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Do Not Feed the Trolls

By Adam Sanders, Director at Strategic Objectives. | Jun 2 2015

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Let’s talk about Trolls — big, hairy, hulking monsters lurking in the damp and darkest corners of the internet. They feed on good intentions, take unseemly pleasure infecting others with negativity and are empowered by any and all attention (like a trainwreck or car accident, it’s hard to look away), they can attract. For as long as the internet has been used to connect one person to another – from the very first chat rooms through forums, instant messenger services and the social web we enjoy today – Trolls have been omnipresent and unavoidable.

For brands working to build profile and equity online, Trolls are, quite simply, a fact of life. In fact, my first encounter with a Troll goes back more than eight years to the very first “social media” program I worked on. Launched in the nascent days of Twitter and YouTube, the program was developed to support a big pharma brand with a fun, witty online video. We were excited to see how the new tactic would benefit our client and support the overall PR effort, but a Troll struck, less than 24 hours in. It began with postings of vile, negative, hateful comments directed at the company, but though the video was the impetus, the comments had nothing to do with our program. Although we were able to trace the Troll to another country, our client, having only just dipped their toes into the online world, pulled the program. The Troll won.

So many years later, having worked on countless Social PR programs – including the #PringlesDIPbate which was recognized as Best Digital Campaign of the Year – for organizations and brands ranging from Benjamin Moore to Second Cup Coffee Co., Muskoka Brewery, Cashmere Bathroom Tissue and Kellogg’s Canada, Trolls remain a consistent annoyance.

While our Strategic Objectives Digital Team has become accustomed to dealing with Trolls, many of our clients are still startled by their virulence. After all, while we tend to think of the social web as “always having been there,” the truth is that it’s still very young, and many of those entrusted with propelling brands forward were educated before selfies, memes and viral videos became a thing. Well intentioned, our clients want to engage with the Trolls and, through great customer service, change their minds. Knowing that Trolls are empowered and emboldened by attention, we recommend AGAINST this course of action.

Never, ever, engage with a Troll … It’s a rule. Live by it. But also remember that not everyone who complains or voices a negative opinion online is a Troll. Social media has become the front line of customer service and real customers voice legitimate complaints and concerns about brands on Twitter, Facebook and anywhere else a brand lives online, all the time.

Real customers deserve a response and should be treated with respect, patience and understanding. But it can be tricky to distinguish a negative comment with purpose from a Troll’s negativity for negativity’s sake.

Handy Dandy Checklist: How to Identify a Troll

To help you identify Trolls, we’ve developed this handy-dandy checklist. The more times you answer YES to our questions, the more likely you are to have a Troll:

  • Is the complainant anonymous?
  • Is the complaint local; does it originate from inside the country or community you want to engage?
  • Is the comment specific and on topic? Could it apply to anything your brand shares at anytime?
  • Is the complaint baseless or unprompted?
  • Is their purpose simply to derail the conversation and be incendiary?
  • Is the community itself responding, ignoring, or generally rebuking the comment or complaint?
  • Is the comment excessively hateful, immediately aggressive, or filled with inappropriate language right from the start?
  • Is the commenter flooding or spamming your community?

If you answered yes to all, or most of these questions, you likely have a Troll problem. Ignore them, don’t feed the beast, and they’ll probably go away. Do NOT delete their comments, as that will only fan the flame. If they persist however, and continue to harass members of the community, contact the platform administrator to see what can be done.

Finally, social media marketing should be a fun, new and exciting place for brands to engage with consumers. Don’t let Trolls scare you off, or ruin it for you. Be creative, be brave, and build your brand!

Does your brand need help navigating the social world? Please contact us. Our SOcialPR Pros are eager to help.

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