Should Brands Engage With Trolls?

March 31, 2016 | blog | By Mike Sullivan

The resounding answer is no.

Trolls are those nasty, sad people who hide behind online anonymity to pick fights and sling hate. It is their reason for existing. Why anyone would do such a thing is beyond me, and not the reason for this post (don’t GET me started). But when brands actively engage with consumers on social media, seeking feedback and resolving issues, the lines sometimes blur between customer service and troll bait.

Spotting a troll
First, how do you know if someone is dissatisfied or trolling? The boundary is common decency. No one (including brands) needs to tolerate language that is obscene, discriminatory, or personally insulting. All of this equates to online verbal abuse. Keep in mind you only have limited control over your brand’s channels, including comments on Facebook, YouTube, etc. Tweets are nearly impossible to moderate.

If someone created a scene by yelling insults, making threats, and behaving aggressively at your establishment, what would you do? Politely escort them out, most likely. And, you are well within your rights to delete the comment/Tweet/post and block the troll from further harassment.

Where it becomes tricky is delineating between a true troll and someone with a genuine complaint that should be addressed. If you aren’t sure, respond with a customer service phone number so the complainant can speak directly with someone to resolve their issue. If they are truly looking for resolution, this takes the conversation off line (and out of sight), while giving you an opportunity to turn a negative into a positive, and not just salvage, but strengthen the brand relationship.

But trolls don’t want to resolve a problem; they’d prefer to rant with the CAPS LOCK ON. They are looking for attention. Don’t give it to them. 

LOOMIS Imagibrand Process

Don’t look ’em in the eye
In case of troll attack, your emotions may tempt you to engage and defend your brand’s good name. You may be horrified and shocked that someone could be so upset they would take the time to trash your good name in every digital channel available to them, but it happens ALL THE TIME. So take a breath, relax, and ignore. As with any bully, they want to get a reaction. They are hungry for your indignation, and they are insatiable. If you’re lucky, brand loyalists who follow you will come to your defense.

If you feel you must respond, keep it short, to the point, professional, and direct. Do it once, and if expletives and more hate are the return volley, then you have every right to block and delete. Just because someone chose to buy whatever you’re selling does not give them the right to behave like a two-year-old. And odds are, your troll never gave you a single penny, anyway. You just happen to be their target du jour.

Fair warning
Make sure you have an acceptable use policy in place for corporate blogs making it clear you won’t tolerate rude, explicit, or hateful rhetoric. Of course, you can choose to not allow comments on your blog. Offering a customer service contact instead is an option. Map out a response strategy with your social media team, like this one from the Air Force. And above all, be cool. Don’t get sucked into their world of anger. Take the high road, and your brand will always be much better for it.

internet trollssocial mediatrolling

Mike Sullivan

President at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency


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