Once upon a time, using my personal Facebook account, I made a comment on a post from a very popular website. To my surprise, the comment got 1,000 likes in the first hour, plus about 30 favorable replies. Then the negative replies started coming, and what unfolded for me was a lesson in social media reputation management. In what to expect if one of my Facebook business pages ever gets that popular.
Who exactly is a troll?
Trolls come in several shapes and flavors:
- Flamethrowers. They want to make everyone screaming mad because it amuses them. They will say anything to anger people, and they keep going until they get that response (or they get banned).
- Intimidators. They try to scare people into silence with actual and implied threats. These range from people who threaten lawsuits to people who make actual violent threats.
- Preachers. They come to lord over everyone else with their alleged moral superiority. Like people who drop by a beauty website only to lecture everyone about the evils of wearing makeup.
Trolls arrive late, outstay their welcome
When you actually watch a popular comment thread unfold at the speed of Facebook, it reveals some patterns. If you manage a brand or service website, you probably reply to reviews on blogs, Facebook and other sources that you can’t control.
- More engaged people comment/like first. The first people to like, share or reply to you are the ones who care most. If they’re mostly positive, you’re a hit.
- Then, inevitably, come the trolls. There are several reasons why trolls don’t show up immediately. First: they’re not really interested in your brand/thoughts/whatever you’re posting about – they just want to make trouble. Second: if there’s really nothing to complain about, it takes them an hour or so to invent something.
- For a while, other commenters defend you. It’s a great sign when other commenters defend you from your trolls.
- Eventually, the good folks go home and the trolls are all that’s left. Now, this doesn’t happen in every case. But many times, the good folks will look at the thread, realize it’s become a cesspool and decide not to bother wading in. That leaves it wide open for the trolls, who will get and more obnoxious, egging one another on.
So don’t assume a thread has gone wrong just because trolls show up and do their troll thing. It’s just life on the internet. The first to respond are the most engaged. That’s whose opinion counts.
The social media reputation management lesson
The best response is none at all. Even if someone asks a question that seems purposefully dense or inflammatory, wait a moment and see if someone else answers for you. Of course, if someone’s being very rude, deleting the comment is an option if it’s your thread. And I do believe in protecting the bulk of polite users from one mean jerk (it’s not censorship if you’re not a government; think of your website and social media channels as your home. Feel free to eject guests who are ruining the party for everyone else). You don’t want your thread to become that cesspool I was talking about earlier.
Don’t give every comment the same weight
It’s important to understand that “haters gonna hate”, no matter how well you handle a situation. While you want to listen to negative feedback that makes sense and might teach you a valuable lesson, you do not want to get bogged down in dealing with people who are just being negative. Because they aren’t really giving you feedback; they’re just using your social media outlet as their own bully pulpit.
Focus on the early responders
The big takeaway is that you want to focus on the first people to like/share/comment. If their response is critical of you, then you should respond generously and consider how to do better in the future. If their response is positive, and it’s only later that you start getting the negative feedback, those commenters are much less interested in you/your brand and you should respond more coolly, or not at all.
Lower that ban hammer
I’m a firm believer in deleting rude comments and banning people who keep doing it. Some cases are hard to call, and you can really agonize about whether they should go. But the obvious trolls? Get rid of them. Deny them your space. They can complain on their own Facebook page or start their own free blog. You don’t owe them anything.