How to Deal with Brand Trolls
By Karen Geier
Social media has made brands more transparent than ever and provided an incredible opportunity to reach potential customers easily and quickly.
What was an unprecedented opportunity on both sides came with a pitfall, however: trolls.
Trolls are people whose sole purpose online is to disturb social media feeds of individuals or brands, often with disruption and attention being their only goals. Trolls exist in every community, and their malice and methods vary wildly from someone who is just trying to post something slightly naughty to your page, to someone who sets out to upset your community.
The best method to dealing with trolls is a good defense, but with the option of ratcheting up your offense as the situation warrants. The best things to remember when planning your company strategy are to never make a rash response to something no matter how vile you find it, and that denying trolls the attention they crave can solve a multitude of problems.
Types of Trolls
There are two types of trolls you will encounter: born trolls and situational trolls. Born trolls consider trolling brands to be one of their favorite pastimes. Your brand or its values are immaterial to a born troll. Trolling anyone and everyone is what they love to do.
Situational trolls are a broader, more diverse group. These people are as benign as grammar sticklers, but their trolling can still escalate to an all-out attack on your site depending on what your posts are about (consider a controversial company like BP after their spill… they received a high volume of hate messages from the public). Situational trolls require a nuanced response. People who are just born trolls will go away if you apply known techniques to bore them into going away.
Before You Begin: Have a Code of Conduct
Anywhere you have an online presence, you need a clear code of conduct with clear consequences if it’s not followed. Spell out the basic level of conduct you expect (“be nice and respectful”) and spell out specifically the types of conduct that will result in punishment: (swearing, racial or sexuality-based slurs, sexually explicit language or images, etc.). Make your punishments known, along with the escalation of these punishments. A good method is to invoke a three-strikes analogy: First offside comment gets removed. Second offside comment gets a written direct message warning. Third infraction is banning. (You will want to include language explaining that these punishments are at the sole discretion of the moderators of your sites, and that you can automatically ban anyone at any time if you deem their content offensive.)
The code of conduct will not stop determined trolls but it will help establish the ground rules for the community at large; it will also bolster their confidence in you and your support of the rules, which can come in handy if you get into a situation where a troll gets out of control. Often, the community will self-police, and they can be your best allies.
Keeping Track of Trolls
One of the best things you can do when you encounter trolls is to take screenshots of their comments but also note their accounts. Keep these in a readily accessible place so that your team can spot patterns of behavior that can help them ban these trolls quickly and effectively when it becomes necessary.
Assessing the Risk of a Troll
An advantage to identifying trolls is to see whether they often leave “crank” messages on other branded accounts, or if they have a pattern of dropping offensive messages and just moving on. This is important because you can auto-ban these individuals and your problem is solved.
However, some people who appear to be trolls might actually be part of an organized campaign to discredit your brand, and it might not be obvious until you find yourself in the thick of it. It is important if anything about your company has hit the news that you have a planned response and be prepared for organized dissent.
Sometimes a troll will just correct your grammar or make a joke about something. You can handle these comments with humor or a benign response to let the person know they were heard.
If a comment is more serious in nature, you will likely see it being policed by your community if yours is large enough. In these cases, no further action should be necessary.
Do not be afraid to ban trolls who don’t follow your code of conduct. That is why you put it in place. Banning disruptive people makes your community feel safer, so make sure you apply it judiciously.
Trolls are an inescapable part of online life for a brand. Having a combination of great defense, good offense, and a dedicated community can keep trolls at bay, and your community happy and contributing.