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I often help companies and organizations to deal with internet trolls. Either directly or by setting up new internal processes for dealing with them. It can be challenging to accept that it will take time to repair an online culture gone wrong. In some not-so-rare-cases, the “trolls” aren’t actually trolls, but rather normal and valuable customers who are [...]

by Jerry “Doctor Spin” Silver // Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn
Senior Digital Strategist // Spin Factory

I often help companies and organizations to deal with internet trolls. Either directly or by setting up new internal processes for dealing with them.

It can be challenging to accept that it will take time to repair an online culture gone wrong.

In some not-so-rare-cases, the “trolls” aren’t actually trolls, but rather normal and valuable customers who are right to be angry. Such cases call for issues management, crisis management and crisis communication — depending on the specific situation.

Still, sometimes you have to deal with internet trolls going wild. It’s sad, but it’s a job that needs to be done. In Sweden, we even have a television show where we hunt some of these trolls down.

But don’t despair. There’s a lot of great tactics to resort to — and I’ve listed them here in no particular order:

1. No Feeding, Please

Internet trolls are typically looking for expected reactions.

They might be sadists or even psychopaths, but you can throw most trolls off by reacting in a way they wouldn’t expect you to. Trolls that thinks that brands aren’t listening are often thrown off by getting a response. Trolls who expects brands to post defensive responses are often thrown off by companies that respond by wanting to understand more.

Exactly what internet trolls expects varies; personally I often find it easier to understand their dynamics by using this very basic classification of mine:

Type A: Angry Trolls

It’s very difficult to reason with angry trolls, but they can cool off in time. There’s a sub-group of passive aggressive trolls that just won’t quit, but they’re often times less intensive when they attack. When dealing with angry trolls, don’t put the blame back on them — any defensive measures might make them, even more, aggressive.

Type B: Bleeding Trolls

When trolls are righteous activists, their actions are often fuelled by a cause they perceive to be of absolute importance, which in turn gives them the right to act out. They’re often not really talking to you (even if they address you directly), but rather trying to sway your audience to their side. They expect you to fight back or stay silent.

Type C: Crazy Trolls

Ranging from tinfoil hatters to all-in narcissists, the common trait is that they believe themselves to be the center of the universe and they seem to have a lot of time on their hands. Don’t confirm their view of the world, because you’re the bad guy in their version of reality.

2. Divide And Redirect

So, you’re being challenged to a duel at dawn. Fine.

If someone challenges you, you should get to choose the venue and the weapon. The aggressor obviously wants to have the duel right there on your Facebook wall for the world to see, but why should you agree to this?

Instead of engaging in the channel of their choosing, let them know that you will accept their challenge if they’re willing to meet you halfway.

So move the conversation to another medium that’s less public or better suited for the purpose, like email or a user forum with specific threads for specific issues.

3. Establish House Rules

House rules are important, on Facebook especially. Even if your Facebook page technically belongs to Facebook and not to you, it’s still a space that reflects you and your brand.

As an example, you can set up a rule that says that you won’t be dealing with customer service issues on your Facebook wall but rather on a user forum elsewhere.

If trolls are messing around with customer service queries, then you can point them in the right direction rather than getting into another pointless argument.

And every now and then you can do a sweep and delete everything that violates your house rules and thus foster and nurture the culture you want to have!

Where to put up house rules?

  • On a landing page, controlled by you.
  • On a Facebook page tab.
  • As a pinned post on Facebook.
  • Directly in the Facebook cover picture.

PS. I have some house rules for my comment section here on Doktor Spinn (see below this post), where I’ve been inspired by life designer Tim Ferriss to ask for a “living room policy”. If someone disregards this, I delete them without thinking twice about it.

Here’s how Tim’s comment policy section looks:

Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 14.37.48

4. Leverage Your Tech Advantage

If you have a comment section on your site, trolls can cause serious problems. If you run a popular site, manual pre-moderation can turn into a daunting task very quickly.

Here are some technical quick-fixes:

  • Allow voting of comments up-and-down.
  • Sort comments by popularity or rank.
  • Only allow comments from registered users.
  • Only allow comments from customers.
  • Highlight comments that gets answered by an admin.
  • Move comments that gets answered by an admin to the top.

And so on.

Also, check out how Coca-Cola actually starts a discussion about internet hate through an actual online #MakeItHappy campaign:

5. Clean Up Your List

Trolls sometimes get onto your lists. Removing people from your subscriber lists can be a bit tricky from a democratic perspective, so without legal counsel, you should only remove people manually if you have solid (and preferably documented) reasons.

Why remove internet trolls from your lists? Well, trolls tend to be reactive and email send outs might often act as triggers, pushing them to misbehave in other channels.

6. Ban, Block Or Report

Sometimes you should just ban or block your internet trolls, especially on social networks that allow for this.

Many companies are somewhat scared to do this; what if there’s blowback?

