Saturday, 1 August 2015

How to be nice on social media, and why you should be

Chimpanzees
Image from Hellebardius on Flickr (CC)
One of the things that I’ve always tried to get across to people when helping them get to grips with social media is how personal the medium can be.

Think about it. Think about how personal your social media profile is to you. The number of key moments, the announcements, the baby pics, the weddings, the break-ups. It’s all there for us to see in all it’s glory in our timelines.

The point is that we’re all meatbags in cyberspace. Every single one of us. Until artificial intelligence finally gets beyond robots falling over and starts grasping irony, sarcasm and memetics as well as the human brain does, when it comes to social media management, brands are still relying on actual human beings, with hearts, minds, thoughts and feelings to manage their social media presence.

I’m reading a really interesting book at the moment called The Chimp Paradox. I’ve bored everybody I know with chapter and verse on how excellent it is, and now I’m going to do the same to you.

Essentially, this image forms the crux of the theory behind the book:

The Chimp Paradox - Your Brain
Your brain


Now, you’ll see a load of grey matter helpfully colour-coded into less grey matter, to show you all of the different regions of the brain.

Right in the centre, you’ll find a cheeky little f*cker known as the Limbic System. According to Wikipedia (which is never wrong), the Limbic system ‘is a group of forebrain structures that has the hypothalamus, the amygdala, and the hippocampus. These are involved in motivation, emotion, learning, and memory. The limbic system is where the subcortical structures meet the cerebral cortex.’

Essentially, it’s what we initially relied upon when we were in the jungle. It keeps us safe by flaring when we are under threat, and is responsible for our emotions, our motivations, and our urges.

It’s also the segment of our brain that makes us kick off when we feel like somebody or something has done us a disservice.

When two people’s chimps are in control of their brains, chaos normally ensues. You may remember this incident from earlier in the year, for example.



This video is what happens when two people’s chimps get start talking to one another. It’s not pretty, is it?

Which is funny, because this is what social media can remind me of at times - two chimps tearing lumps out of each other, whilst calmer people look on. The trouble is, that as soon as we start to get involved in the argument on social media, our chimp side takes over.

As a social media manager, I am used to seeing the very best, and very worst of people’s nature. It’s essentially no different to being a barista at Starbucks or McDonalds, except that when you say something hurtful to a person’s face, it’s a lot harder to just look up and carry on with your day, because (unless you are Patrick Bateman) you feel bad.

When you feel bad, it’s a combination of the chimp brain, and the human brain reacting to the fact that you’ve hurt somebody’s feelings.

When somebody works for a brand on social media, you don't always see them. In fact, you rarely do. You don’t know about their likes, dislikes or personal peccadilloes. They’re just doing their best to represent a brand and connect you with the information that you seek.

Sure, there are really bad ones - but let me tell you, there are some pretty bad customers too - life, in general, is a two-way street.

On social media, what some people do not realise is when they are attacking a brand, criticising a brand's social media management in personal terms, they are actually attacking a person. A social media manager, or a social media coordinator, who is there trying to do their job under particularly difficult circumstances at times.

Take the TFL Twitter and TFL Facebook feeds. They’re run by a whole team who work around the clock in central London. That’s a whole lotta meatbags, with the aforementioned thoughts and feelings that you talk about.

Often, people working in social media and community management roles would describe themselves as ‘a people person’. They love communicating with people, and one of the biggest skills that they have is being able to read between the lines when somebody is getting in touch with them, and find out the best way to turn that person’s situation around. Even when they can’t help, they go out of their way to find somebody that does.

Imagine social media abuse, online abuse of any kind, as static interference in your favourite TV programme. That’s how it feels to a social media manager. When you get a little bit, the TV gets fuzzy, and that’s a bit annoying, but you can make out what happens. If there’s too much, then you can’t see or hear what’s happening, and it’s impossible to make things out. In fact, try to imagine it as toxic TV static. It makes the person on the other end of the abuse feel awful.

Toxic TV Static

So, when you called the @tfl account on Twitter a f*cking useless tw*tting c*ntbag, although the swearing was creative, it probably wasn’t appreciated at the other end. And it’s not helpful. When was the last time you helped somebody out who was verbally abusing you? What would you think if somebody in Starbucks yelled that at a young barista who got their order wrong? Overkill much?

Social media can bring out the chimp in all of us - a naughty, moody, short-tempered chimp with too much power in the palm of their hands - like little Joffrey Lannisters, and we all know how that kid ended up (spoiler alert).

Joffrey Gif

Here’s a tip. You can have this one for free: the next time that you want a problem solved on social media, be polite with it. Chances are, the person that you’re contacting, whilst representing the brand that you are annoyed at, is not the person who deserves to have their day ruined by verbal abuse. The best way to get a problem solved to your satisfaction is to always, always, express yourself clearly, without trying to blame or shame the person on the other end of message. You’ll be amazed at the response you’ll get.

It’s like magic - all of a sudden, you’ll get a respectful answer, something helpful, and maybe even a resolution. Sometimes the resolution that you want may not be possible, but if you work with the person or account in question, you’ll often achieve understanding.

Online abuse is always the nuclear option. It’s not classy, and it’s not cool. I’d love to see it stop, but I’m a realist. It’s not going to happen.

The best thing that we can do is to keep trying to spread the message that it's not, and create the world on social media that we want to see, and that we all truly deserve. A world where we can express frustration without resorting to abuse. The sort of world that we created social media to be. That’s a bit rainbows-and-unicorns, I know that. But rainbows and unicorns to me are much better than abuse and ill-will. So let's start changing social media for the better.

rainbows and unicorns