The etymological roots of the word troll go back to the 1600s, when trolls were ugly dwarfs or creatures that made life difficult for travellers. Though the usage of the word has changed completely in the modern world, trolls today stay true to their disruptive nature. A social media troll is a person who posts inflammatory content intended to provoke a response from others on online platforms, causing disruption and controversy.
Trolling on social media is much like the trolling technique in fishing. A troll’s posts are similar to the colorful baits and lures that are dragged along the water from a moving boat to attract fish. Much like the unsuspecting fish, internet victims of trolling “take the bait”.
Internet trolls do not stop at just harassing individuals. They also target brands online. A survey about online trolling found one in six business owners claimed unfair negative posts could destroy their business completely.
Trolls can wreck serious havoc on your business. A study found that one negative article found on Google can turn off 22% of your customers – and four or more could lose you 70% of your potential customers.
Here is what to do when your brand gets trolled:
1. Do not respond in kind but with kindness
The first strategy that might help you escape from the clutches of a troll is to try to establish a cordial conversation with them. Thank them for their comment, acknowledge their concerns, and let them know that they are being heard. If a negative comment is of a real consumer, and not a troll, they will be pacified once they are heard and responded to. Composed, measured responses from you will evoke respect from unsuspecting witnesses. It is also an excellent opportunity to position yourself as a brand that is open to criticism, professional and involved. Finally, trolls may lose interest if they find that the direction of the conversation is positive, friendly and non confrontational.
2. Flood Them With Facts
Trolls can make vile accusations and spread malicious rumours. Your brand needs to respond to these with facts to set the record straight. If the troll makes false claims, strive to show people the truth. The purpose of using facts is not to convince the troll, who regardless of what you say will not back down, but to show everyone else who is following the conversation the reality through facts. Facts confer authority and credibility to any response, keeping the conversation stoic and pragmatic. Thereby, they make it more difficult for the troll to inflame sentiments.
3. Deal, Don’t Delete
If you delete every comment that a troll posts on social media, you will be playing the game by their rules. It will be time-consuming for a brand that is busy and satisfying to a troll who is not. It will become increasingly difficult for a brand to expunge every single negative comment that a troll throws at them. It may also reassure a troll they successfully got to you, who may then be more likely to escalate.
While it may be tempting to simply hit the delete button on a negative comment, you may end up deleting the comments of your real consumers, further infuriating them. Try other avenues first. You can suggest moving the conversation to a private medium to address their concerns. If it is a real consumer, they will appreciate being acknowledged rather than deleted. You might even be able to win their loyalty.
4. Use Your Influencers
If a troll is going viral, reach out to your influencers to counter the negativity by posting constructive comments and reaffirming their commitment to the brand. Influencers can be important in leveling the playing field as they command the attention of loyal followers. They can highlight your brands values and ethos or call out the trolls dangerous impact on discourse online. Your influencers have the power to do what you cannot directly: police bad behavior. When they speak out against a troll, people listen. Their followers are also likely to back them up, call out the troll, and spurn him to back-off.
5. Own Up
Oftentimes, trolls take real issues that people have faced and exaggerate them. In 2014, Apple got trolled for the iPhone 6 bending what became popularized as #bendgate. Apple came out with a statement that said that of 10 million sales of iPhone 6, they had received only 9 complaints. They accepted that bending had been an issue, but it was rare. By owning up and disclosing an issue, they were able to position themselves as honest and unfairly targeted. The biggest lesson from this is that when there is an underlying issue that is blown out of proportion, do not get defensive and cagey. Instead, minimize the fallout by admitting to the issue, while making sure that your consumers know the real extent of the issue.
6. Keep Calm and Take Your Time
It is only natural to want to defend your brand against a troll but hasty responses are more likely to be driven by emotion without a well-calculated intent. When being trolled, take your time, assess the situation and reply only after carefully crafting an appropriate response. A troll is looking to engage you, frustrate you, provoke you, and use your own words to make you look worse. However, if you control your combative instincts and dawn your logical hat, you may even end up frustrating the troll. After all, trolls are unlikely to be of patient dispositions and are looking for a brawl, not a calm and well-articulated debate. Make sure you do not take too long though, albeit you will be perceived as out of touch or ignorant.
7. Know When To Stop
Trolls want to bait you. They hunger for attention and you need to make sure that you do not feed this hunger. While it is important to respond well for the world to see, it is equally important to know when to stop. Jay Baer, author of Hug Your Haters, summarized this well: “Never, ever, ever, ever, respond to someone more than twice.” When you feel the need for damage control, do it not by directly responding to the troll. Instead, shift your attention to your own platforms that people follow such as blog pages and groups to push out positive content.
Then, there is the final straw – the few instances which warrant a firmer reaction – block and report. If a troll is using hate-speech, making threats, or other such illegal provocations under the guise of anonymity and free speech, block and report them.
8. Humor: A Deceptive Defense
This article will be amiss if I do not address the strategy of dealing with trolls that people love the most: humor. It can be the most effective, or the most deceptive weapon in your arsenal. Most people online can appreciate a good laugh. It shows that you are quick-witted, sharp and unwilling to concede to bullies. However, this is a tool that must be used with extreme caution. A joke can just as easily be misinterpreted as insensitive, inappropriate or untimely. Unless you are sure that your quip will defuse the situation, not fuel it, stay away from humor.
9. Nothing Without AI
None of the above tactics would account for much if you are unaware that you are being trolled. It is nearly impossible for a person, or even a team of people, to keep an account of who is saying what about you on social media. AI has an unbiased capability to gather, analyze and disseminate this information efficiently. Make sure that your brand is using sophisticated social media monitoring and analytics that can identify trolls.
10. Check Yourself First
Trolls hide behind the treacherous veneer of free speech to justify their behavior. That is not to say that we – as individuals or as brands – should curb free speech. On the contrary, we should promote it. However, just as free markets are regulated to ensure fairness, social media needs to be accountable to stricter laws surrounding online defamation and harassment. We can push for social media platforms themselves to be better at discouraging trolls – but that would most likely be the last to act. This means that brands themselves need to put in place strict internal guidelines to avoid getting trolled. They should stay away from sensitive and controversial subjects like race, religion, and caste.
When your brand is being trolled, have confidence that there is opportunity in crisis. Trolls bring attention, and you can then use this attention to promote your own brand values and commitments. Your company coming out of a trolling crisis does not depend on the trolls as much as on how you respond. Be courteous, be polite, be attentive, be proactive – but above all be sure that you already have the tools you need to succeed.