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?
- 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”.
- 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.
- 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?