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“Jordan Gaines Lewis. (2014, February 25). Internet trolls are also real-life trolls. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/science/head-quarters/2014/feb/25/internet-trolls-are-also-real-life-trolls[/n] Please support my blog by sharing it with other PR- and communication professionals.…”
How do you deal with online trolls?
I often help companies and organisations deal with online trolls. This work is usually done reactively, but much must be done proactively.
In some not-so-rare cases, the “trolls” aren’t trolls but regular and valuable customers who are right to be angry. Such cases call for issues management and crisis communication — depending on the situation.
Still, sometimes brands must deal with internet trolls. It’s a waste of resources that could’ve gone to better use elsewhere, but it’s a job that needs to be done.
Here’s my recommended approach for dealing with online trolls:
1 Proactive Online Troll Treatments
Most brands will deal with online trolls when they emerge. But the best approach is to do whatever you can to steer clear of them. Proactivity is highly recommended.
1.1 Establish House Rules
All brand platforms should have some form of house rules or community policy. These rules should be public and clear to anyone interacting with your brand.
Most troll activity can be blocked, deleted, or banned. But to minimise the risk of a backlash, you should never take such actions for any other reason than policy violations.
“Canadian psychologists Erin Buckels, Paul Trapnell, and Delroy Paulhus set up a survey of personality inventories matched with ‘Internet commenting styles’ — in other words, they attempted to psychoanalyse commenters, which should be cause for a Nobel prize (and hazard pay) in itself. What came from the study will likely surprise no one: people who like to troll are also likely to show signs of ‘sadism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism.’”
Source: Time [n]Chayka, K. (2014, February 13). Internet Trolls Are Actually Sadists, Study Finds. Time; Time. https://time.com/8265/internet-trolls-are-actually-sadists-study-finds/[/n]
1.2 Spring Clean Your Accounts
It’s tedious work, but you should spring clean amongst your fans, followers, and subscribers, even if there are thousands.
Spring cleaning means sifting through your online community and looking for prominent troll accounts. When you find such accounts, delete them, ban them, block them, or unsubscribe them.
While spring cleaning might decrease your community numbers, you’ll benefit from better algorithmic scores.
Affiliate: I use Email List Validation to protect my sender reputation by keeping my PR email lists free from bouncing emails.
1.3 Nurture a Brand Community
Nothing will protect your brand better than nurturing a positive and ongoing conversation across all your social channels.
When the shit hits the fan, having your community take your side is crucial. And if they favour your brand’s online environment, they won’t easily allow online trolls to destroy what they’ve helped build.
Affiliate: I use Mailchimp as my default email list manager.
1.4 Use Social Tech Strategically
Several technologies will allow you to shape and manage your community engagement.
You can nurture a positive online brand culture by utilising individual comment replies, reactions, pins, highlights, badges, top lists, scores, sorting mechanisms, rewards, etc.
Here are a few on-site examples:
2 Reactive Online Troll Treatments
“Of course, humans have always had this potential for the irrationally vindictive, but the advent of the internet finally allowed it to thrive. Because as soon as you stuck someone behind a computer, a dangerously insular shield of anonymity came down and, for those inclined, happily took over.“
Source: Gizmodo [n]Feinberg, A. (2014, October 30). The Birth of the Internet Troll. Gizmodo; Gizmodo. https://gizmodo.com/the-first-internet-troll-1652485292[/n]
Whether your brand is prepared or not, online troll attacks do occur. How do you deal with them reactively?
2.1 Categorise Your Online Trolls
Online trolls are examples of publics. They’re best categorised by how and where they communicate.
Why categorise online trolls? There are many different types of online trolls. Depending on how and where they communicate, you can find clues on how to best deal with them.
There’s no official categorisation of online trolls, of course. Below are a few examples of publics to showcase how to map various psychologies.
2.2 Online Staff Mode
When online trolls attack your brand, their activity must be monitored, and actions must be taken immediately. The sooner you take action, the better.
If online trolls are allowed to wreak havoc without the brand taking any measures for too long, their activity will attract others, and your problems might become more prominent than they have to be.
So, when your brand deals with online trolls, staff up accordingly. It’s rarely a good idea for everyone to leave work while online trolls ramp up during the night.
2.3 Choose Your Response
2.3.1 Ban, Block, Report
Banning, blocking, and reporting are applicable when online trolls are engaging in the feeds of your brand’s social accounts or comment forms on your website or app:
If someone violates your house rules (i.e. comment policy), they’re online trolls. And as such, you can go ahead and ban, block, and delete them.
When decided to be the right action to take, banning, blocking, and deleting should be an immediate response.
If it’s unclear whether or not someone violates your house rules, revise them and make any changes known to your brand community.
2.3.2 Use the High Road Tonality
The High Road Tonality
An organisation is the total sum of all its coworkers. Imagine taking the most mature traits from each coworker and combining them into one voice — the High Road Tonality.
Learn more: The High Road Tonality: Don’t Be Pushed Around
💡 Subscribe and get a free ebook on how to get better PR ideas.
2.3.3 Use Fancy Copywriting
Online trolls might be bad people, but you can throw many types of them off by reacting in a way they wouldn’t expect you to.
There are many successful case studies where brands have used fancy copywriting to fight against online trolls. The idea is to make the general online audience favour your brand instead and turn them against online trolls.
Fancy copywriting might be your choice weapon if you take the fight.
Fancy copywriting is an art form, though.
You need a copywriter or a PR writer who can produce glimmering online responses in a high-pressure situation.
2.3.4 Monitor and Evaluate
When online trolls attack, it’s challenging to gauge proportionality. Coworkers might be upset and feel personally attacked. Leaders might feel pressured to push for action.
Your brand’s first line of defence against making bad calls is data. Data is harvested through online monitoring systems and then evaluated.
2.3.5 Attempt De-Platforming
If online trolls are giving your brand grief outside your brand platforms (social accounts, websites, apps, etc.), you might still be able to ban, block, or report their content. However, this is a high-stakes strategy and should only be used with the utmost caution.
Brands should be careful about trying to de-platform someone. Although they might be online trolls, they’re not in violation of your house rules anymore. Because they’re not in your “house.”
The only time de-platforming is a reasonable course of action is if an online troll violates the terms or conditions stated by the social network. But even then, there’s a high probability that the social network won’t respond to your reports.
“Scores on the Dark Tetrad personality test revealed that trolls are, by far, more likely to have narcissistic, Machiavellian, psychopathic, and sadistic personality traits. Okay, so that’s not so surprising. But Buckels and colleagues wanted to take it a step further: how much enjoyment are these trolls getting from their online shenanigans? The researchers constructed their own Global Assessment of Internet Trolling (GAIT), which asked such questions as ‘I have sent people to shock websites for the lulz’ and ‘The more beautiful and pure a thing is, the more satisfying it is to corrupt.’ (Sadly, some people indeed answered these questions with a ‘yes’).“
Source: The Guardian [n]Jordan Gaines Lewis. (2014, February 25). Internet trolls are also real-life trolls. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/science/head-quarters/2014/feb/25/internet-trolls-are-also-real-life-trolls[/n]