Your Brand is What You Tolerate: How to Take On the Internet Trolls and Win

People behave badly for a lot of reasons – ignorance, insensitivity, or self-interest just to name a few. Internet Trolls are different. They behave badly because it feels good – to them.

In “Trolls just want to have fun,” a recent study published in the academic journal Personality and Individual Differences, researchers linked trolling to what therapists call “The Dark Tetrad” of personality traits:

  • Narcissism

  • Machiavellianism

  • Psychopathy

  • Sadism

Of these four charming characteristics, sadism was the most predictive of trolling behavior. The study also concluded that trolls downplay the effects of their behavior and rationalize that they are not really hurting anyone. The Internet makes it easy to depersonalize people– the victims remain anonymous and so does the troll. But when trolling happens on one of your social media sites, your brand is clearly identified.

So where does this leave marketers trying to curate an online experience? How do you balance the sensitivities of your real followers?

Consider the source

Trolls are not created equal. The repeat offenders are probably garden-variety creeps. However, a troll can sometimes be hard to tell from an irate customer who’s having a bad day. Make sure you address the trolls before your customers start to believe the troll narrative instead of yours.

Now, this can be difficult to hear for many communicators because there is a misguided belief that you should NEVER delete a post on your social media pages for fear of retaliation, or worse, more trolling. This is simply bad communications advice that has been passed around since the inception of social media. It is just something people accept as a truth — when it couldn’t be futher from it.

Trolls, specifically people who are out to humiliate, should not be treated with the same level of respect as your other followers.  In fact, they should be dealt with in the most urgent way possible. To ignore this type of behavior, is to encourage others to top the worst offender. Just look at Reddit.

Thicken your skin

Face it – not everyone is a fan of your brand and righteous indignation only feeds the trolls. George Falkner, former Global Lead of Social Brand Marketing & Communications at IBM, believes that “A healthy brand wants the good, bad, and the ugly.” Your job is to convert more fans and defuse the haters. He recommends going into “unfettered side of the internet” to decide how to address the haters. More than that, we must create a standard for our brands and stick to it at all times.

Remember, your brand is what you tolerate.

Develop a voice

It is absolutely essential to have a point person for your social media. If your brand sounds like an impersonal corporate entity, the troll’s voice will be louder. Additionally, the more the response to the troll/s feels scripted the less likely you will be able to get back control.

While many of us have social media policies, most of those policies are outdated, and created by legal for pure CYA. Most policies do not address online trolls or bots, which are out to take down your brand or harm your reputation.

It is time to update those policies and procedures to make sure your social media team is empowered to address trolls in real-time. Without this level of control for your team, the trolls can easily create a crisis for your brand.

Bite back with a smile

If humor is your strong suit, go for it. Just stay classy. The point is not to get into back and forth insults but a touch of wit can sometimes defuse an unpleasant exchange. Humor can add authenticity to your brand and ensure that the people on your thread are on your side.

Make contact

Is there an underlying issue beneath the venom? If the troll has a genuine complaint, invite them to take it off-line and contact you directly. This has the dual advantage of getting a troublemaker off your thread and making your company look engaged and responsive. Don’t miss an opportunity to correct your approach – even if you want to throat punch the messenger.

Call for reinforcements

Call the trolls out through other members of your community. Fight the trolls with supporters. If enough people gang up on a troll, they sometimes back off. This is tricky – you need to make sure you have enough die-hard fans on the thread to back you up.

You must also remember that people in your community will not support you if they feel like they are in the fight alone or if you ask them for help after a troll has control.

People don’t like to get in the middle of a fight they didn’t start, so train community supporters before you need them in a jam. Those supporters are much more likely to come to your aid if they know you are super responsive. Put simply, don’t wait until you are in the middle of a fight to make new friends.

Beat them to it

Are you aware of any outlandish misconceptions about your brand? Get ahead of the trolls and address the issues proactively. Be honest and own your company’s mistakes. Not only are you building your brand’s credibility, you could be discouraging a troll.

Pull the plug

You have a nuclear option: It’s called delete and block.

Too often, social media managers let transparency trump common sense. They refrain from acting and ignore a troll issue until it blows up and starts impacting others on the thread. Transparency is relevant but it’s also relative.

When an angry customer raises a legitimate issue about your product or service, apologize, address the issue openly, and make it up to them. But if some sociopath is piling it on about a negative news story, BLOCK THAT TROLL!

Want to learn more about how to handle trolls and other communication crises? Attend our next Brink and Drink workshop in September 5th, 2019 in Old Town Alexandria, VA. The workshop is a crisis escape room experience with fast-paced video communications scenarios ripped from the headlines. You’ll get to hear from virtual experts on what to do and what not to do. Drop us a line for details at