Using Facebook to build community

​Some tips from the AVMA

Facebook is a great tool for veterinary practices and associations to engage with clients (or members) and the public in a more personal, fun and conversational tone. It’s great for community building, and lets you show a more human side.

That said, the number of “trolls” and “haters” appears to be increasing, and dealing with them requires additional time and effort. Overall, despite these challengers, it has been a great investment for us and can be invaluable for you.

Here are some things we have learned along the way:

1) Post a moderation policy (AVMA calls it “community guidelines”) that set the rules of engagement for your community. Feel free to use the AVMA guidelines as a template, and modify them as appropriate for your community. Alternatively, use this more-formal template if it better suits your needs.

2) ENFORCE the moderation policy. On an active thread, this will take some time, but it's necessary. When people violate it, politely remind them of the policy. For example:  “Terri, we understand the passionate feelings that come with this issue, but your post was a violation of our community guidelines and has been deleted. You’re welcome to disagree with others - including us - in this community, but please keep it civil and refrain from personal attacks.”  Warn them nicely once or twice, and ban repeat offenders or those who are truly heinous or vicious in their posts. Since Facebook now allows you (on a desktop or laptop) to sort the comments by Most Recent, it makes it a bit easier to monitor.

3) Auto-moderate your page for profanity. Any page administrator can do this. Go to the general settings window, and select Profanity Filter. A setting of “medium” or higher is recommended.

4) If needed, auto-moderate your page for certain words that are causing problems. This function will automatically hide or prevent posts using these words. As with #3 above, any page administrator can set this setting: in the general settings window, it's the Page Moderation item below the Profanity Filter. Please keep in mind that auto-moderating your page or shutting off the comment function comes with a price: these methods ignore what’s being said, as opposed to being aware of the dialog and possibly taking a proactive role. These steps don’t stop the dialog and, in many cases, drive the commenters to find another avenue that might be more damaging.

You could avoid posting anything that's controversial, but then you lose the ability to have a conversation on important issues. Increased activity increases your reach to potential members and to the public. The AVMA posts controversial issues, but we try to do so when we are available to monitor and police the comments and we usually put a reminder in the post to be civil.

If you're only looking to reach your members on social media, a closed Facebook group or, possibly better, a LinkedIn group might be a better investment of limited time. You could still allow non-members into the group as you choose. It does require moderation time as well, including the time to verify that the individual who wants to join the group is either a member or a legitimate potential member. But if you're also trying to reach, educate and engage with any members of the public, Facebook is still the leader unless you have predominately visual content (which doesn't apply to the majority of our associations).

The AVMA offers online resources that provide guidance for veterinarians regarding online reputation management and dealing with negativity and criticism on social media. Although it's primarily aimed at a practitioner audience, much of the advice is universal and would apply to associations as well.