When the Tweet Hits the Fan: B2B Best Practices for When Trolls Attack

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Let’s get this out of the way first. You can follow the B2B best practices in this post for when trolls attack, and still have a problem. Internet trolls are like seven-year-old Twinkies, are like Donald Trump, are like RVs in the fast lane … they defy reasonable rationale.

They may be inevitable, but your business is not helpless. Here’s an example:

On the Thursday before Memorial Day, I received a call from a Realtor friend. Her Facebook page and reviews sections were being bombarded by people she didn’t know and had never done business with. Sometime in the middle of the night, someone became upset about a picture she had posted two weeks earlier of the Portland skyline along the Willamette River. (They thought she was making fun of homeless people; she was not. You can see an encampment in the bottom of the picture.)

She was frantic. What could she do, she asked? Delete her page? What about her website, or pages on Yelp, Zillow, and other social channels?

First of all, I told her, breathe. This probably was going to happen sooner or later to her, just as it happens to most businesses. And although it may feel like end of the world at the time, it is definitely not.
For my Realtor friend, we were able to follow the advice Chris Silver Smith shared in his “10 tactics for handling haters on Facebook” post for Marketing Land. We reported the trolls to Facebook and then unpublished the page for a week until everything cooled down.

The episode, however, made me wonder if there were some best practices a B2B or other business should follow if, and when, trolls attack. And better yet, what should be done ahead of time – so you’re not making panicked calls to your webmaster or social media marketing manager?

There will be trolls

“Trolls are inevitable, especially as a business grows,” said Paige Musto, Act-On’s Senior Director for Corporate Communications.

Let’s define what is and is not a troll. A troll, in this instance, is not a new movie from Steven Spielberg or a selfie backdrop under a bridge in Seattle. A troll is an individual or individuals who actively engage in online harassment by posting threatening, rude, or outlandish messages without warning, on one or more of your social media channels, typically Facebook or Twitter.

“At times it can be tough to discern the difference between trolls and customers with legitimate concerns, as both types of users will likely adopt an angry tone in their posts,” write the folks at Hootsuite, in a post on how to deal with trolls.

Mike Rosenberg, CEO of Veracity, a public relations and digital marketing agency, said one quick way to tell the difference is by their grammar. “Trolls aren’t going to spend the time making sure they are using the right punctuation.”

That said, he said, you should decide quickly whether or not you’re dealing with a legitimate complaint.

Musto said the two types – troll versus legit complaint – are dealt with via separate tracks.

If the negative posting is a legitimate complaint, the first course of action is to apologize, reach out and offer to take the discussion offline. If the event is more serious, a statement may need to be issued, and plan of action moving forward announced.

With trolls, Musto said, a company may want to take a look at the social “juice” the troll has online. If they’ve got only five followers, maybe you can ignore the post, delete it and move on. (A few years back she shared Guy Kawasaki’s 12 types of trolls and how to respond to them. You can read about it on the Act-On blog.)

Marshall your advocates (or try humor)

Definitely, Rosenberg said, you want to avoid feeding them by trying to respond or engage in a debate. “You always have to take the high road as a company,” he said. “You’re not going to be able to sink as low as a troll, so don’t try. Ideally, the place where we always want to start is that, hopefully, your community will step in to defend you against the attack.”

Musto said this can work with both trolls and complaints. She said you can direct message or email your advocates, asking them if they would consider jumping in.

Rosenberg said humor is also an option, although that should only be considered if humor is already part of your culture. Search for George Takei (best known as Hikaru Sulu on the original Star Trek) + trolls, and you’ll find great examples of how to use humor to deflate trolls. Warning: not safe for the office (depending on your office, of course).

Plan for the worst

Luckily, Rosenberg hasn’t yet experienced a troll event with one of his clients. However, several have planned how they would respond to an attack, should one occur, and included the plan in their social media policies.

And that is probably the best thing a company can do: take the time to make a plan for how to respond if trolls attack. If and when one comes, you can react more quickly and more reasonably if you can turn to a response plan you’ve already created.

Consider creating an engagement continuum that provides you a set of guidelines on how to respond to social media crises of varying sizes, from just one person making a valid complaint about your business to tens of thousands trolls making outrageous comments on one or more of your platforms.

You should familiarize yourself with the policies for each social channel on how to report trolling. You should identify the primary, secondary and tertiary people in your company who are authorized to speak, if necessary, on behalf of the company on the social channels should a trolling event occur.

You should also identify any additional resources you may need and can tap into in the event of an emergency, such as:

  • Your public relations agency (or which agency you would turn to if you needed this kind of help)
  • Your SEO agency (or a consultant with the right kind of experience)
  • Your legal counsel (in-house or external)
  • …and maybe a videographer, too

Were I to channel Vince Lombardi or some other sports coaching icon, I would say the best defense against trolls is a good offense (otherwise called proactive reputation management).

3 key steps to reputation management

  • First, make sure you claim all the social profiles available to you, especially the ones on the media your customers and target audience are using (check out this post from Act-On’s social media manager Jahvita Rastafari on how to identify the channels your customers use).
  • Second, encourage your customers to leave reviews about you, your business or service on Google, Yelp, Facebook, and industry forums or review sites.The asterisk to this is that Yelp and others are particular about how you can and can’t ask for reviews. There are plenty of how-to articles out there; just search for “how to ask for reviews on social media” (here’s one from the Moz blog with an emphasis on local B2C; for B2B, read “7 Things About Online Reviews Every B2B Business Needs to Know.”It’s a lot easier to manage a bad review or a single troll attack when it’s a small percentage of your total … one out of a couple dozen or hundred reviews, rather than one of five.
  • A third step is to engage with your customers on those platforms on an ongoing basis. This may simply be thanking a customer when they give you a shout out, but it could also include following them, or retweeting or liking a post they make.When I was a crime reporter, we called it “making a deposit in the bank.” Reporters would write little briefs about police academy graduates or a fire department retirement. We would do these so when the (blank) hit the fan, we already had a positive relationship with the first responders, and we could leverage that. That is what you want to do as you build and strengthen your group of advocates.

A quick recap

So to recap, as your business grows, it is a matter of when – not if – trolls will attack. The best way to deal with it when it happens, is to pull out your Troll Neutralization plan, and follow it. Here’s a quick checklist for developing your plan:

Evaluate: Is it a legitimate gripe, or is it a troll?

  1. If it’s legitimate:
    1. Reach out to the complainant and see if you can take the conversation offline.
    2. Online or off:
  • Take responsibility, apologize, and make amends if possible
  • Set the record straight on what is or isn’t true, what did or didn’t happen, and what you plan to do to address it or prevent it in the future
  1. If it’s a troll, don’t engage in a debate.
    1. Take screenshots of the inflammatory comments or posts (in case there is legal recourse later on)
    2. Reach out to your advocates, either by email or direct message on the channel, asking them if they would consider weighing in
    3. Depending on velocity, volume, and venom, you may want to delete the post, hide the post, or suspend the account. Read the Marketing Land post mentioned above for some guidance

Facebook and Twitter have outlined how to report trolls when they attack your timeline, feed, comments, photos, reviews and more.

Do you have any troll stories you’re wiling to share?

Many times the social media team is siloed, outsourced, or even non-existent. If this is how your marketing team operates today, then you may not be taking full advantage of what social media marketing can do. Like all marketing channels, it’s most effective when integrated into a larger cross-channel marketing plan. Download, 5 Ways to Integrate Social Media Across Marketing Channels, to learn five things you can do right now to integrate social media marketing into your marketing strategy!