Please do not feed the troll

As is true in life, there’s always a small minority which turn something good into a negative through undesirable behaviour: Thugs at football games, angry drunks on a Friday night, trolls on social networking sites.

So what is a troll? Well the term ‘trolling’ is applied to other social media users who deliberately write provocative, sometimes abusive, comments to gain a response. They tend not to add anything of value to a debate, just seek to escalate conversations into arguments.

Considering the billions of people now using social networking sites across the world, trolls are certainly in the minority – but when you or your brand becomes the target of a troll it can feel like the entire world is against you.

Below are some coping mechanisms to help you and your staff take control of your social networks and handle any trolls you might be unfortunate enough to attract.

Know what you’re looking for

Just because someone comments on a post or tweet of yours with a conflicting or controversial does not make them a troll. People are free to express opinions and not everyone will agree with every tweet you post. This can be a good thing as sparking a healthy debate can generate new followers, engage existing followers and even get you or your brand trending.

What you need to look out for are repeat comments from individuals who are not adding value to the discussion, comments which are not related to the discussion or that are designed to take the discussion off track and comments to which there is no polite response.

Respond appropriately, if at all

Getting into a conversation with a troll is exactly what they want. Their aim is to get a rise out of you, so do not give them the satisfaction. Of course, you can engage with them to attempt to diffuse the situation, but be sure to withdraw when you no longer feel able to respond in a professional and polite manner.

A great example of this came when I was working for a large food retailer (who shall remain nameless!) that got into a spot of PR bother employing workers at very low rates. When the story broke it prompted a barrage of abuse across all of the brand’s social networking sites. The comments ranged from those expressing their views on the situation, to the downright abusive. For those commenting in a civil, although irate manner, we positioned a response asking them to read more at a dedicated press site. Those commenting abusively were blocked, comments deleted and no attempt to engage was made.

Whilst this was one of the most tedious weekends of my working career, spending hours deleting comments comparing me to genocidal historical figures and using language I previously had been unaware of, handling the situation this way ensured that the flames were not fanned and soon enough the situation died down.

Present a united front

In most organisations it is not just the marketing team who will represent your brand on social networking sites. Other members of staff will have profiles and as such, they can easily be dragged into a spiralling conversation.

Having a robust social media policy and discussing how to deal with negative comments will help staff to feel in control. You can also appoint someone in the company to be a point of contact should anything begin to get out of control – a “go to guy” (or girl) who is happy to help and offer advice on how to deal with issues of this nature.

Supporting your team, letting them know what is and isn’t acceptable will help protect them and your brand.

Know your options

Most social networking sites have a support function or an option to block users that are posting inappropriate comments. These options are designed to protect users who are networking within the confines of the site’s terms and conditions and should be used if you feel you are becoming unable to do this.

However, before blocking a suspected troll give them a couple of chances. They may have got out of the wrong side of bed, you may have mis-interpreted their comments, they might have had a momentary loss of sanity from which they will recover – you simply don’t know. If they become a repeat offender – say after 3 incidents – then use the networks available channels to stop them contacting you.

Obviously this depends on the level of the trolling in question. Recently Louise Mench received some horrifying tweets containing lewd photo-shopped images and sexually abusive language. Naturally abuse at this level should be reported immediately. Use your judgement.

As with all social media engagement, the above are just guidelines. They won’t eradicate trolls, they wont 100% safeguard you or your brand against coming under attack, but they will hopefully give you a little peace of mind that you can deal with it in a controlled way.

And if you remember nothing else, just remember this: Don’t feed the troll

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