Despite social media maturing as a platform, online services—mostly Twitter—are plagued more than ever by trolls looking to cause emotional distress in individuals. Yet while we think of trolling as a problem for individuals, brands are increasingly being targeted by trolls, too.
Some forms of brand trolling can be harmless and humorous, but there are also more malicious attacks, which if not dealt with properly, can potentially harm a brand.
Trolls attack the integrity of your brand, and thrive on the chaos they create. The worst thing that could happen to a brand from trolling is to have their reputation destroyed. It takes time and money to establish a positive brand image. As little as one comment can plant the seed of doubt in the minds of customers.
From protecting a brand to protecting its users, Fast Company asked social media experts to weigh in on best practices to fend off troll attacks.
Trolls aren't always easy to spot. Sometimes they are purposely vague when they begin trolling in order to start a conversation on social media with a brand. Once the conversation gets going, their trolling really begins. Trolls shouldn’t be fed (see more on this in the next tip), but "because it can be nearly impossible for a brand to be able to tell whether a poster is a genuine dissatisfied customer or a troll, we would advise that they should always respond assuming the poster is genuine," says Clare Groombridge, founder and director of boutique social media agency South Coast Social. "If the post is regarding a complaint, provide an email address for them to contact you or invite them to DM privately," she explains. "This should then indicate if the poster is genuinely dissatisfied."
One giveaway is that they generally won’t always identify a specific problem in their comments, says Josephine Hardy. "An online troll is someone who will publish inflammatory remarks in a public forum with the intention of provoking an argument," she says. "It’s true that dissatisfied customers might also try to provoke an argument, but usually they just want their problem to be heard and resolved."
Once you know you have a genuine troll on your hands, the most important rule to remember is to avoid getting into an argument with them. Trolls are generally impervious to logic and reason, which makes dealing with them rationally a virtual impossibility.
"Social media is a public forum, and anything your brand says is a reflection of the business," says Hardy. "Heated exchanges will not resolve the problem. Flag their comments as inappropriate and monitor comments from other individuals who respond to the troll."
But above all, says Hardy, "Avoid an emotional response at all costs."
While you should try not to engage a troll, it’s never okay to ignore the abuse a troll directs at one of your followers, even if they’re an upset customer. A recent example of this unfolded on Facebook when H&M Sweden failed to take timely action against trolls who were threatening to rape and murder an H&M customer who was critical of the company.
"The social media team left [the] comments that were threatening to rape [the commenter] for over a month, even though they promised to remove them," Sofie Sandell, social media speaker and author of Digital Leadership, told Fast Company in a previous interview. "H&M should have removed the online assault immediately." Both H&M and Facebook were condemned for the attacks.
"A brand should always step in if they see any instance of a customer or follower being trolled on the social media feed of that business," says Groombridge. She notes that procedures for dealing with any instances of trolling should form part of a brand’s social media policy–-and any abuse against another commenter should be acknowledged immediately.
"We generally advise that brands should allow negative comments against the business, providing no defamatory language is used, to provide an opportunity for the business to respond in a positive manner," says Groombridge. "However, in the instance of a follower being singled out and targeted in a personal, derogatory manner, we would advise it would be appropriate to issue a comment that such behavior will not be tolerated and similar comments will be deleted—otherwise [the brand] could be accused of complacency."
Groombridge says it’s also useful to post a guide to online etiquette on a brand’s social media channels so followers understand how any instances of trolling will be dealt with.
Brands have figured out how to turn trolling into a positive–-by trolling each other. Brand-on-brand trolling is often good natured and agreed on by both parties in advance. The result is often humorous social media posts that are widely shared.
Still, brands should take caution, says Groombridge. "It’s important to remember that in the vast majority of cases they are large, international brands such as Amazon, Mercedes, Jaguar, and Nokia, each with a dedicated, qualified social media team who will have spent time evaluating the impact and potential ramifications of their posts," she says.
Smaller brands without the resources and time to evaluate the tone and wording of off-the-cuff responses should avoid a spur-of-the-moment battle. A post that's clever and witty to one person could be tone deaf and offensive to the next. "There’s always the potential for a trolling campaign to backfire," says Groombridge. "Our advice is, if you’re not sure, don’t post."
The final tip social media experts recommend is also one that, if followed, could help you prevent trolling problems in the first place. Experts recommend that brands constantly monitor their social media feeds to ensure instances of trolling are dealt with swiftly. This means taking time to read all the comments left on each post, says Groombridge.
While bigger brands will have the manpower and resources to have dedicated people available to constantly monitor all their social media profiles across Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, and more, smaller brands can achieve the same level of monitoring thanks to specialized software applications available. Or, if they prefer a human touch, a professional social media agency can be retained to look out for trolls.