Remember what I said about putting up some sort of “establish house rules”? Some might give rule-breakers a warning, before banning, reporting or blocking them.

But here’s the key: If someone disrespects your house rules, don’t mess around. Cut them off. Here’s how Marie Forleo takes care of business when “Susie” acts out in the comments:

Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 14.35.51

… and Marie replies:

Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 14.36.27

7. Reward Good Behaviour

I’ve had the good fortune to grow up with dogs. Training dogs have taught me the power of positive reinforcements — and the even greater power of no positive reinforcement.

Dogs are constantly looking for approval and they get really happy when they get it! Therefore, you don’t have to punish a dog that’s behaving badly — ignoring their bad behaviour will have an, even more, profound effect.

Running a social channel, whether it’s a social network account or a comment field on your site, you’re responsible for fostering the participatory culture that you want to see.

It’s easy to end up in a situation where you’re devoting all your visible efforts to the trolls and as a side-effect, you ignore the people who behave the way you want them to! That’s not good, right?

Remember to publicly reward those who plays the game by your rules!

The Bandwagon Effect

The classic Bandwagon Effect is powerful. In this case, it translates like this:

If people see other people acting out like trolls, more people will stop thinking for themselves and convince themselves that such troll-like behaviour is okay and start acting out themselves.

So trolls have a way of inspiring other non-trolls to be on their worst behaviours. And vice versa.

8. Some Fancy Copywriting

When someone brings a verbal fight to your doorstep, you can always choose to actually engage. To let the gloves come off.

Why not? If you’re proud of your business and confident in your decisions, then it makes sense to actually take a fight every now and then.

Exchanging punches online is a very tricky business, though. Especially if you’re a business. You can’t act weak, but you can’t be aggressive, either. If a crazy person attacks your company for selling trade secrets to visiting aliens from other planets, then you won’t be scoring any points by calling this person crazy in public.

If you decide to take the fight, then fancy copywriting is your weapon of choice. Be charming, be clever. Make sure to win the popularity vote because you will be fighting out in front of an audience.

Find the best writer at the company and put that person to work.

Like Sainsbury’s:

rw-sainsburys

Or like O2:

rw-o2

Or (even if this might be pushing it a bit far) like Tesco:

rw-tesco

Fancy copywriting examples via Social Media Examiner

Also, make sure to check out Tim Ferriss: 7 Great Tips for Dealing with Haters.

Do you have any tips or tricks on how to deal with internet trolls? Please share in the comments!

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Behind the keyboard:

Jerry Silver is the author of Doctor Spin, a PR blog that's been around for 15+ years. Via his agency Spin Factory, Jerry is advising brands on how to adapt to a 'digital first' world. In 2016, Cision Scandinavia named him "PR Influencer of the Year". Jerry lives in Stockholm, Sweden with his wife Lisah, news anchor and television host, and their three-year-old son, Jack.


Doctor Spin’s comment policy:
“Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people.”
— Eleanor Roosevelt

Reader reactions:

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Joakim Arhammar

Nice points. I like this part your own policy “Critical comments are welcome, but bring some positive energy to the discussion — or I won’t add your comment”.

I’m admin in a Facebook group for people living in my neighbourhood and one of the rules that changed the tone of voice most to the better was when I added the rule (freely translated) “Are you angry about something? Consider first if it really is something that the group can help solve or discuss. This group is no place to let off steam.”

Regarding trolls, the argument that if they can’t comment on your company’s page, they’ll just do it somewhere else on a place that you don’t control is still valid, but it needs to be weighed against the fact that one troll can destroy the conversation and the mood on a whole page. Hard stuff to tackle…

Reply
Doctor Spin

I really love the Facebook example you shared, very valuable advice. Sometimes a little reminder is all you need. Thanks for adding to the post.

Michael Kazarnowicz

Neat list! There are a few caveats I’d like to add:

1. If you don’t have a solid product or service, you will end up driving customers to become trolls (lex Comcast). There’s nothing you can do about this except for improve your product/service, until then all your attempts at “social” will end with trolls.

2. If you’re doing business in an area where lifestyle plays in, it will be harder. Like L’Oreal who had to close down their Advent calendar on Facebook because animal rights activists hi-jacked it. Always know who your dislikers are and have a strategy to handle them. Be prepared that dislikers can show up because of other departments (lex Svensk Mjölk sues Oatly -> Arla gets the brunt of it). In a way, working with social channels means assuming responsibility for everything your company does, whether it’s PR, Support or customer service.

Reply
Doctor Spin

Great points Michael — and thanks for adding valuable notes to the conversation.

And yeah, massive activist attacks (sometimes even coordinated beforehand) on online properties of major B2C brands… that’s a tricky one to manage.

Without digging too deep (because it surely deserves its own post, but to your point — there’s often something else going on besides people seemingly acting out like trolls.