Brands having a presence online will, at some point, confront a troll. How will you manage them? Writing for the LewisPR blog, Scott Pettet, recommends “the best course of action is to have a clear policy on dealing with antisocial, inappropriate or illegal behavior on the social media platforms you control.”
While I wholeheartedly agree with this, let’s dig deeper by first understanding what trolls are, the nature of trolls, their agenda, and how blogger relations can discredit a troll.
What Is an Internet Troll
You don’t have to look far to find definitions. Pettet provides this one:
The term ‘troll’, or ‘internet troll’ refers to a person who intentionally posts inflammatory messages for the sole purpose of eliciting a response (usually an emotive one) from others.
Zoe Williams of the Guardian gives us excellent commentary on trolls and some advice for managing them. She makes the distinction between haters and trolls:
Trolls aren’t necessarily any more pleasant than haters, but their agenda is different – they don’t just want to insult a particular person, they want to start a fight – hopefully one that has a broader application, and brings in more people than just the object of their original trolling.
Williams points out that “trolls often, when you talk to them, turn out to be quite nice.” Needless to say, this is deceiving. For brands, managing trolls should be part of their overall communication strategy because, it is a form of harassment that can take over and damage the integrity of brand.
The Nature of Trolls and Their Agenda
It is a common trait of people to feel important, so we do thing worthwhile. It is also a common trait of most well-adjusted people to be respected and acknowledged by others. According to Trollspotting, “to a troll, any form of attention – even anger or fear or hatred – seems better than no attention at all.” So when a troll evokes powerful emotions, such as fear and anger in other, they feel empowered. Sometimes this can be directed at respected leaders, perhaps the executive staff of an organization. This usually takes the form of unhealthy and unwarranted criticism that’s typically bias and is the most common form of trolls.
Since these criticisms are framed as healthy, rational and warranted the perception it creates borderlines paranoia for those being attacked and it confuses others — collateral damage. Initially, onlookers don’t know who to believe. With such self-doubting and confusion, the outcome can be paralysis.
How Blogger Relations Can Discredit A Troll
Trollhandling in the larger community of the Internet — those parts of cyberspace you don’t control — requires networking and building a trusted and reliable support system of brand evangelists, or brand advocates, whatever you nomenclature d’jour.
Because trolls biggest asset is inciting fear, which fuels mistrust, your most powerful weapon is maintaining the brand’s integrity and sense of self. You can’t control whether a troll tries to start vicious rumors. You can control how you react to the possibility by empowering advocates to engage the troll on your behalf. Build positive messages that directly reframe the troll’s messages, distribute those to your network, but do not directly link to the troll and do not directly cite the trolls messages in yours. This is will work against.
The secret to reframing messages successfully and managing public perception is to refrain from admitting some details of a troll’s rumors are accurate. Take not:
Just the citing of a troll’s message as a parenthetical to introduce your frame subconsciously implies truth.
Remember your brand and reputation has been established over years. As much as a troll would like to see, your brand cannot be destroyed by a single rumor, unless you allow it. Reasonable people will form their own opinions based upon your actions than upon what anyone says about your brand.