the themes and patterns of the conversation and general sentiment. If it doesn’t relate to your audience or brand, it’s better to stay silent rather than be inauthentic.

Form a proactive plan-of-action

Get ahead of any situations that may occur. With a well-designed and strategic guide, you can plan for communication in times of crisis. Your plan should help build support while maintaining brand values. In addition to assessing which occasions are right for your brand, think through the following:

  • Create a list of brand dos and don’ts that can guide your team in moments of uncertainty.
  • Create a flow chart that determines if the situation is relevant to your brand or values. If yes, proceed by mapping out response scenarios. If no, consider pressing pause.
  • Organize response templates that can help inform what to say, so you can be prepared to address comments your brand deems worth responding to.

Another beneficial step is electing a member or team to monitor conversations on your social posts. Having strategic steps like this in place for social moderation will help you be ready should any situation strike.

Social media content moderation and publishing tips

While you can create an action plan to help prepare your brand for most situations, the unpredictability of world events will still involve some nuance in your execution. Let’s walk through common situations brands face when engaging in social media moderation.

When should my brand stay silent on tough issues?

When you’re uncertain when to speak or stay silent, ask yourself if it’s appropriate to contribute to a tough cultural moment. Do you have any data or insights from your community to justify going quiet for a few days? Remember, staying silent is not going dark. To clarify, social silence is a strategic pause on content that is either not relevant to the current situation or does not contain critical information for your audience at the time.

The University of Colorado College of Engineering & Applied Science implemented social silence across all platforms in the beginning of June 2020 for two weeks. The university’s Twitter account paused any content that was not relevant to Black Lives Matter and the protests, allowing their community to focus on the issues at hand. As a result, their engagements recovered quicker than impressions, with engagements in June much higher than in May, yielding a higher engagement rate per impression.

Two weeks of silence allowed their community to focus on the larger societal issues, and it positively influenced the way their audience engaged with content.

Weighing in on societal issues is a common challenge for brands to navigate. Brands must first understand the complex landscape they operate in before engaging, as well as the space they take up by engaging.

When should my brand pause publishing?

On top of not commenting on the cultural moment, you may need to consider pausing the publishing of your social content that is not relevant or critical to your audience at the time. Before hitting pause, ask yourself if the world needs to hear from your brand right now.

When you choose social silence, you are doing three things:

List of key actions social silence supports: fosters positive brand perception, prioritizes critical messages and acknowledges the situation.

How should I respond to public criticism?

How you handle public criticism determines the path forward to maintaining your reputation. The most important tactic: do not ignore negative comments. You should aim to reply to most comments—positive, neutral or negative.

When facing criticism, you want to help fix the situation, not escalate it. Resolving criticism takes a lot of consideration and patience. Contemplate teaching your team the benefit of understanding effective customer service. You should also have guidelines for escalation management and a social media crisis plan to help navigate tough situations.

How do I navigate comments that cannot be resolved?

Individually responding to inbound posts or comments strengthens your brand’s relationship with its customers. However, comments that veer into hate language (racist, sexist and derogatory) may not be resolved or warrant an individual response.

Look into adding an exclusion list to your pages that will automatically filter out unwanted comments. You could also pin your brand’s community engagement guidelines so users will know what types of comments will not be tolerated.

Moderate with confidence

Communicating with your audience during world events may seem overwhelming. With social media moderation, you can tackle and mitigate any tricky conversations that may arise. Moderation is just one of the many tools in your toolkit to respond with ease.

Now that you know how to moderate tough conversations online, consider creating a social media crisis communication strategy. Being able to plan for the worst and adapt quickly is critical for social media. With these assets at your side, you’ll be ready to handle sensitive situations or emergencies that come your way.