Trolls or Customers? How to Identify and Address the Online Hate

By on July 8, 2019

 Image courtesy of DoDLive

Trolls seem adorably grumpy in the movies, but if you’ve ever had a troll infestation on social media, you know the reality is anything but cute. Social media trolls are part and parcel of operating a business account on any online platform—but banishing them before they tarnish your brand reputation is easier said than done.

There’s no secret password or specific recipe for fighting off this sort of persistent internet harassment, but there are a few pointers experts agree can help address, engage, and eradicate trolls from your brand or business social media channels.

Separate the trolls from the complaints

Not everyone who pops into your comments to complain about a product or service is there to stir up trouble. Some are customers with legitimate concerns that you should address and handle with care and compassion. Responding to your customers’ needs builds your brand’s reputation, and nowhere makes that effort more transparent than on social media.

So how do you tell the customers from the trolls intent on creating chaos? Here are a few clues you’re dealing with someone who isn’t interested in a productive conversation:

  • Gets personal (name calling or targeted threats)
  • Uses exaggeration or misinformation
  • Focuses on getting a reaction (emotionally charged words, profanity, etc.)

If you think you’re dealing with someone who is disappointed or angry but has a justifiable grievance, engage and try to resolve and deescalate the situation.

Make a plan and use the right tools

Your brand or business should develop clear-cut rules about how to handle customer service issues and concerns on your social media platforms. Get the team together to identify who steps up in these situations and what red flags would trigger more involvement or support from management. Having a contingency plan for several common types of issues like the use of profanity or threats will help you and your team act quickly to neutralize persistent harassment.

With your plan in place, make sure your team has the tools to respond and react. The base social apps work fine while you’re smaller, but as your business grows, you may need more control to manage and schedule your social feeds in one place. Find a social management platform that your team likes, and confirm you have a reliable internet plan so you aren’t scrambling to catch up if something negative spreads across your social channels.

Just ignore them

The advice your mom gave you for handling real-life trolls in high school still holds up. Your first instinct may be to call your social media team to arms, but sometimes it’s best to ignore them. When you don’t feed the trolls, you starve them of the attention they crave. This approach is not, however, a one-size-fits-all solution. When you ignore inappropriate behavior in your brand channels, the troll can escalate, spamming with increasingly toxic comments. When this happens, you’ll have to get creative.

Use humor

Sometimes you can leverage a particularly vitriolic comment into an opportunity to humanize your brand with humor. This tactic requires a deft hand, however, because the last thing you want is for a dissatisfied customer to feel they are the butt of your jokes. Instead, attempt to express sympathy, offer help, and then pivot to something witty to diffuse the confrontation. Jet Blue often engages in this way, using humor to communicate that they listen to and empathize with their customers.

Moderate your space

Online communities and social media platforms usually have tools to report and block users, and there’s no shame in using these to handle a rather virulent infestation of trolls. There should be zero tolerance for things like hate speech or threats of physical violence in social media engagement.

However, note that you shouldn’t delete posts or silence users for minor infractions or complaints. A study from Stanford and Cornell turned up evidence that deleting or banning social media users for mildly offensive things like profanity lead to an escalation of antisocial behavior because it was perceived as censorship. Instead, look for opportunities to address the source of the problem rather than the inappropriate expression of it and reserve blocking discourse for severe violations.

If you’re striving to dial back the hate online and get more love for your business, the best advice is to stay proactive and engaged in the online community. All those viral-dog-rescue videos are proof positive there is plenty of support and kudos to go around for those who spread good vibes on social media.

About Jeannie Kwan

Jeannie is a recent BYU graduate with a degree in Sociology. She worked at an e-commerce startup as their social media manager and wants to share the knowledge she gained from that experience. In her free time, she likes to write, research, and grill.
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