The Do’s and Don’ts of Responding to Social Media Comments

Dealing with the public over social media when you are a public sector organization (PSO) posts a particular set of challenges. Some people inherently dislike and distrust the public sector and will feel the same about your organization. Some may try to use your social media channels to vent on issues that may or may not even be related to your organization. For trolls and the like, you present an easy target. However, as a PSO, you are held to a higher standard. Even when you may not feel like it, you will be expected to maintain a level of professionalism beyond reproach. Here are some tools and some do’s and don’ts to help you navigate these murky waters.

Clear Terms of use

Spell out the rules of the game from the get go. Your terms of service, available through your Website and where possible, your social media platforms (even if only through a link) should include things like:

  • Business hours

  • Response times for comments

  • What types of comments are not acceptable to you. These can include comments or content:

    • advocating illegal or immoral activities;

    • that infringe on copyrights or trademarks;

    • of an obscene, abusive, or hateful nature;

    • intended to defame anyone or any organization;

    • promoting particular services, products or political organizations;

    • containing private information about the user or about a third party;

    • are misleading, false, of a highly questionable nature, or otherwise unverifiable;

    • are clearly spam;

    • are clearly off topic.

  • A Copyright disclaimer

  • A link for media enquiries

A Social Media Interaction Protocol

This is an internal document to guide employees on how and when to engage with the public. It can include things such as:

  • When to respond to comments;

  • How and when to remove comments;

  • When to seek approval for a response and whom to seek approval from;

  • When to refer the comments to another section or unit, and who you should refer them to (e.g. to your media relations section if the commenter is a journalist, to specific program contacts for program enquiries, etc)

Another good to have is a Response Flowchart

Many PSOs that have one adapted one of two popular models, namely the EPA Response Guide, or the US Air force Response guide. It is a really good, easy tool for employees to refer to.

Finally, here is a quick list of do’s and don’ts for dealing with comments.


  • Pick a fight on social media – it never ends well;

  • Try to change someone’s mind – that never happens;

  • Feed (i.e. interact with) the trolls;

  • Make it personal;

  • Remove comments without an explanation;

  • Remove comments because you don’t like them or because they are critical of your organization.

And Do…

  • Take the conversation offline when appropriate (i.e. if it is a private matter or a specific situation concerning the individual);

  • Keep it professional;

  • Know who you are dealing with – is this a journalist? A lobbyist? A troll? Are they influential on social media? Do they have an agenda? Do they have a history of posting negative comments on your channels?;

  • Post corrective information if you believe the comments are an honest mistake (as opposed as someone with a set agenda or a troll)

  • Stick to the facts;

  • Refer to authoritative sources when answering;

  • Do thank people for RTs, good comments, etc. Offer more info if relevant;

  • Get pre-approval for different types of interactions;

  • Do have a crisis plan in place in case a simple comment escalates into a full blown PR crisis;

  • Keep track of your interactions, good and bad.

I hope these few tools and tips will help make your use of social media a more productive and enjoyable exercise.

Alain Lemay is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Lori Gama

Excellent blog post, Alain! Spelling out the rules and terms of service immediately is the most important step. Also, it’s very helpful to educate supervisors how critical the Interaction Protocol is so they know they should immediately respond to you, if you’re the one in charge of managing social media.

Alain Lemay

Thanks Lori, and I agree, clear terms of service are key but they are only useful if everyone involved is aware of them and knows what to do and how to do it.