Businesses today can’t avoid creating a social media presence. Generally, sites like Twitter and Facebook provide organizations a great opportunity to interact with their loyal customers, as well as get the word out about their brand. But there is a downside to having such a public presence and by the time many businesses realize it, it’s too late.
Trouble-making Trolls. The internet provides a great opportunity for people to vent frustrations, whether under their own names or anonymously. In some cases, these frustrations are legitimate. Review sites are full of shared negative experiences that help prospective customers know which businesses to avoid.
However, occasionally online users emerge who have other motives in mind. These users may not have even patronized the site they’re flaming. Called “trolls,” these users move from site to site, posting inflammatory posts in an effort to incite a reaction. While merely operating as a nuisance on other sites, the behavior can damage a company’s reputation if others believe the posts are from a seriously disgruntled former customer.
More on Forbes: In Pictures: The Hottest Startups Of 2013
What Causes It? In recent years, the psychiatric community has spent much time studying what causes someone to engage in online trolling. One theory states that the anonymity offered by the internet creates a condition called “online disinhibition effect,” which causes someone to act differently than he would in a face-to-face situation. The internet creates a protection of sorts that encourages certain people to behave aggressively.
In the case of a business’s social media site, publicly posting inflammatory comments earns attention from that business’s other followers. This behavior isn’t isolated to large corporations. Even a small-town mom-and-pop store could find itself dealing with an anonymous local customer who wants to create a little drama. The “difficult customer” could also be a former disgruntled employee or someone who has a personal grudge against the business’s owner.
More on Forbes: In Pictures: How To Be A Great Entrepreneur, By Venture Capitalists
How Should I Handle It? Often a business doesn’t realize a very vocal follower is a troll until several posts have passed. Initially, many businesses will even politely attempt to interact with the customer in order to remedy a negative experience. But while this tactic may work with a standard unhappy customer, trolls will often feed on this attention, using each communication as an excuse to create even more drama.
Once a business realizes its dealing with a difficult social media follower, one of the first things it should do is research that user. Is there information about the person on his or her profile that could give away the person’s motive? In most cases, however, the profile will be fake and all too often, the user has a history of posts attempting to provoke businesses and fellow users.
More on Forbes: In Pictures: Top Tips From Award-Winning Entrepreneurs
Disengage. While every business wants a customer base that is 100% happy, it’s important to know when to walk away. Once an effort to remedy the situation has been rebuked, further attempts at contact by a customer are likely only efforts to get more exposure. By refusing to respond, you’ll actually stop those efforts in their tracks.
However, on most social media sites it is possible for a business to get the final word. Once it’s clear no easy resolution is coming, make one final public invitation for the customer to contact you directly to resolve the issue, then block that user from posting again. If you can delete that customer’s posts, feel free to do so. After all, these are your social media sites and the customer likely wasn’t lodging a legitimate complaint.
Go on Lockdown. Most businesses will find that trolls are often a little harder to get rid of than a simple block. Many will create a new identity and begin posting again, often with an elevated level of hostility. When this happens, a business may have to lock down its social media sites, requiring approval for each post.
On sites like Facebook and Twitter, your business can set your sites to only allow posts from your friends and followers. For a larger business, manually approving each add request can become time-consuming but it can be a great option until the hostile commenter gives up and moves on to another business.
Don’t Underestimate Your Customers. It’s easy to lose sleep over someone’s littering of your social media presence, but the Internet has been around a while. Most customers have seen their fair shares of this behavior and can distinguish between a legitimately unhappy customer and a troll. Even on review sites, the posts can often be so inflammatory, they stand out from legitimate reviews.
If you have loyal customers, friends and family who regularly participate in your social media activities, urge them to treat trolls with a heavy dose of silence. They may have the best intentions in responding to the negative posts, but they’ll only be giving the anonymous poster the attention he’s seeking.
Report the User. On rare occasions, you may have success in reporting the user, although those occasions really are rare. Even if you succeed in having the user deleted, likely it will prompt the person to create a new profile and start over. The effort won’t be worth it in the end.
As a business, the best thing you can do is rise above the behavior. Be professional at all times and avoid the temptation to try to get the last word. Silence can often speak volumes, especially if the troll continues to try to engage long after you’ve stopped replying. Those visiting your social media sites will merely see the difficult customer the same way they’d see that customer if he or she were throwing a temper tantrum in the middle of a bricks-and-mortar store. Socially unacceptable behavior is viewed the same whether it happens online or in person.
Don’t forget the value of humor. Keeping your tone light as you steer the conversation back toward a productive, meaningful one can show your customers that you are, first and foremost, interested in maintaining a peaceful, harmonious environment on your site. It also makes the negative poster look like he or she is in need of a little injection of humor, rather than taking things so seriously.
More on Forbes: