Trolls Are Inevitable; Here's How to Deal With Them

  |  February 10, 2011   |  Comments

Seven productive methods to abating negativity in your community.

Oh, the sneers. The jealousy. The faux-expert commentary. There's no better time to be a troll than during advertising's most polarizing, enticingly venomous stage: post-Super Bowl.

trollAs brands of this year's spots fend off the troll legions on their Facebook pages and Twitter @replies, it might be a fitting moment to review some productive methods to abating negativity in your community.

Don't let them see you cry. Many a troll has kept a novice community manager up at night, tears brimming and soul wounded at the sight of caps-locked, multi-exclamation-pointed freak-outs. ("WHOEVER DID THIS CAMPAIGN SHOULD BE FIRED!!!!!!!!") But keep in mind, trolls feed off your tasty community-manager tears. Thicken that skin, screen-grab, and collect in a folder (Desktop > Trollsville) to laugh at later. Seriously. Community management can be an emotional battlefield, and sometimes the best thing you can do is control your own sanity by not reacting. The worst thing? Reacting like this.

Separate the genuine complaints from the rage. While it's best to avoid stoking the fire of those simply looking to vent and leave, don't overlook others who have taken to your wall to file serious grievances - from a bad customer service experience to disappointment with your product. Most likely, they've already had the runaround with all the 1-800 lines and store managers, and taking to your page is their last attempt to warn others of what they've endured. Use your customer support contact (a relationship you've hopefully established early on) to find someone who can directly and immediately fix the problem, or at least offer a make-good solution. Then, publicly offer the resolution. While nothing will take back that negative experience, your extra effort proves that you're not only listening, but also empowered to do right by the customer. Those watching will be less inclined to jump on the troll bandwagon.

Kill 'em with kindness. Sure, I've been accused of indulging in an extra smiley-faced emoticon or two. But as long as it's in keeping with your brand personality, optimism is the way to go. A simple "Appreciate the suggestion, you make a great point!" usually has more bite than a ban button. The conversation can only go so far when you've proven you're listening and won't allow special treatment for their 'tude.

Feed your advocates, starve the trolls. A company response will rarely fix hostility. But super-advocates are your knights in shining armor. They're able to say all the pent-up things you only wish you could furiously type out. Before jumping too soon on a troll thread, allow advocates on troll duty to react to it first. (All of this is beginning to sound like a neighborhood watch, I know.)

It's important to pour attention onto your vocal super-advocates, even more so than any vocal trolls. Keep these brand heroes on any "best-of" influencers list. Reward them with early news or VIP incentives as they come along, and do everything you can to protect your relationship with them.

Troll fights happen. Sometimes, you'll be blessed with the spectacle of a troll fight. Trolls will try to out-negative one another in the same thread. Do allow this to happen. They only serve to illegitimize the trolls and make your job easier. They're also highly entertaining.

Avoid deleting. Controversial, indeed. Many are in the camp of deleting anything and everything negative. After all, it is brand property and you like to keep things clean. But I tend to side with transparency - not all of it will be pretty, but it's an opportunity to learn from criticism and share the growing pains with your community. It's important not to confuse controversy with trolling. Mixed opinions are a great thing - inciting offensive comments is another.

Deleting also falls under the passive-aggressive route. You've opened the community to encourage conversation, not censor it to your liking. Offering a space for trolling means you still have a chance at fixing a problem and earning trust. Deletion means that relationship is severed and disregarded.

However, there are instances where deletion and banning are usually justified: inflammatory, derogatory, or inappropriate language; harming or becoming a nuisance to existing community members; spamming; competitor advertising.

Protect yourself from the troll avalanche. Avalanches occur when there has been a severe communications misfire. Clearly, you've struck a nerve not just within your brand community, but also with those outside, prompting them to seek you out and blast you on your own territory. Beyond the apology letters and the PR contingency plans, it's time to take a serious look at your existing structure and strategy. Do you have an adequate content approval process in place? Do the right people understand your brand voice as well as any ethical boundaries that exist? They may seem like obvious questions now, but watching others fumble reinforces the fact that much permanent damage can be done with one flippant remark. Despite its more casual nature, social media is not the place to take liberties with your brand.

All in all, Trollsville is about as laughable as it sounds, but has been proven strangely valuable in learnings. On the one hand, you're dealing with a basement dweller set on making your life miserable for very, very vague reasons. On the other, you're meant to seriously rethink where brand messaging went wrong - so wrong, that it's passionately offended a handful of people who just happen to be the vocal ones. While by definition trolls aren't prone to constructive criticism, it's worth tallying these complaints and creating your own actionable goals along with your strategist or brand manager. Eventually, you'll grow from the criticism and maintain a quality mix of voices to keep your community healthy and relevant for those opting in.

Have a funny troll story? Do share in the comments.

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Caroline Chen

Caroline Chen serves in a hybrid role at Publicis Groupe futures practice Denuo, tackling copywriting, design, strategy, and community management for its host of clients, which include AstraZeneca, General Mills, P&G, and Taco Bell.

Her responsibility as the agency's resident community manager is to help create content and manage customer relationships for clients' social communities. Working closely with SVP Dan Buczaczer, Caroline co-leads Denuo's newest practice, Continuous Content. This unit offers a more comprehensive service for clients needing a social strategy and surfaces creative ideas that helps them engage audiences for the long term.

Prior to launching Continuous Content, Caroline honed her social and community expertise while working on some of Denuo's largest social media efforts, including running the social strategy and Facebook and Twitter communication efforts during the redbox Thanks a Billion campaign – a promotion which celebrated the company's billionth rental and provided redbox customers with prizes and a chance to win free rentals. She also helped with the creation and launch of's Facebook recipe-sharing app Foodlife and helped design the identity for Taco Bell Truck - a popular user-generated Denuo program that launched in 2008 and continues to make stops across the country to hand out free Taco Bell food, based on social media recommendations from fans.

Before joining Denuo, Caroline had been art director at Chicago-based advertising and branding agency Point B Communications. Prior, she served as an interactive designer at film and TV boutique Mad Monkey and as a copywriter and designer for full service advertising, marketing, and interactive agency Robin Shepherd Group. She has received a number of American Advertising Federation ADDY awards – recognizing creative excellence in the art of advertising – for her work on radio spots, billboards, interactive design, and more.

She received her Bachelor of Science degree in advertising from the University of Florida in 2004.

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