Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me

Social media has become a theatre for users to achieve a slice of fame through ‘trolling’ a brand. But what exactly is trolling, and how should it be dealt with?

An internet troll is disguised as a standard customer, but attempts to get under the skin of a brand by luring them into a trap, and making absurd or provoking remarks. By loose definition, trolling is known as “deliberately disrupting online discussions in order to stir up controversy”. In social media. these disruptions are made in comment sections, wall posts and inbox messages, and attempt to incite a reaction from the brand, or attention from other users.


Why bother trolling?

Well, for amusement essentially. Attention and a reaction fuels a troll’s ego, and through making a brand seem ‘incompetent’ the user is left with a feeling of satisfaction. A lot of people enjoy the kind of trolling that illuminates the gullibility of the powerful and their willingness to respond. As you may have noticed on Facebook, news corporations are constantly targeted through being lured into a story, only to be mocked when responding. In fact, there is now a Facebook page titled ‘7 news perth trolling’ with some 4700 followers…


In an age of viral social content and a ‘hunger for likes’, trolling has become embedded in social spaces. An American study suggested 39% of users encounter trolls at least once a week, and 28% admit to doing it themselves. Trolling is a serious concern for brands, with people less likely to use a service if harassment is part of the experience. While disabling communication channels to consumers is an option for brands, social media is a powerful medium for customer service and response. Instead we’re increasingly seeing that brand engagement rates with consumers are falling.

How to deal with trolling?

  1. Ignore – Brands can enforce the ‘any publicity is good publicity’ approach by ignoring baiting wall posts. Being the bigger man and allowing the audience to have their fun avoids reputational damage to the company. As social media expert Josephine Hardy says “anything your brand says is a reflection of the business”.
  2. Delete – In some circumstances, deleting comments may be necessary. If the content posted is indecent, it should be removed so that a brand is not associated with it’s negative nature.
  3. Kill them with kindness  – A troll’s intent is to aggravate a brand, and a witty response can pay huge dividends when making light of an irritating situation. Responding to consumers can spawn mass attention, and brands can generate positive associations through doing it the right way (see below).


Trolling may be a phase or it may be here to stay, but for the moment it’s a PR nightmare for some companies. What’s the best way of tackling it, and which companies do it the best?




4 thoughts on “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me

  1. Great post Matt! I find trolls ludicrous, the fact that people waste their time baiting others on social media is mind blowing.

    I’ve recently encountered regular trolls whilst managing the Instagram and Facebook accounts at my work. We are building a new complex that is taking longer than expected to complete, and we are experiencing nothing short of harassment by the same individuals on every post we make. The decision as to whether to delete comments, respond to them or ignore them is a tough one and I have to say I’ve really struggled with what to do to respond. Companies must face this all this time, and I am always impressed by those that turn it around into a positive experience. Your Tesco example is a great one, and one of my other favourites was when Coles received a Facebook post about a worm in one of their capsicums. Guaranteed to create outrage amongst consumers, they managed to turn it into a positive and have a laugh with their customers. Have a look 🙂


    1. Thanks Maddie! Great insight to hear that the struggle of how to respond is something that you experience in the workplace. As a general rule of thumb it seems that responding with kindness and humility, no matter how temping it may be to retaliate in a frustrated manner, is always the best path in terms of building and retaining a strong brand image. Thank you for your example! I’m currently interning at Coles and the marketing department would be extremely pleased to see you cite them as a positive example. As you’ve identified with, for a large scale corporation like Coles customer response on social media is clearly a very delicate and critical component of their digital strategy due to the mass audience they reach (that post gathering nearly 14k engagements alone).


  2. Hi Matt,

    It amazes me how people have nothing better to do with their time than troll. The article you linked to ‘the engagement rates with consumers are falling’ was quite interesting. On the surface, you wouldn’t think that this is the bas, however looking into it now, I can see why this might be a necessary option for brands. I think when it comes to outlets such as news pages (predominantly on Facebook) comment-free spaces should be created. News outlets such as Channel 7 News solely operate to provide the community with news. Enabling comments not only opens the door for trolls, however also generates heated and contentious comments and discussions that inevitably implicate the company whose page they appear on.

    Looking at trolling specifically, I think that ignoring comments can work one of two ways. I agree that it avoids reputational damage to the company, however it also can have an oscillating effect. Instead of safekeeping reputation, it can create further badgering and trolling where the company is seen as unable to face the facts or truth or unable to take a joke and engage with its consumers (albeit trolls, they are still engaging with the company).

    It really is a difficult space to know which way is best to respond. I think it all comes down to which field a company (who is receiving a troll) belongs to and understanding your consumers / audience!


    1. It’s an interesting opinion that news pages should implement comment free sections. I think that this would be an effective method of stamping out trolling, however the potential benefits of involving the audience in their content would potentially outweigh the minority who are trying to aggravate the company. The news stations receive a great deal of circulation and engagement through the audiences involvement with their content, and eliminating this would most likely be detrimental to the size of their audience. I agree with you at a companies response to comments is dependent on their industry, as responses must be appropriate to the audience.


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