This article by Lisbeth Darsh is part of our Blogtober event, which features blog posts written by industry influencers in support of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

"You've got to tell the world how to treat you." James Baldwin said that many years ago to Margaret Mead. His words are from the summer of 1970, but they apply right here, right now to managing your social media.

You've got to tell the world how to treat you.

Whether it's your company Facebook page, your personal Instagram account, your Twitter account, or your chat on Blab, you get to set the tone as to how you and/or your brand are treated on your page. If you set the tone well and encourage compliance, you might have one of the bright spots of social media: a page with thoughtful debate and a lot of fun. Your followers will be proud to be a member of the community you’ve helped foster, and they will want to share your content. Set the tone poorly, though (or fail to enforce it) and you'll end up with a cave of trolls and customers who would rather hide or unfollow your page.

Great management of your community is not an easy task. To set the tone properly for your brand, you've got to be strong when you need to be, forgiving when you can, and hard-nosed at other points, ready to execute swiftly if the need arises. Sort of like being a parent or a coach, except you never get to look anyone in the eye and read their intentions. It's gut instinct in a storm all the time, like flying a plane by instruments in stormy weather: looking out the window will only tell you so much.

Now, I know there are many folks out there who will just advise you to make great use of "delete and ban" or "block." I'm not going to deny the effectiveness of those tools. Sometimes, removing people from your page is the fastest way to end trolling and keep control (or what passes for control) over the conversation. Hit that delete/block button quickly when you encounter racism, sexism, and other forms of hate speech. Don't tolerate and entertain the mean-spirited people of this world.

But what about well-meaning people who make mistakes? What about the argumentative poster who hasn't said anything horrible but still you disagree with his words about your brand or you? What to do then?

You can delete his comment and ban him, or block him. You'll probably lose a fan, but that's okay, right? You're a growing brand and someone else will take his place. Or so you hope.

But what if you could convert him? What if it's true that some haters are actually fans waiting to feel listened to? What if you could actually turn those difficult commenters into your advocates?

Conversion is a hard game and that's why not everyone plays it. To take this route, you've got to be able to play the game smarter than anybody else. You have to know when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em. When to take care of a troll, and when to offer an easy out to the befuddled. There's no app that can help you here, and there's no perfectly executed calendar that will look beautiful in presentation to your boss. It's you and your gut instinct, and you've got to think quickly in this game.

A Few Things to Consider

1.) Identify the trolls before they start to make trouble. Get rid of them. Now you can focus on separating the wheat from the chaff.

2.) Instead of banning someone, sometimes you can offer a gracious way out of an awkward situation and make a friend. Give a confused person the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they've been pranked by a friend, or maybe they were not in their regular state of mind.

Recently, I wrote an article for Eat to Perform. When they posted it to their Facebook page (with 1.2 million fans), one of the comments below simply read, "Lez." Was this a slur on my sexuality? It was reasonable to assume so, but I decided to do a little background checking. A quick perusal of the poster's FB page showed no political rantings, and our friend Mr. Google revealed nothing hater-ish about the poster. So I decided to take the "Ellen" route (be funny and kind, whenever possible). I posted a reply, and hot-tagged the middle-aged Southern woman poster, simply asking: "What does that mean? I'm going to assume it's French for fabulous!"

Within a short period of time, the poster replied, claiming that she didn't know how that comment had appeared and that she hadn't typed it. I advised her that she should change her password because she could have been hacked and "lez" could be regarded as a sexual slur. I also wished her a great day. Within minutes, she had deleted the entire post, and I never had to call in for back-up, although my friends and fans were waiting in the wings and watching the exchange. Many people, when given a graceful exit from an awkward situation, will take it. Offer that exit only once. If they're not going to take the out? Hit that trapdoor. Those people have earned the ugly exit.

3.) Humor is your friend. Use it early and often.

When I ran the CrossFit, Inc. Social Media Team, I would wade into Facebook comments that were starting to turn ugly and insert a "Hey! Let's keep it polite or I'll turn this car around right now" or "Don't make me give a burpee penalty. Nobody likes burpees!" It was often enough to break the tension, give everyone a chuckle, and restore civility. There are many ways to execute this move, but those ways are unique to your community and conversation. One size does not fit all. Avoid humor to belittle, but embrace humor that has a "we're all in this together" tone – the former will earn you enemies but the latter will turn you all into kids on that car ride together. Expect some elbow pokes, but the car will keep moving and stay on the road.

4.) If you've got a respected figure on your staff or in your community, don't hesitate to use them to help restore civility to the conversation.

People can hate faceless brands, but it's much harder to hate a well-respected person. Put a human face on your brand. Back in those early days of CrossFit social media, I would often make the post as "CrossFit" on Facebook and then turn around and jump into the discussion as Lisbeth Darsh. Some people knew I was both, and some people didn't, but the important part was that people were more likely to listen to a person than to a brand, even though my personal page clearly showed who I worked for and my position.

Note: don't do this the sucker-punch way. If you have social media staff that wants to enter the discussion, they should be clearly marked as company employees on their profile. To pose as the average fan (when you are not) is to act without integrity. Your fans deserve respect. Don't try to trick them. Explain this rule clearly to your social media staff and enforce it.

5.) Realize some pages are simply too big to control.

Under a million fans? You have a chance. Over a million requires a larger team and aggressive maintenance, with great communication within the team. Sometimes, the best thing you can do with a huge readership is let many things go. Post your content and walk away. ESPN and Nike are good examples of this strategy. When the stadium is full and the music is loud, sometimes all you can do is focus attention on the field. Don't worry about the fistfights in the stands. They're going to happen and they're going to stop at some point. Your concern at this level is less about policing the stands and more about keeping the overall focus on the playing field.

Social media is a fast-moving field and comments move even faster. But here's the basic takeaway: the world is still made up of people. People. Not apps, not scheduled posts, not sponsored tweets. People like you and me. Some of us just get paid to surf the net and some do it for free. So there's no app that can replace hiring smart people with good gut instincts and an elemental level of kindness—and those are the best people to have on your social media team. People who understand your community on a superior level and who really care about that community. Teach them how to know when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em—and when to toss a little kindness in the mix. Things will turn out better than you ever expected. Tell the world how to treat you.

Lisbeth Darsh is a writer and independent author, blogging regularly at Words With Lisbeth and for various companies, including Eat to Perform and Steve's PaleoGoods. Formerly, she was a major player at CrossFit, Inc. Lisbeth believes in the power of fitness and words to change your mind and your life. You can find her two books ("Live Like That" and "Strong Starts in the Mind") on Amazon.

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