Even in 2016, some government agencies are still hesitant about creating an official page on Facebook, for fear of comments. Many times, these agencies are smaller cities, counties and special districts.
Because Facebook doesn’t allow page administrators to “turn off” comments, there are typically two reasons why government agencies are hesitant to create a page on the popular social platform: There’s no time to monitor comments and concern about negative comments.
First of all, being a Facebook page administrator for your agency doesn’t mean that you have to hang out on your page all day and night, waiting for comments to come in. Using any number of social media management tools, or Facebook’s own notification settings, you can receive an alert anytime a comment is made on your page — including receiving the alert as a text message. You can then determine if a response is necessary. Remember, not all comments are questions that will require a response.
If your Facebook page repeatedly receives the same comment from numerous citizens, you might “pin” a post to the top of your page that features your agency’s official response. Also, if your page is set up to receive private messages, you can turn on the “response assistant.” This feature sends a customized reply to let the people who send a message know that it is outside of the business hours when you’ll be monitoring messages.
Understand that if your citizens are unhappy, they are going to make negative comments about your agency whether or not you have a Facebook page. If you do have a page, it gives you the ability to respond to those comments to correct misinformation or help your constituents if they have a legitimate problem.
If notoriously negative comments on your local news sites have given you a bad taste, understand that Facebook commenters are generally a bit different. Why? Because they typically aren’t hidden behind the generic user name mask of anonymity that news websites commonly have. People seem to be less likely to enter into online rants if their identity is public.
Facebook offers an optional profanity filter that can be turned on in the page settings. According to the company, it determines “what to block by using the most commonly reported words and phrases marked offensive by the community.” I would advise that if you opt to use the filter, incorporate that fact into your official comment policy and be transparent about this publicly on your page.
If the negative comments from your citizens are caused by incorrect information, it’s a perfect opportunity for your agency to set the record straight by replying with the correct information. The key is doing this tactfully and respectfully — your tone is extremely important in these situations.
But what if these inaccuracies are repeatedly referred to in comments, or done so maliciously even after your clarifications? One approach is to create a rumor page online, and point citizens back to this anytime the incorrect information resurfaces on social media. For instance, Kansas City, Mo., has a section of its website dedicated to this purpose and even encourages citizens to contact the city if they hear rumors in the community.
Please don’t let the commenting function of Facebook deter your agency from setting up a page. Just like the official public comment time during meetings, hearing and responding to social media comments can help your agency earn valuable trust with citizens.