Webinar presenter Nina Stively answered a number of your questions after her presentation, Hashtags and Hate Mail. Here are just a few of her responses.
Audience Question: It’s in the past year. We’ve seen a real increase in law enforcement agencies in ensuring their personnel receives the wellness training and access that they need. Are you seeing a similar movement in animal welfare organizations?
Nina Stively: I think that it is it’s growing. I think that people are starting to recognize the impacts of compassion fatigue and the stress of any sort of law enforcement, on the people who are actually performing that work every single day, and animal control is no exception. I think that NACA has done a great job really pushing for people to understand that animal control is a profession. It is not just a hobby. It is not just the job that you drop somebody into when you don’t want them to work in front of people anymore that it really is a professional goal for people, it is a career track. So with that professionalization, I think we are seeing a greater understanding of the mental health impacts on the organizations out there. Compassion fatigue trainings are widely available. University of Florida had a great compassion fatigue training that was available online for the first time, I think they just did that about 18 months ago. And compassion fatigue sort of training of any kind is something that I would strongly advocate for any organization evaluating as part of their regular staff training models. So I think it’s the word is getting out there. They’re certainly of the information that Animal Control Officers are in that high-risk bracket for on-the-job suicides is very telling. And when you relay that information to those who are funding your budgets, I think that is kind of a game-changer. It makes people realize that this is not just feelings and not just kittens and sad puppies and someone being mean to you on the internet. This is a real situation with real living impacts.
Audience Question: When talking about First Amendment rights. What does publicly funded mean? Does it include organizations that receive grant funds from a public entity, or is it just when you’re fully funded from a city or any budget?
Nina Stively: I would defer to your local attorney on that. Typically it is only going to refer to organizations that are being disciplined funded. So the primary source of your funding would be from taxpayer dollars. Grants or contracts, not so much. However, there’s going to be questions in terms of what pertains to FOIA for your organizations and those would essentially be impacted in the same way. So if you are subject to FOIA, usually if you have a contract say with a municipality, if you’re a private agency contracting anything related specifically to that contract may still be subject to FOIA. Your performance of job duties in terms of what should be discussed on social media and how it could be addressed or censored would probably fall under that same bracket. But I would definitely confer with your local attorney on that.
Audience Question: Do you recommend that just the PIO handle all social media responses for a shelter? And if so, does that mean that they’re essentially on call to respond to issues 24/7?
Nina Stively: I hesitate to say yes because talk about burnout. But yes, I think if you can truly narrow the number of people who are answering your questions, then that is your ideal situation. A PIO is kind of always on call so to speak, but what we do for example is we have a group of volunteers who are not official responders, so to speak, but they recognize when something might be getting a little hairy or getting out of hand. And they jump in and they’re not by any means speaking on behalf of the organization, but they may jump in and sort of keep things at bay after hours. If someone sends us a direct message, we have out of office replies for everything. So, for our email box for our Facebook Messenger, so that anytime somebody sends us a message. It does say this is checked from you know, 8:30 to 5:00 on weekdays. So, it does help people remember that this is while it is always accessible to them. It doesn’t always mean that it is staffed. So, making sure people understand that there’s a delay in response that is because you are, you know staffed by one person or you are a volunteer organization. Whatever it is, make sure you’re transparent as to why people are not getting instant responses. But I do recommend having less people be your official voice because you do want to have a sense of branding for your organization and really make sure that your messaging is consistent, especially on controversial topics.
Audience Question: So, the next comment is I really appreciated the formula that you shared of calling out false statements and then offering ways to help are there situations when you find that this approach is not recommended?
Nina Stively: Well, I think it depends on the person, you know, one of our local community pages has an individual who for lack of a better word is just off her rocker. I mean just the person is not mentally stable and they go off on just crazy extremist tangents all the time and that individual essentially has earned their own reputation for being a radical extremist in these local community forums. So, when it’s somebody Is completely extreme and clearly not communicating in a stable or informed way. There’s not a whole lot of use in calling someone like that out. However, if they kind of go on one of their angry tangents on our page, I will make sure that we have one of our stock statements referring to you know, one of the cases that they think that they know about and just sort of try to keep things on track. People can really take any number of approaches and talk about any number of things on your page at any given time. There is no off-topic when it comes to social media and people’s minds. People think that anything is relevant or now is the perfect time for me to talk about that one dog situation where you didn’t deal with my neighbor’s barking dog 11 years ago and then it died and it was your fault. So don’t hesitate to address things factually, but recognize that sometimes if you are proactive enough over a period of time, people are going to stop asking the crazy questions except for the crazies. And the crazies will always be there. But hopefully through being very proactive and calling out people consistently and it can be a job for a while. But if you are really consistent about responding to people who are just factually inaccurate about what you are doing. Eventually, they are less interested in arguing with you and you start having this core of people who will respond on your behalf, and it’s amazing. We have some really great experiences where you know recently someone posted some cats that they found and they didn’t want to bring to a shelter because I thought we would kill them. Well, there were probably a dozen people had commented about how wrong this person was and, “Hey, look back to here,” and they were linking back to our page for us because we are so proactive with doing that on our own page that other people are now copying and pasting our material. People that I have no idea who they are and then posting it on threads for us. So that is kind of your goal. Your goal is to have enough of your information available so consistently that people can look at it and say I’ll respond to this for you, you don’t have to. I know more about the shelter than this person does and give them that confidence to answer your questions for you.
