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The Care and Feeding of Trolls

September 20, 2010 | By | One Comment

Any child of the 80s is familiar with Gremlins, the horror/comedy movie about a cute but odd pet named Gizmo, which spawns a herd of less pleasant creatures. Much like the gremlins from the old Looney Tunes, the creatures went on to cause general madness and mayhem.

Gremlins are fictional. But a similar creature inhabits the social media landscape: trolls. Trolls are people who post provocative messages on social media in the hopes of generating mayhem. It might be a vehement attack against a company executive or a tirade against a fellow community member.

Trolls don’t just post ugly messages either. In some cases, they post misinformation designed to elicit a certain response. Imagine a person who falsely posts on a baby product brand community that she’s pregnant with quintuplets in the hopes of receiving free product.

How do you deal with trolls? While a gremlin in the flick was dispatched by being blown up in a microwave, that’s not an option for smart business owners. It’s messy, highly illegal, and most definitely the antithesis of being social. But never fear. You have options.

Identify the feedback

Josh Catone writes that it’s important to determine if the comment is a merited criticism simply wrapped up as an attack or if it’s a consumer who’s angry for no valid reason. Why is this so important? If the commenter has a valid concern, then you have a starting point to create dialogue that might just transform that troll into a fan.

As your team forms a response it’s also critical to know how many trolls you’re dealing with. Sometimes the work is the product of a lone person but sometimes trolls arrive in packs. ReadWriteWeb’s Sarah Perez wrote about alternative musician Trent Reznor, who quit Twitter after a tribe of coordinated trolls continued to hound his every online communication. By knowing the nature of what you’re dealing with, you can better form a targeted response.

Know when enough is enough

Transparency is a key part of the social media experience. Users can smell censorship and cover-ups through their Ethernet connections. But there are times when it’s necessary to delete troll-authored comments. Situations might include messages packed with abusive or threatening language or messages that post personal information about an employee, such as a home phone number or home address. If a person continues to be abusive, it’s time to consider giving them the virtual boot.

If the troll occupies an online brand community, carefully consider whether the actions warrant a ban. Social Media DIY Workshop for Small Business advises identifying exactly why you’re editing or deleting a comment because someone may challenge you later.

Dealing with trolls and other online unpleasantries can be tricky. Experts, like the team at Social Strategy1, know how to deal with trolls in a professional and measured manner (and we promise—no microwaves!)

If you have tips for managing trolls, we’d love for you to share them.

Related Resources:

Social Media Crisis Management in 5 Steps

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  1. Thanks for mentioning my article in your post. You’ve done a great job explaining blog trolls and their motivations. Your post will help a lot of businesses figure out how to deal with them.

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