Developing a Troll Communication Protocol

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It’s an undeniable truth—even if your brand produces the most neutral content out there, someone on the Internet is not going to like it. As we continue to spend more time online, the more troll culture grows and develops as well. If you want to set your blood boiling just look at the comment section of any news publication to see a variety of hateful and acidic comments. 

Overall, trolls have the same function: making unpleasant comments on social media or blog posts to cause disruption or flame fires in a comment thread. They thrive behind anonymity and can become a nuisance when they choose to repeatedly harass a particular account. In order to protect your brand from trolls, it’s important to have a communication protocol in place so your team knows how to deal with them the moment they strike, as the longer a comment is on a social channel or blog post, the more time a larger audience has to see it. In order to make the process as seamless as possible, we’ve developed a troll communication protocol for any brand to use to manage their comment section.

Are they actually a troll?

Whenever we see a negative comment about us, it’s gut instinct to feel like that can’t be true because you know how hard you’ve been trying to post valuable content. It’s negative, so it’s automatically a troll. However, it’s important to take a look at the whole of the comment. Even if it’s written in all caps with a variety of spelling errors, pause for a moment and ask yourself if the person has a point. Could your customer service be faster? Did someone drop the ball on your end? If there’s a hint of feedback that could help you better serve your customers, you have to accept that this isn’t a troll and you’ve got some work to do. The best place to start? Sending them a message (in response to the comment or via a DM depending on how appropriately written their comment is) and letting them know you’ve heard them and will work to do better in the future.

Are they a spam account?

Spam accounts are everywhere across social media and the blogging community. Usually you’ll be able to identify them with their quick rich schemes or other seemingly unrelated posts. But as technology becomes more advanced, bot or spam accounts are trickier to identify. With a few Google searches and some coding knowledge, a surprising amount of people can develop their own algorithms to post spam content across the internet that seems more realistic. If you find one of these accounts is posting on your pages, take a deeper look into their accounts. Are they posting on their own channels? Do they have any followers? If not, they’re likely not being manned by a real person and you can simply delete their comment without further concern. Depending on the platform, consider reporting the account as well, so other people don’t have to deal with a similar situation.

Is this hate speech or profanity?

This step is simple. If the comment uses excessive profanity or any language that is racist, sexist, homophobic, etc., take a screenshot and delete it immediately or report it as violating rules if on social media. Nastiness has no place in your comments, and to make your followers feel safe, it’s essential to create an environment free from toxic behavior. Keep the screen shot for your records in case you need to escalate the problem with this individual further up the chain of command of whatever site the user’s account is hosted. And if the comment is directed at people in your organization specifically, we recommend not sharing the post with them unless absolutely necessary. Even when we know cruel posts come from a troll, it can still be painful for us to hear and hard to remember that the troll's opinion means nothing.

How can you best respond?

If the troll hasn’t met any of the above criteria, it’s time to respond to them. And the best way to slay a troll? The answer is sadly not sticking a wand up their nostril, but instead we recommend killing them with kindness. We especially love Michelle Obama’s advice, “When they go low, we go high.” What does it look like to go high when responding to a troll? We recently worked with a client to address a troll comment on a promoted Facebook post and came up with the following response: 

Commenter: This is obviously another phishing scam. I’m so sick of getting these kinds of posts on my feed. 

Our Response:  Hi [NAME]! Thank you for your concern, but we can assure you we're not a phishing scam. If you have any questions about our membership opportunities, please don't hesitate to contact us!

This response works on two levels. First, we show the commenter and other viewers of the post that we are real people and not a phishing scam. Second, while the commenter is likely not our target audience of our post, we offer them customer service, showing anyone else who sees the comment that we’re here and we care about all potential customers. When responding with kindness, you usually get one of three responses: 1) silence, 2) continued rudeness that you can choose to address or simply mute at that point, or 3) a change of opinion. You’ll be surprised how often these types of responses are met with a change of opinion and an acknowledgement. Usually it’s as simple as a “Thanks,” but at the very least, you’ve changed the tide with at least one troll. 

Building and maintaining your reputation online is more important now than ever in light of the pandemic. As brands struggle to safeguard their legacy, it’s essential to use every opportunity to show that you’re a brand worth standing with. If you’re looking for more tips on effective brand management, follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn and check back monthly for new blog posts.