Internet trolls are anxious to get a response and can be tricky to navigate for brands who can't afford to alienate anyone in their audience. Humor can be effective but can also be misinterpreted. Returning the aggression can make an already volatile sitution much worse. Here are some ideas of how to handle these difficult situations.
1. Set an Acceptable Use Policy
It's always best to take a proactive approach when handling potential problems on social media. If there are clear guidelines that have been prominently posted there should be no confusion regarding what is acceptable and what is not. An acceptable use policy also sets the standard down the road if tough decisions need to be made, such as the decision to temporarily or permanently ban trolls. Always make it clear that threats and certain types of language will not be tolerated.
2. Address Legitimate Grievances
Sometimes those who complain have actually experienced a legitimate problem with a product or service. According to CIO.com, it's important that companies refrain from sending automated responses on Facebook and twitter. Impersonal communication can further anger an individual. It can be difficult, especially for a large company, to engage in real customer interaction. It most cases, however, it will be worth the effort to deal directly with an angry customer. Offering discounts or other special offers may sometimes make the difference between a future customer or a potential troll.
3. Always Take the High Road
The last thing businesses want to do is get down in the mud and fight with trolls on their level. Social Media Examiner explains how important it is for businesses not to resort to corporate trolling. While some companies may think that it's a smart move to respond to negative tweets by injecting humor, this can be a dangerous path to go down. What is perceived as humor is often subjective and may end up backfiring against the company. If you do respond, there are a few tips to keep in mind. Always respond with facts, not emotionally charged statements. While the troll probably doesn't care about facts, it may make a difference for many others who will see the response.
4. Ignore Trolls If Possible
As difficult as this can be, this is often the best way to handle offensive behavior. By engaging with trolls, even in a professional manner, you're almost certainly adding fuel to the fire. Many trolls will simply go away if they are ignored long enough. Some, unfortunately, will stick around to wreak havoc, whether they are directly addressed or not. Even when the company ignores the trolls, other members of the community may not follow suit. When trolls cause problems to the point they're driving away customers and affecting revenue, it may be time to take more serious action.
5. Ban Trolls If Necessary
Because a business should strive for an open forum and a wide range of viewpoints, this should be a last resort. According to Wharton University of Pennsylvania, if a company can afford it, it's a good idea to have a paid moderator. Automated interventions may unintentionally weed out those who aren't really trolls. Ultimately, the hardcore troll who is obviously determined to hurt other people and disrupt business should be banned. While simply deleting bad comments or giving temporary bans is one way to deal with trolls, this may not be the best approach. Sometimes it's better to just ban trolls before they gain much traction or build an audience.
Unfortunately, trolls have become a staple of many internet sites. Almost everyone who operates a social media site, corporate or personal, knows this firsthand. Following these five steps will enable a company to effectively deal with trolls while protecting both their customers and their business interests.