Just like the mythical world of fairy tales, sometimes the World Wide Web can be a dark and scary place. The internet provides helpful information to millions of people every day, but there are many website and internet users who post negative or aggressive content online. Similarly, social media has enriched the lives of many by allowing users to meet, connect and communicate, but the infamous social media troll is forever lurking, waiting to draw an audience with unexpected, long, hate-fueled rants that are usually posted in ALL-CAPS.
Sound familiar? Every social media user will likely encounter a troll at some point, but for social media managers and digital marketers, the social media troll can be a constant threat. Dealing with them is always a tricky situation, so I’ve gathered some tips and tricks for de-escalating situations that involve social media trolls.
What is a troll?
Trolls are not specific to social media. They can be found across the internet, especially on public forums where they can post their thoughts in the comments section. A troll is someone who provokes other online users by posting inflammatory, offensive or provocative comments. Their goal is to upset other internet users and elicit a strong emotional response. To achieve this goal, trolls often resort to posting long rants fueled with hate speech, unrelated remarks and sometimes even death threats.
However, not every angry and opinionated internet user is a troll. The online world is full of enthusiastic users who are ready to share their thoughts. The difference between these spirited commenters and trolls is that even though a user may be angry, misinformed or aggressive, they sincerely believe in what they are posting. A troll is someone who may not even believe what they are writing; they simply post the most upsetting comments they can think of. They can be found on all types of internet platforms—anywhere an online soap box exists where they can connect and interact with others.
How can you spot a troll?
A key role of social media for business is providing customer service. Because of this, spotting trolls and managing them appropriately while also responding to truly unhappy customers online is crucial. Both an upset customer and a lurking troll will likely use a negative tone in their posts, so it can be difficult to craft the best reaction. When reviewing online comments and reviews of your product, the best way to discern whether an unhappy social media user is a troll or customer is to consider the motive behind the comments.
If the user is a troll, the motivation behind the post will be purely focused on inciting anger from your brand or other users online. A troll will use sweeping generalizations about your company and product with a negative tone and outrageous, hateful accusations. Silencing a troll will also be a challenge compared to an upset customer. Responding to a troll with helpful information, a suggestion to take the conversation offline or a special offer to make up for any inconvenience will often not satisfy a troll. Trolls do not stop until they are blocked, removed or get bored and move on. They are not interested in resolution, only gaining attention and continuing to engage your company with radical and aggressive posts.
A customer, however, will likely express frustration instead of hatred. Their comments usually center on a negative experience with specific details as to what happened and why they are upset. These users are often responsive if your brand reaches out to them, because they want to be heard. By resolving their issue in a timely manner, your response can have a positive impact on how they view your company in the future.
How can you deal with trolls?
The first step in dealing with trolls is a bit of a fail-safe. This approach does not differ much from if you were dealing with an upset customer and can help you identify whether the user is a customer or a troll. First, listen to what the user has to say, consider motive and respond. It is important to note in your response whether your company has wronged the user in any way and how you will correct the mistake. If the commenter is an upset customer, they will likely appreciate the quick response, the recognition that they were wronged and your pledge to correct the misstep. Their response should be less hostile, and most customers are willing to take the conversation offline to resolve the issue.
If the commenter is a troll—you guessed it—a response will not satisfy them. So why bother responding? In this case, the response serves two purposes. First, to ensure that the user is not a customer with a real problem or complaint, and second, to demonstrate your attention to customer needs for the rest of your social audience. Social media users are familiar with trolls, so much of your audience will see that the angry comments are the work of such a villain, but simply ignoring them is missing an opportunity to show your followers that your company responds to all complaints and that you attempted to resolve the issue peacefully.
Of course, if you’re dealing with a troll, responding and trying to help will likely not help the situation. After responding and attempting to correct the mistake, there are courses of action you can take when dealing with a troll.
- Ignore them. Social media trolls thrive on attention. If you do not respond and refuse to satisfy them with attention, they will likely get bored and move on.
- Use facts. If you cannot ignore a troll and the commenter is posting false information and accusations that could harm your company, then the best approach is to cite the facts. Use a calm and clear response, loaded with facts the troll cannot argue with. It is important to not let the user get to you or illicit and emotional response.
- Block them. Social media platforms have created blocking and reporting features to combat abusive users like trolls. If a troll won’t be silenced with a helpful response, no response or the facts, it may be time to block them or report them to the social media platform you are using.
There is not a perfect approach to dealing with a hateful online troll. However, online trolls can be aggressive and unpredictable, so there are a few responsive actions that should always be avoided.
- Delete their comments. Doing so can escalate the negative behavior, sometimes prompting the troll to post another more ridiculous and negative post.
- Get defensive. It can be tempting to respond in defense of your company or resort to threats or accusations. Sinking to the troll’s level will only fuel the fire.
- Give them what they want. Trolls are looking for a fight; they want to make your response the punchline of a long and elaborate joke. They thrive on attention, so responding with anger or aggression will only satisfy and encourage the behavior to continue.
Trolls are an unavoidable reality of digital marketing and social media engagement. You will likely encounter several while engaging with customers online. Spotting a troll early and being prepared with the best response to de-escalate the situation and prevent damage to your online reputation is key to building a lasting and positive social media brand.