Recently, using my personal Facebook account, I made a comment on a post from a very popular website. To my surprise, the comment garnered 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.
Who exactly is a troll?
Trolls come in several shapes and flavors, and I categorize them this way:
- Flamethrowers. They just want to get everyone screaming mad because they think it’s funny. They will say absolutely anything to anger people into a response, and they won’t stop until they get that response.
- Intimidators. They try to scare people into silence with actual and implied threats. These range from people who threaten disproportionate legal action to people who make actual death threats and end up getting a visit from the FBI.
- Preachers. They may have a valid point, but they’re really just here to lord over everyone else with their alleged moral superiority. Like people who drop by a beauty website only to lecture everyone about how horrible they are if they use products that were tested on animals. I’m actually sympathetic to that view myself, but telling people they suck is not helpful to anyone.
Trolls arrive late, outstay their welcome
When you actually watch a popular comment thread unfold at the speed of Facebook, it reveals some patterns that a slower thread, or a comment section on a popular blog, don’t. If you manage a brand or service website, you probably reply to reviews on blogs, Facebook praise/complaints and lots of 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 is that they’re not really interested in your brand/thoughts/whatever you’re posting about – they just want to make trouble. Another reason is that if there’s really nothing to complain about, it takes them an hour or so to construct anything that even resembles a sensible negative response.
- 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 and realize it’s become a cesspool and decide not to bother wading in. That leaves it open for the trolls, who will get and more obnoxious, egging one another on.
So don’t think that a thread has gone wrong for you 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.
How to respond
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 Facebook/LinkedIn page as your home, and feel free to eject guests who just want to ruin the party for everyone else).
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.