How to Handle an Internet Troll

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By Sue Brady

One of my clients recently had an issue where a troll had hijacked their Facebook page.  Every time my client would post a picture or make a statement about their product, the troll would post, often multiple times, comments and pictures denigrating the product. He also started answering posts from other potential customers who were asking for product feedback. Those were actually his favorites posts to respond to because he could further his own agenda directly with a real person.

Sadly, this is not an uncommon scenario.  It is in fact a reason I hear all the time from clients regarding their hesitation to ‘jump into’ social media.  “What if someone posts really bad things about the company and the president/board member/my boss sees it?”  The truth is, if you jump into social media, you also have to have a plan for managing trolls. There are few, if any companies blessed with 100% positive comments. But social media is such an important tool to use to engage your customers, it’s worth the risk of weathering some negative comment storms.

When you develop your overall social media strategy and plan, make sure you include specifics about how to handle negative feedback. Ask yourself these questions: Should you send the customer to customer service, should you publicly help him, is one person in your company going to be the owner of handling negative feedback? And also, you should make sure that management is prepared to see some of these negative posts. You don’t want it to be a surprise.

So what can you do when a troll is acting like a dog with a bone? You have options, and I recommend trying them in this order:

  1. Try to engage the poster with a comment like: ‘Please message me with your email address and/or phone number so that I can have someone from Customer Service contact you.’
  2. If the poster continues to post, try messaging again, but with a more direct message: ‘Mr. XYZ, I recently sent you a message to see if I can help you privately. Please send me…’. This way, others reading the posts can see you’ve been trying to help.
  3. Block the poster. If the poster won’t stop, this might be your only option. Note, the troll is likely to look for other outlets, so this solution might have to be broader than one social tool.
  4. Delete the posts. This is a nuclear option. If deleting posts becomes public, it can affect your credibility with others.

In the case of my client, they spent several weeks trying to engage the poster to no avail. They eventually had to block him. Finally, when they were able to connect with him one on one, they unfortunately had to be very generous from a customer service perspective. But this troll was costing them business, and they felt it was their only option.

The moral of the story is, have a plan and don’t let a negative poster throw you off course.

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