Trolls: to feed or not to feed?

A few sniping comments can derail your whole social strategy – here’s how to engage without stoking the fire.

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It has long been commonly accepted that people are generally more likely to leave a negative review than a positive one if whatever it was they were evaluating did not live up to expectations.

From restaurants to hotels, if your food isn’t fresh or your bed isn’t made, you’ll want the world to know. But if you receive good service, you might merely recommend it to friends and family, rather than upload a post online.

Social media is a dichotomy between instant posting and carefully thought-out messages. Campaigns can take months of hard labour but can all be blemished in the space of seconds.

How? Beware the trolls.

Axe to grind

Whether you’re a small or large enterprise, consumer-facing or B2B, no company is immune to online criticism.

Larger companies might be able to brush it off, stating that their size and success means most customers are happy and unfortunate incidents will occur. They will also have much larger customer service and PR teams to help negate any bad press. But smaller businesses and startups could find negative social media posts damaging.

Companies will often use social media to market their products and services but will seldom engage with customers for fear of saying the wrong thing. Despite advertising the worth of their platforms for business communications, you don’t even see Jack Dorsey or Mark Zuckerberg chatting away with their Twitter or Facebook followers respectively.

B2B marketing plans will be carefully laid out for each – often scheduled – post. But any engagement with followers has to be reactive and spur of the moment, and companies are far too wary of the consequences.

Should you engage?

Trolls want attention. They want to incite revenge, feelings of fear, anger and frustration.

Gauge their first complaint. If it appears serious then it’s best to reply. If they continue to harass your accounts, it’s best to ignore them. You have attempted to resolve any issues and the public can see that – any complaints thereafter and others will accept this is now a case of axe grinding.

The trickiest aspect when engaging with your followers is separating legitimate comments from the trolls. One of the benefits of social media complaints is that it will generally give you a snapshot of the complainant, depending on their privacy settings, and you can gauge their personality.

Are they a serial critic or nitpicker, or have they genuinely received bad service? And do they appear to have a good sense of humour? That latter aspect can provide you with the opportunity to have a little fun with their complaint: acknowledge your company’s shortcomings and at the same time eliminate any tension with a GIF of an animated character, for example.

Facts are friends

If you are repeatedly being attacked by trolls and it is clear that they are in the wrong, don’t be afraid to defend your company with the truth. Quote their tweets, for example, and state how they are incorrect. Just don’t do this excessively.

Assess their own social following: are they large and/or active? If the answer is yes to both, then it’s worth standing your ground. If they are serial nuisance-stirrers with minimal followers, ignore them.

Conversely, this can also work to your advantage if the opposite is true. If somebody points out a flaw in your product, website or social media, you should be open to change and admit that you’re in the wrong. Publicly admitting that you’re not perfect demonstrates empathy and customers will look kindly on this.

Checklist: How to beat the trolls
  • Engagement is what matters on social media. You should have a dedicated person or team managing your online accounts. We’re not talking 24/7 coverage, but reasonable working hours tailored to when your business operates
  • Gauge each comment. Decide whether it appears troll-like in nature, use the person’s profile to build up a stronger picture
  • Don’t take complaints to heart. Be thick-skinned and ignore any comments that are personal attacks are you. Trolls can be vicious and they don’t deserve your time. If they persist, continue to ignore them – most people will recognise they are spammers
  • Use facts to your advantage. Consider using humour to diffuse any tension
  • Show empathy. Accept when your standards have fallen short. Honesty goes a long way