Online networking. That thing can really bring out the worst in people, can’t it?

Social media threads can be dangerous places, full of everything from outright trolls to plain old rude and offensive people. The stakes are especially high when it comes to feedback for brands, which means they need to watch their language carefully.

No obviously offensive content will be allowed, but they also don’t want to appear to censor their audience.

You want your audience to want to comment on and share your content.

You need them to trust that their opinions will be taken seriously.

You also want them to know that you will not tolerate any derogatory or offensive comments on your site.

How can one facilitate a lively discussion amongst a diverse group of people without letting things get out of hand?

The solution is a well-developed and communicated policy for handling user comments. You can achieve your goals by following these 16 suggestions.

The first step is to choose a moderator. You need a moderator who will check in on the thread at least once a day, if not more frequently.

In this way, you won’t have to worry about waking up to a social media page containing blatantly racist comments that have been left there for days, inviting a backlash from your more enlightened followers and possibly even a boycott of your brand.

It’s not the first time.

If you have a moderator who checks your social media comments throughout the day, this won’t happen.

The frequency is dependent on the average number of comments your brand receives per day

Determine what kinds of comments are considered harassing, and then disable the ability to post them.

Having a comment policy in place can help your social media followers feel protected when interacting with your brand.

In fact, fostering customer interaction is why your business needs a social media presence in the first place. People will stop visiting your site entirely if they feel unsafe leaving comments.

Third, never, ever, allow yourself to be an enabler of hate speech

The social media accounts associated with your company should be a safe space free from any hate speech.

Either contact the commenter privately to inform them they are no longer welcome to post on your page, or delete their comments if they continue to post hateful or offensive material.

Be aware that different social media platforms have different rules regarding the removal of offensive content and the banning of users from leaving comments on your page. When using any social media platform, it is imperative that you adhere to the site’s specific rules.

You must decide if you want to allow anonymous comments or not

Comments on social media platforms are not anonymous, but they might be on your website or blog. It is entirely up to you if you wish to accept those.

Women’s shelters and other organisations working with vulnerable populations may need to enable anonymous comments to ensure the safety of their clients.

However, if commenters are hiding behind their anonymity to write hateful things, then there’s no point in allowing it.

No spam acceptance please

People dislike spam in their conversation feeds just as much as they dislike it in their inboxes. What criteria do you use to identify spam? It is considered spam if a comment is purely promotional, leads to a potentially dangerous website, or is completely off-topic.

Inappropriate comments should be deleted promptly

Keep in mind that if an inappropriate or offensive comment is left on your brand’s page, it could stay there for days. Any inappropriate comments should be deleted immediately, or the moderator should be notified if that is not your job.

Try out pre-moderation

Having comments pre-moderated is a good idea if you have the time and manpower to do so. Put simply, this means that comments will be held for moderation before being made public.

While this is a great way to filter out spam and trolls, it does require daily moderation from an administrator. If your commenters are very engaged, that could take a significant amount of time.

Don’t be offended by well-intended criticism

Perhaps someone makes a statement about your company that completely goes against your values. Perhaps they will publicly vent their frustration on your page.

These are not inappropriate comments, but they can be unpleasant to hear. If you delete them, it looks like you don’t care about what your customers have to say. To the contrary, the best strategy is to treat the commenter with respect. Recognize their viewpoint or criticism, and then consider how you might influence them to change their mind.

Set a time frame for when questions will be answered

It has been found by Convince and Convert’s Jay Baer that 42% of customers who complain on social media expect a response from the company within an hour. Twenty-four percent want an answer in thirty minutes or less.

Even if the remaining 36% are more forgiving, they won’t be happy if they have to wait a week for a reply to a comment they made on one of your posts. It’s for this reason that a prompt reply to questions or concerns is of the utmost importance.

Make use of a social media management application

A social media management tool like Hootsuite can be extremely useful if you maintain multiple social media profiles.

To avoid having to constantly switch between open browser tabs, these apps provide a centralised location from which you can monitor all of your profiles and comments at once. In addition, you can have email alerts sent to you whenever your brand is mentioned online.