Tips for dealing with Online Trolls.

feeding the troll-17_06_2015_152_027_006

I was presenting a digital 360 strategy to a prospective client whose business serves lakhs every month. While at the ORM (Online Reputation Management) part of the presentation, I was explaining the Listen-Assess-Respond-Resolve model when a senior member from their management who was tired of customer complaints on their Facebook pages suggested a rather simple solution -“why don’t you disable the comment feature on Facebook, so that our fans can no longer say bad things there?“ I thought it was a joke, but it wasn’t. The next twenty minutes were spent explaining why that wasn’t the best course of action. The discussion then veered to: what if we delete all negative comments from the Facebook page?

While we won the pitch, what we discovered was that he wasn’t actually tired of dealing with customers and their problems, but of trolls who taunt the firm with allegations, baseless rumours, crass jokes and one sided opinions. However, even if Mark Zuckerberg gave me the power to disable the comment section on brand pages I wouldn’t do it, for one obvious reason: good is boring if there’s no evil (think how bored Megamind was when Metroman was away!).It’s important to understand the context in which trolls are having their laugh; whether it’s a personal attack on an individual (ad hominem) or if they are just joining other irate customers to attack a brand.
For Brands: When customers are vocal about their problems with your brand, they are giving you a chance before opting out entirely; there’s no greater opportunity to truly serve a customer than by resolving issues and reassuring them.But what do you do when your trolls, masquerading as customers, hold your brand to ransom with negative comments on social media and join or form a bandwagon to spread bad reviews online? Perhaps hire a pro?Here are a few troll stereotypes and solutionsThe `I too face that problem’ troll: Think of any telco or ISP brand; there’s never ending complaints about weak network, severed cable connections, etc, but it’s the uninvited trolls who actually amplify the nightmare joining irate customers in conversations.

Solution: Ignore endorsements (retweets, etc) and opinions like “that brand is like that only“, but address genuine questions posted as comments on another customer’s post.

The `I gain followers attention by commenting’ troll: The easiest way to get attention on social media is commenting on a trending topic #tag. These trolls will go the distance to ensure they express a polarised POV in form of crass jokes or via image macros.

Solution: Let it heal slowly. People have short memories: What was the verdict in BP’s oil spill case? No one recalls, or was the verdict even out? (if you are with GreenPeace, pardon me). Did Flipkart shut down after creating lakhs of unhappy customers on #BigBillionDay sale? Last I checked, they are valuated at $11 billion and planning the next billion day.

Brands, unlike individuals can’t decide to stay put without taking necessary steps to address the issue. In a battle between troll vs brand, the former has a higher chance of victory because they can play the victim card of -`I’m innocent’ and label the brand as `an evil business house’. It is imperative brand managers avoid personal bias while responding to unintentional or intentional trolls; the tonality of brand can’t be superior or condemning even if the individual is clearly wrong. The recent example of Ola Cabs denying a customer’s request for a Hindu driver is a great exam ple of how a brand can be po lite but firm.

For individuals:

The `let’s tag the CXOs for my (petty) problem’ troll: This seems to be a trend now. A delayed shipment from Snapdeal leads to tagging Kunal Bahl on Twitter to raise a stink.

CXOs of b2c brands who are present on social media are no stran gers to being tagged by customers for faster responses. More often than not, people cross the line when they make personal remarks or address the c-suite as frauds.

Solution: Everyone in an organisation is responsible to make customers happy, but that doesn’t mean a CEO has to be personally involved in responding to every query. Should they choose to start responding to trolls, then it’s a dive into the abyss.

The `inflammatory opinion’ troll: Virat didnt bat well in world cup? Let’s blame Anushka. These trolls are abundant online.They defy logic in their thinking, but hold strong ground, spreading rumours and inflammatory remarks.

Solution: Do not ever try to reason with these trolls. Any rationale you provide will only feed them and they’ll start multiplying.

The `Pervs and innuendos’ troll: Any girl who has posted a group picture with a bunch of boys on social media will unfortunately be familiar with this. While women get cat-call comments or random fraandship requests, men on the other hand unintentionally elicit trolls who brand them as studs.

Solution: Individuals who are victim of this kind of personal attack from trolls must react the same way they would to page 3 gossip ­ ignore and move on. Also, do check those privacy settings.

This was originally written for Economic Times and published on June 17th 2015