How Businesses Can Deal with Trolls on Social Media

As ecommerce business owners and marketers, we all know that social media has developed into a great and unique way to engage customers. By starting conversations and answering questions on social media channels, business owners can open up a direct line of communication with their customers to determine their wants and needs.

However, along with this open line of communication sometimes comes individuals—often referred to as “trolls”—whose sole purpose in engaging with your business online is to cause harm or difficulty by sowing misinformation and confusion. Below, we cover the steps you can take to keep trolls at bay while helping your social media channels blossom.

Preparing for Trolls Before They Attack

Haven’t experienced trolls on your social media pages before? That’s great! However, by expanding your presence online, you open your brand up to more attention from the public—which does, unfortunately, include some people bent on disruption. Here are a few steps you can take in to prepare yourself and your business:

1. Publish a Public Social Media Policy

As a first step, publish a front-facing policy on your social media channels that spells out clear guidelines for engaging with your brand and other followers on your pages. Write out a statement declaring that all comments must be respectful, relevant, accurate, etc. and cannot include any language that is vulgar, inciteful, libelous, etc. Then, post it somewhere visibly on your site and/or social media accounts so that those who want to engage are aware of what’s allowed and what won’t be tolerated. While this won’t deter anyone who is bound and determined to be a nuisance, it will help justify any actions you need to take later.

2. Cultivate a Positive Community

Another important thing to keep in mind is to ensure that the community of customers, employees, and others engaging with each other on your social media accounts is positive, constructive, and helpful. That means keeping all comments and actions from your business’s side pleasant, professional, passionate about your brand, and solution-oriented. It also means interacting more often with other commenters who are approaching your business the same way, which will reiterate to the general public what is important to your brand.

Responding to Trolls on Social Media

Nobody likes to be caught unawares, so even if you haven’t experienced an insurgence of trolls on your social media pages before, planning ahead for the possibility is wise. Put together a plan of defense so that at the first whiff of a troll, your business can act intelligently without panicking. Here are some important steps to include in your internal Troll Response Policy:

1. Determine Whether They’re Actually a Troll

It’s easy to blame any negative comments about your business on trolls, but it’s important to stop and think about whether that’s really what’s going on before you take any action. Wikipedia defines an internet troll as “a person who posts inflammatory, insincere, digressive, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community…with the intent of provoking readers into displaying emotional responses, or manipulating others' perception.” That means that even though someone sharing a less-than-stellar experience with your company publicly on your social media channels is annoying, it’s just that—sharing an experience.

The great thing about comments like these is that it’s typically easier to reach a resolution with the unhappy party. See whether you can trace the comment back to a customer profile, and see if you can determine the root of the problem and a way to fix it.

2. Prepare Your Response

Once you’ve determined that a commenter is not simply an unhappy customer looking for a resolution, you can determine the best way to respond to them. Here are some important things to consider as you prepare to take action:

  • Don’t engage: Generally, the best course of action is to not feed the trolls. If you've got someone who's making inflammatory comments just to make inflammatory comments, don't engage them. If you apologize or draw more attention to their comment, you may end up sparking more problems. Sometimes the best response is silence.
  • Take the conversation offline: If you receive negative chatter that you feel simply must be addressed, ask the user to email, send a private message, or even talk on the phone so that any more interaction occurs in private. The last thing you want is to have a potentially negative conversation on a public forum.
  • Stay professional: If you do end up interacting with a troll on- or offline, always make sure you take the high road—after all, potential customers may see your response, even if it starts out private. That means no name-calling, vulgar language, accusatory remarks, or anything that sounds like it’s driven by emotion.
  • Be kind: Trolls are most often looking for attention and feed off of negative emotions. If you respond to them in a way that is positive and friendly, it makes it harder for them to reply negatively—or at least lose some steam. And if they do reply, other members of your community will take notice and, quite often, take care of that troll for you.
  • Use humor: Some brands do well by engaging back with trolls in a humorous way, the way the Wendy’s Twitter account famously does. If your brand’s personality is playful and you can think of a lighthearted way to roast the troll back, go for it. Just make sure to keep it lighthearted so that your brand doesn’t sound rude, unprofessional, or defensive.

3. Block, Ban, or Report Trolls

As a last resort, if the troll seems to not be letting up, you can always take action against them so they cannot continue. You should only choose this path if the user is egregiously breaking community rules and consistently inciting negativity. Remember, banning can backfire, and there are lots of other outlets for trolls to express their distaste for you. But if you have a case for it, go ahead and remove them from being able to engage any further.

Final Thoughts

With these tips at your disposal, you're well on your way to fostering a vibrant and positive social community. And if the trolls do come for your business, you’ll be prepared with a well-thought out approach to minimize or end the situation completely.