Trolls have moved out from living under bridges and into cyberspace to badger individuals, groups, and companies on the Internet. Like the trolls from the 19th-century Scandinavian fairy tales who demanded toll payments in gold or tried to eat travelers, an internet troll preys on random citizens of social media platforms, forums, and chat rooms. For businesses and organizations, these predators also lurk in the comments area of websites.
There are common characteristics of Internet trolls:
- Provocative and/or confrontational language permeates comments, sometimes mixed in with friendly banter.
- Trolls use overly flattering comments that make no sense.
- Trolls use fictitious identity such as web addresses that don’t exist.
- The most devious trolls try to garner sympathy with stories about their sad plight in life.
- Most trolls have no understanding of the topic and veer off into name-calling rather than rational discussion.
While dialogue and genuine debate is healthy within any group, a troll’s only aim is to pester, aggravate, and annoy, much like kids on a street corner heckling passersby.
So what’s a business to do? The Internet is a serious part of everyone’s marketing communications and can’t be eliminated. Instead, we have to manage online interaction, especially with trolls — or anyone, for that matter, who is negative about our products or services.
Here are some tried-and-true methods you can easily implement on your website and in social media platforms.
Trolls can’t post to your website if you are set up with filters to moderate discussion. WordPress.com has this as a built-in feature. Anytime a new comment comes in, it first gets sent to the webmaster via email and is only posted if the moderator deems the post legitimate. No platform for trolls, who then have to go somewhere else to get satisfaction.
You can also edit in WordPress, so there is the possibility to give the benefit of the doubt to a poster, to prove he or she is not a troll. By taking out offensive language or inflammatory language, a message can be stated in a way that is legitimate. The troll will soon stop if you don’t give them an audience since these pests are starved for attention and need to see their anger in writing.
Clear Policies and Rules
If you have a live forum or chat room, be very precise and clear on your policies and rules. The group will gladly self-moderate if one of the members is not in compliance of rules everyone else uses. Solicit volunteers to rotate moderating posts, and reward them with little benefits like discounts on your products or services.
Unfortunately, social media like Facebook and Twitter does not give you the option of moderating posts. Take a deep breath when you get a troll-like taunt and ignore it. Don’t respond. Repeat: Don’t respond. That is what the troll is looking for you to do, and you don’t want to give a troll the satisfaction of knowing they won. Eventually they will go away, and others in your universe who do read the posts should be able to identify the information as false.
You can privately contact customers or vendors via email to alert them to the problem and ask that they also refrain from engaging the troll.
Like everything in life, the few often ruin a good thing for the many. With a little planning and constraint, you can professionally deal with an Internet troll and quickly get back to the business at hand.
Sarah Boisvert is a seasoned writer who covers a myriad of topics ranging from business to travel. She has profiled Steve Wynn, Clayton Christensen, and Chuck Hull and has particular interest in new technology such as 3D printing.