Community management skills: growing a thick skin

At some point in every community manager’s / social media professional’s life, there will come the Thick Skin Moment.

Actually, if we’re honest, it’ll happen with a fair amount of regularity. I always think I’m more immune to it than most, since before being a community manager, I did my time as software technical support. There is potentially little that is more dispiriting than being a support officer, since every single person who calls, emails or writes to you is doing so because something (that you have little control over) has failed. But you learn some valuable lessons from it, since you have to remember the frustration of being in their shoes and keep reminding yourself that they don’t know you personally and that they think of you as a company entity.

Company entities are untouchable, after all, right? They’re not real people, they don’t have emotions, they can’t have had a bad day, too. Most of the time, I had little sympathy for these entities even when I was one. Good customer service means absolutely putting yourself in the customer’s shoes and understanding their position. It’s showing that the company is understanding, helpful and responsive.

If I say so myself, I’m generally good at that!

Of course, sometimes things go wrong. Short-staffing is often the main culprit – things slide down the agenda and in the ultra-time sensitive world of social media that’s a Very Bad Thing. It is; I know it, and I try to practice the constant monitoring and updating I preach, knowing it’s easier with a bigger team, etc etc. And also knowing excuses don’t cut it; you just have to do your job well and consistently. If you mess up, you apologise. End of.

For all of that, sometimes a barb that I don’t think is fully deserved gets through that toughened hide. The public complaint that comes out of the blue, without any attempt at a one-on-one resolution. The advice which is little more than an insult. The threat from the person who disagrees with your rules and regulations (despite the fact that they’re clearly stated).

What can you do? Aside from doing your absolute, honest, level best not to let it become a situation again if you can possibly avoid it, that is. Not a lot. Smile, take a deep breath, respond rationally and politely and remember that you, too, will have ranted at someone at some time, publicly, when you probably shouldn’t have. Social media make that kinda easy. If you can’t be polite, take some time out and let someone else do it. Have a cup of tea and repeat after me: “It ain’t personal, no matter how much it feels like it”.

Actually, maybe there is another thing. Maybe next time you’re a customer, you can remember a few things that would make the exchange so much more pleasant for everyone concerned. Maybe you can say to yourself:

I will try and deal with this politely before I start being critical, and I’ll name and shame only if I’m getting a genuinely bad experience that it’s really important to go public about.

Basically, I’ll use social media for a good, positive outcome.

Honestly, I’m not intending this post as a ‘woe-is-me’ complaint, nor a snark-fest. It’s more that realisation that, as I’m learning to be a better social media professional, I can also learn to be a better person who uses social media.

Huh. I should contact Jerry Springer with that. It must be Final Thought material, right?


  1. I respect anyone who deals with the public on a day-to-day basis, especially those who deal with complaints. I am SO thin skinned that I can’t help take complaints personally, which really frustrates me, which makes me cry! I am always hyper-aware of how the Customer Service person feels when I’m calling to complain about something and am always terribly nice about it in case I upset them. Not sure if this is the best way to be!


  2. Sorry, Alice, I thought I’d approved your comment ages ago and clearly hadn’t!

    I have cried! I have taken it personally. I have become angry, and frustrated and upset. But I have learned the hard way that there’s no point anymore. I often use the line “I know this isn’t your fault personally, but you are the only person I’m able to speak to about this,” which generally gets across the message that it’s not a personal attack, and, like you, I stay polite and friendly about it.


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