8 Tips For Loving Your Trolls

I have to admit that when a troll pipes up at WooThemes on social media, I get kind of excited. It’s not that I look forward to it – that would be insane – it’s just that each one presents such a fascinating opportunity. Trolls are my teachers. Whether harbingers of inconvenient truths or nutters picking fights over nothing, they don’t half make life, well, life-y.

The Year Of Outrage

Go ahead and get 100% outraged in zero to ten seconds, everyone else is doing it. Once upon a time it took effort to complain, one had to put pen to paper (a letter to the local newspaper, perhaps). The time it took would often be sufficient to quell the sting and you’d end up crumpling your letter and having a cup of tea. Damage to a brand’s reputation stopped at the edges of one’s literal social circle and brands could snuff out sparks, localising the pain to where the original wound was inflicted. Social media? It changed all that.

Slate Magazine explored this phenomenon in their article, The Year Of Outrage:

“Over the past decade or so, outrage has become the default mode for politicians, pundits, critics and, with the rise of social media, the rest of us. When something ‘outrageous’ happens, it’s easy to anticipate the cycle that follows: anger, sarcasm, recrimination, piling on; defences and counterattacks; anger at the anger, disdain for the outraged; sometimes, an apology … and on to the next.

Twitter and Facebook make it easier than ever to participate from home. And the same cycle occurs regardless of the gravity of the offence, which can make each outrage feel forgettable, replaceable. The bottomlessness of our rage has a numbing effect.”

Here’s the thing though. We can all be wenches. I once lost it at McDonalds on Twitter for giving me a burger that made me throw up and then felt acutely ashamed when the terrified branch manager phoned moments later and offered me a free ice cream. I could hear the tremble in his voice. Had I got what I wanted?

When a troll has climbed on their social media soapbox, why to lose thereupon would be worse than death itself. Social media is way too public a forum to give up without a fight, but if you are prepared (as a social media manager, particularly) the interactions that follow can be not all bad. Good, even.

Here are some tips for loving your trolls, one must never lose sight of the fact that behind every brand and every sharp word shared at them on social media, is a human.

8 Tips For Loving Your Trolls

Remember the keyboard confidence factor. It is strange, true and slightly unnerving that people don’t behave on social media as they do in life. This extends to the lives we craft through careful curation and sharing, and the way we speak when we feel watched. I imagine people on soap boxes, yelling for attention. It is a different kettle of fish, unassuming folk who wouldn’t say boo to a goose become remarkably peppy when it is from behind the safety of a keyboard and tend to state their case more strongly in order to justify their stating it. Factor these hyperbolic tendencies in when you first read what your troll has to say.

Engage empathy (you’ve been there). Mirror emotions. You need to be expert at picking up what emotion the person is putting out, and mirror it. If they are fuming and you crack a joke, best you know where the nearest bunker is located.

Don’t be defensive. Don’t embarrass. On behalf of your brand, lay down your right to be right. It might feel like the most important thing to achieve public vindication for whatever you are being accused of, but winning the battle will never win you the war. Put down or brush off an individual in your online community and you inadvertently set up an atmosphere of nerves and unapproachability. If you seem like a brand who will punish me for being vocal, I will be silent in the bad times but also silent with praise, and less likely to risk engaging but it seems risky. Reasonable people can always see the wood from the trees and will respect your brand for taking a punch even when it wasn’t deserved. Don’t be a doormat but don’t try to be a hero.

Know who you’re speaking to. Having a precise idea of who you are dealing with can sometimes make all the difference. Take the time to click on the bio of your troll, maybe it will ring a bell? Check for previous message history (if you use a program like Sprout, conversations your team members have had with the person will show up, which is super handy). And listen to your gut. If something is pinging, there is usually a reason. Maybe they are one of your top customers, maybe they are your competition’s CEO, maybe they are habitually feisty and checking out their conversations with other brands will help you proceed.

Humour is a marvellous medicine. Don’t play the fool or be trite, but if you feel confident to take a gap to make a little joke or be self-deprecating (‘Sorry to hear it, Ben. Being average is certainly not what we strive for”) – go for it. Mastering the art of drawing a wry smile with your responses, will stand you in very good stead.

If you’re not winning just take the punch. You’ll know from their reply to your first-reply if you are in a better or worse position that before. You simply can’t fight fire with fire on social media, and if your first squirt of water isn’t working it is unlikely you will get far. In instances where someone remains on guard, try to take the engagement to DM / email or offline. I’ve been amazed at how quickly raging lions turn into mice when one simply gets them away from the crowd.

Trust Twitter to self-regulate. If someone is being a jackass, they probably know it and your community will, too. If you are honouring of the angry person in these times, your followers will respect you for it. Being kind and not shaming a complainer for being rude sets a positive tone in your community. Respect begets respect. I relish chances to be the more relaxed, pragmatic and calmer ‘older’ sibling in the face of someone’s wailing and best attempt to elicit a response. And remember, it is not happening in a vacuum. Social media gives you a chance to build a public record of being the ‘bigger person’. Think about the individual you are talking to, also think about the echo.

Leave the door open. If someone has a go at you, chances are they will regret it later. Even if they don’t, their impression of you will be that you are blindingy annoying / disappointing etc but at the very least, civil. In their angst, you get the chance to say something to them, and if you respond kindly you leave the door open for an instance in future where they might pop up on the radar again. Mind how you tread and don’t burn bridges even with the most exasperating of characters, today’s troll might be tomorrow’s big spender.

Here endeth my musing on trolls. If you’re a social media manager or business owner handling your own social accounts, I’d love to hear how you and your team wrangle trolls and diffuse sensitive interactions, so hit me up.