Politics, Social Media

You can’t escape debate: How to approach social media management during election time

Venessa Paech /

social media moderating

Venessa is the co-founder of Australian Community Managers and SwarmConf. Source: Supplied.

Politics, whether you love or loathe it (these days I suspect there are few in the former camp), affects us all. The social is political by nature, and all of us have ideas and opinions about the society we’d like to see. This bleeds into our everyday lives, often in unanticipated ways.

The upshot of that is most organisations, brands and businesses, even if they have nothing to do with politics or causal campaigning, will probably see an uptick in election-related chatter. Temperatures will rise and a post about a product promotion might rabbit-hole off into housing policy before you know it.

So, if you can’t escape it, how should you approach social media management during election time?

These tips will help you navigate the political waters.

Keep true north in focus

It’s best to adopt an approach aligned with your overall brand or organisational ethos. If you’re rarely political, suddenly fanning the flames of passionate debate might be confusing or even distressing for your social audiences or community members. If you’re consistently engaged, opting out of the conversation may feel suspect and inauthentic.

Conversation and maybe even conflict are going to happen. So develop a sense of how your organisation can honestly add something valuable, in step with who you are in the world, to inform your content and facilitation.

Consider counterbalance

Though the election is going to throw up a number of hugely important questions and discussions for the country, most of us will tire of campaigning pretty quickly (especially when the bar has sunk so low).

Consider curating content, activities and discussions for your community that counterbalance the election and alleviate their fatigue. Think mindful, calm and generously spirited content that inspires rather than depresses people.

Humour is a superb cudgel, and Aussies wield it expertly. Counter-program the dominant themes of the day and community manage so well that elected leaders take notes (the election falls at the same time as the Game of Thrones finale and Eurovision — a gift from the social media gods if ever there was one).

Encourage diverse voices 

Nothing kills communities faster than a monoculture. Even within social media groups or online communities focused on specific purposes, interests or demographics, there is a spectrum of voice and nuance that stands to enrich the group and the organisation facilitating it. Make social media great again by encouraging and embracing diverse views, perspectives and lived experiences from a varied group of folks.

Be bold and host a debate. Interview people in the community with different or unexpected takes. Let members of your community see each other in a new light. It’s healthy and it typically makes for longer lasting communities and more engaged social media audiences.

Moderation frameworks are essential

However you ordinarily moderate your social media channels or online communities, moderation around the election isn’t really optional. Hopefully, you already have protections in place around defamatory content, abusive content and the other range of problematic or toxic behaviour that can get your business — and the individuals posting — in serious trouble. But if not, start now.

This may be one of Australia’s most divisive elections in a long time. Establish clearly understandable guidance that helps your team mitigate risk and sort the harmful from the heated. Moderation isn’t black and white, hide or delete. The uncomfortable will happen, and it may not be high-risk by default. Explore engaging specialists to assist with nuanced coverage up to the election, and look to expert resources to inform ways of working you can build on long after Anthony Green has called the result.

Zero tolerance for harm

Adopt a zero-tolerance approach for ‘douchery’. Hate speech, criminal behaviour and content designed to create harm or distress have no place in civil society and the channels where we conduct ourselves. As Renee Diresta neatly puts it: “Freedom of speech is not freedom of reach.” People do not have a right to express their views and behave in any way they choose on your social media pages or online communities. They can take it to their personal platforms; you’re not obliged to cede yours (especially when there are social and legal implications if you do).

Permitting harmful content or behaviour invites more. Show that your spaces are respectfully managed and moderated and you’ll discourage bad actors. It’s hard when you’re fighting against algorithms that reward sensationalism, but I’m betting you can beat them.

Shutting down all election-related speech is technically an option (these channels are private and regulated spaces), but it’s not recommended. Instead of making the conversation go away, it’ll likely enflame tempers further and risk people assuming that your business has a particular ideological or partisan stance (whether true or not).

Moderate carefully, program compassionately and don’t waste your vote.

NOW READ: Your business needs a social media policy: Here are five rules that should be in it

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Venessa Paech

Venessa is the co-founder of Australian Community Managers, the co-founder of SwarmConf and a community consultant at Quiip.

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