The social media troll is familiar to most of us. The lover of arms-length confrontation who throws insults and incites hatred to provoke a reaction. They are an unfortunate reality of our online communities and are sometimes impossible to dissuade. So how do we deal with them?
Individuals are often the targets of trolls but we have noticed a recent trend of companies approaching us for advice on how to deal with their own bullies. They have found themselves exasperated with the perseverance and unwillingness of a few individuals to listen to reason or accept fact. Just like in our private lives, it can be hard not to take this personally, especially if misinformation is being spread.
These 'company trolls' are more sophisticated and social media savvy than the simple disgruntled poster. They start their own pages and closed groups, rally supporters through boosted and targeted posts, share content with the company’s partners and suppliers, and approach the media. Whether they’ve got wind of a real story or made one up, they are determined to destroy the company’s reputation. It’s not long before a few agitators can become an army.
In most cases, companies swing into gear in a suitable manner. They attempt to engage with the instigators, counter the arguments, seek legal advice, and respond directly and transparently to questions and comments. This will often work, but there is a breed of troll that is unrelenting and out for the ‘win’, whatever that may be.
From our experience, no matter how determined the trolls may be, there are few things companies should be wary of in these situations.
Firstly, it's important to get to the root of the problem. Is the company or an affiliated party doing something worth criticising and, if so, what is it doing about it? There is usually something fuelling the argument and the attack can lose steam if the issue is addressed. This doesn’t need to mean giving in, especially if the issue is outside of your control, but it does mean taking a position.
Secondly, don’t lose your voice. It’s natural to become defensive, but this usually leads to the company losing control of the message and feeding into the hysteria. The more of a platform you give them, the louder they will become and the more people you will send in their direction. The company’s voice and message needs to remain consistent and strong.
After a while, trolls can start to hurt your bottom line. It’s important to understand why the company is under attack and reassure stakeholders of the facts as well as your plan to deal with the issue. The last thing they want is for the controversy to start rubbing off on them.
Lastly, stay on the front foot. Have a plan in place to get ahead of the issues and deal with all possible reactions. This will save you a lot of time.
You’re never going to make everyone happy, but nobody likes a bully, so don’t let them ruin your company’s reputation.