Taming the Trolls of Social Media

What if our agency gets attacked on social media?

Harassment is a legitimate worry for anyone with an online presence. Approximately 40% of Internet users have personally experienced some form of harassment. Fortunately , there are tried-and-true tactics for dealing with people who enjoy giving social media users a hard time. These people are known as “trolls.”

What is a troll?

A troll is someone who posts deliberately provocative or inflammatory comments with the express purpose of eliciting a response. They derive enjoyment from making people respond emotionally or angrily. To this end, they make statements that are hateful, sarcastic or insulting.

It’s important to recognize the difference between a troll and a customer has a legitimate complaint. A negative comment doesn’t automatically signal that someone is trolling you, even though the tone may sound like it. Ask yourself: does this comment seem more like it’s trying to incite anger, or communicate frustration with a real issue? While the tone may be nasty or unpleasant, such comments may convey a customer’s genuine frustration or disappointment. If you suspect that this is the case, it’s important not to make light of the issue. Invite the user to call you directly or contact you via customer service chat where you can resolve their issues privately. Real customers will typically stop making negative comments when their issues are resolved. Trolls, on the other hand, won’t stop until they become bored or are forced to stop via a ban or locked topic.

Number one rule for dealing with trolls: Be active on your social media

Interacting with your followers regularly deters trolls in two ways. First, it lets folks get to know the personality behind the agency, which will make casual trolls more likely to refrain. Seeing your agency as real and down-to-earth is enough to make some troublemakers refrain from targeting your pages. Second, keeping an eye on comments and replies to your posts leaves you better equipped to recognize and address trolling immediately, before it can get out of hand.

Respond with humor

Using humor tactfully can be a great way to successfully defuse a potentially tense situation. When trolls target your company, they are hoping to attract an audience by getting you to respond angrily and “lose your cool.” Responding with humor shows you can take a joke. It can also be disarming to someone who expects you to respond in an emotional manner. And it demonstrates that you acknowledge the issues of your followers, even if they’re non-serious. You may choose to respond with a joke at your own expense, or possibly with a tactful jab back at the poster. Such posts, particularly on Twitter, sometimes even go viral. Then they can actually generate positive exposure for the business in question.

When using this tactic, however, be very careful not to go overboard. Never post anything that is mean-spirited or too self-deprecating (it’s important to be confident in your brand!). Companies like Wendy’s have been able to successfully toe the line between being sassy and being nasty on social media. Also notably, Arby‘s recently made peace with its most prominent troll, showing their ability to take a joke while still displaying confidence in their brand.

Counter ridiculous claims with facts

Nothing blows a lie out of the water quite like the truth. Trolls may attempt to get under your skin by starting nasty rumors. Providing facts that discredit such myths is often the best way to counter. Typically all it takes is a simple statement outlining the facts of the matter. This will get your point across in a manner that doesn’t come off as defensive. For example, Apple famously addressed rumors of bending iPhone 6s by releasing a statement about the rarity of the issue with typical use. Subsequently, the many trolls who had embraced the topic on social media lost interest and stopped targeting Apple. This situation shows how facts can successfully put antagonistic users in their place.

Don’t become one of them

The absolute worst way you can respond to a troll is by trying to sink to their level. Belittling them, using insults, or “calling them out” are exactly the kind of battle that they want. In addition to “feeding the trolls,” this type of response reflects poorly on your brand. In the worst cases, online media outlets have caught wind of such brand interactions, prominently reporting them and characterizing them as “meltdowns.” That’s definitely not the type of publicity you want for your agency. If a user’s unfair or untrue comments make you angry (which is totally understandable!), consider waiting at least an hour before responding. A cool head is best for dealing with trolls.

When in doubt, ignore them

Can’t say the things you really want to say to the trolls? Worried that your response may be interpreted the wrong way? Sometimes the best tactic is to ignore complaints that you know aren’t serious, in favor of focusing on real customer issues. If you’re not sure whether someone has a serious complaint or is trolling, begin by treating their issue as genuine. Their response and willingness (or unwillingness) to work with you to find a solution should be a good indicator of their intentions.

Commenters who troll other users

If it’s easy to shrug off negative comments targeting your business, the same does not hold true for harassment of your followers. Not only do you hate to see loyal clients treated that way, but it can also lead followers to associate a negative experience with you agency — something you absolutely do not want.

You can’t control the trolls themselves, but you can control how you respond to them. If you notice someone targeting or harassing other commenters on your social media, make it clear that such activity is unacceptable under any circumstances. Blocking such users is the best course of action. If the conversation gets too emotional or heated before you get a chance to step in, consider locking comments on the post. (It’s usually best to explain first why the topic is being closed, of course without calling out specific users.)

Of course, we hope that your agency never has to deal with trolls. But if you do…. consider yourself armed to defeat them!

–By Mallory DuPuy


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