Most people have a love/hate relationship with social media. I would bet that 99% of people who say that directly or indirectly cite trolls as the reason for that relationship. Merriam-Webster defines the verb “to troll” as “to antagonize (others) online by deliberately posting inflammatory, irrelevant, or offensive comments or other disruptive content.” Social media is unique in that anyone can say (almost) anything they want. That’s a positive in some cases (“how to” videos, connecting with old friends, etc.) but a negative in others (trolls).
The question I’ve had to ask myself multiple times over the first few years of my professional life as a social media manager is “how should I respond to trolling?” As with most strategic decisions in social media, it varies depending on your organization, but I’ll do my best to give three general suggestions on how to handle it.
1. Engage with them seriously
This is the most feasible option for most organizations. Assuming that trolls are trying to post simply to be heard, the least you could do as a social media manager is to give him/her a courtesy reply. I’ve mentioned before that I work in Minor League Baseball, so I will give you an example similar to what I have dealt with in the past.
Troll: “Your food is awful and I am never coming back.”
Me: “Thanks for reaching out and voicing your concern, (Troll’s name). Could please DM us with your contact information so we can ask you more about this?”
Troll: “No, I’m never spending a dollar at your ballpark ever again.”
I know that this person probably has zero intention of telling me exactly what went wrong so we would know how to fix the situation since they said something like “I am never coming back” in the initial tweet. However, it is imperative that your other followers see that you are making an effort to try to make things right with the troll (not to mention you aren’t fully convinced the person is a troll before replying to them).
2. Engage with them to entertain followers
*DISCLAIMER*: Only do this if it is your voice. Do NOT take the Wendy’s approach if you are a more “buttoned-up” organization on social media. This approach is recommended for the more playful troll who doesn’t have the intention of hurting your organization’s reputation. Take one of the most recent Wendy’s roasts, for example:
Tony X had no intention of hurting Wendy’s reputation. He tweeted this in a playful manner knowing Wendy’s was most likely going to reply with something witty. Boy, did they deliver. This type of response to the example I gave in the first point would unquestionably be the wrong choice and would make your organization look very bad. It’s important to know when a troll is being playful and when they are actually trying to ruin your reputation so you can respond accordingly.
3. Do not engage with them
I do not enjoy not responding to people. I believe that if you see it, you should respond to it. I try my best to do that every day. However, there are some situations in which not responding is simply the best choice.
I’ll give another personal example for this. I’ve mentioned before that the Minor League Baseball Team I work for, the Columbia Fireflies, was Tim Tebow’s first professional baseball team. We tried to prepare for the influx of media, social media, and just general attention we were about to receive, but we could only do so much. He has a strong positive following wherever he goes, but unfortunately the trolls follow as well. We had people both direct messaging us and publicly mentioning us on social media saying how bad he is at baseball and how he shouldn’t be playing as much as he is. There is nothing I could say from our team’s social media accounts that could help in those situations. Sometimes the people actually felt what they expressed, but other times they were just trying to provoke us to respond. I decided early on last season that people who have something negative about our players, for example, we weren’t going to respond. It’s just best sometimes.
Trolls. Can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em. They’re the necessary evil that comes with something like social media in which anyone can say anything they want. Trolls are always going to troll. That’s not going to change. What can change, however, is your organization’s reputation based on how (or if) you respond to them. Be wise, and if you are unsure about how/if to respond, seek advice from the veterans in your organization since they have most likely dealt with people like this (in some capacity) in the past.