Audience Question: Do you have recommendations for shelters with personalities who are repeat harassers. We’ve publicly responded with facts on their page and the thread, that didn’t go well and resulted in tons of people leaving nasty reviews on the Facebook page. And we’ve also tried to reach out directly but privately, they just don’t get it and double down. Do you have any suggestions?
Nina Stively: Reach out to them publicly would be my suggestion. We have done that so we have a group that has lots to say about us and we decided that part of our strategic plan was going to be transparency which of course any public agency it should be but the perception is with anything animal control or animal shelter or law enforcement related. They think there’s all these secrets that go on. There really aren’t, there’s no secrets. So we really tried to go above and beyond to create this transparency. And this one particular group just felt like we were still hiding all these secrets and we’re making all these closed-door decisions. And so there were actually two groups and initially what we did was, you know, I had open office hours. So, the first Friday of every month you can come on down and we’re happy to have you. So, anybody anytime come on down and so we had a small group of people and they came down the first Friday of every month for probably about 18 months. And every time it was like they thought there was you know, some kind of gotcha like they say, well we want to see the back hallway today some. I say, “Okay, sure. I’ll walk you through the whole building, watch your step, they’re still mopping.” So you walk them through and they actually stopped coming because they ran out of things that they thought they could accuse us of because there was nothing to see. There’s nothing to see here folks move along. So there was that and then the other group was just much more enthusiastic, I guess you could say with some of their opinions about the organization. So we decided again as part of our transparency mission to host an ask me anything which for those of you who have tried this, is daunting but it’s a live question and answer so anybody could ask us any questions at any time and we would broadcast the entire thing live. So it was myself and the chief of our officers and we invited the group who has a lot to say about us to host it. They couldn’t say no, because how can you say no if you’re giving someone a chance to expose all the wrongdoing that you think that they’re doing so they said, “Oh, yeah, we’re in, count us in.” So we set the date as soon as they said yes, we put the word out there. We put advertised and co-hosted with so-and-so group so that their name was out there is co-hosting and three days before the ask me anything was scheduled to air. And again, it was live, I said, hey guys, you know you guys already and they said, “Ooh well, we haven’t gotten any questions.” So you haven’t got any questions if I can get you some questions I said, “We’ll solicit for questions on our page.” “So yeah, we might have to cancel if we don’t get enough questions.” And I’m thinking oh, I know they got questions because I could see on their page where people on their fan group would start to ask questions, but they weren’t the type of questions that I think they were hoping for which would have been antagonistic. So we put the call-out on our page. Hey, don’t forget, you know, so-and-so group is hosting ask me anything on Saturday. So send us your questions. And so we got probably 40 questions all of which were very good. Some of which were provocative and we sent them, “Here you go lots of questions for you guys to ask, see you Saturday.” So we’re all ready, we’re just we’re amped and we’re fully prepared because again, we’re a public organization, everything is transparent. So Friday night. I went home to go sort of you take a deep breath before Saturday morning’s ask me anything. I got a message that tragically flu had swept through their entire group and they weren’t going to be able to host us, so very sad. However, that could have been a great opportunity for them to have said that we backed out of their event. So instead we decide to do it anyways, and we said, “So sorry the so-and-so group was not able to come today, but we look forward to trying it again with them and we’re still going to host it.” So we went forth and did the ask me anything anyways, and it’s just hosted live on our own page and got plenty of questions and it and it went wonderfully. So I think the thing is to call them out publicly. I know that was a long way of saying it but so often bullies of any kind have absolutely no stones and they are not going to say anything to your face that they would rather say online. So don’t give them the opportunity to hide, put it out there publicly. Say I welcome your questions and I want us to work together on this and we never guilt trip though. We never embarrassed them we just said hey, so sorry they weren’t able to make it. We’d love to reschedule with you and then went on so there was no opportunity for them to say that we canceled. But the reality is that they did and that was their choice. So don’t give them the power of saying that you’re hiding. If you’re not hiding, make it very clear as to who is got it.
Audience Question: if I post my facts and someone comes after me and says, “Well, how do you know?” What is my best response especially when my work doesn’t want me to reveal that our work for animal control?
Nina Stively: I think that that that your work needs to support you because you should not be answering any questions on behalf of the organization if they don’t want you to. So, don’t put yourself in a position of risk essentially by people wanting to know how you got that information. Figure out if there can be a social media policy, if you can be an admin if you can perhaps direct people to only communicate with you in a certain way, so maybe it’s just on Twitter. It’s just through you know, your Facebook question and answer page, very sort of loosely manage page. I would just say don’t answer questions that people are asking you because they know who you are. So I know that’s a lousy answer because you want to help people you want to answer their questions. But if your work doesn’t want you to acknowledge that you are who you are then you shouldn’t either. And just answer people in sort of a gentle way and say if they already know that you work say for animal control, don’t hesitate to say, you know, I’m really sorry, but I can’t speak on behalf of the organization. You can say that in a way that is it your own words and is most comfortable to you. But don’t put yourself in a position to speak on behalf of your organization who is not ready for an individual to speak on their behalf.
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