I was generously invited by Richmond Social Media to sit on a panel about how to deal with trolls on social media at The Innovation Center. In Troll Hunters: How to Survive Social Media When a Troll Strikes, I discussed my strategy to combat (or not) online trolls. For funsies, each tactic is named after the person or business that does that tactic best.
Choose Your Own Adventure
There are several ways to deal with trolls. Which tactic you choose depends on the type of troll, situation, audience, and brand. Is the troll a bored teenager with a penchant for poop jokes? Or a dissatisfied customer? Maybe it’s a more personal vendetta? Are you being attacked? Or your product/business? Is your audience primarily composed of Boomers or Millennials? What kind of tone does your brand speak in? The answers to these questions inform which troll tactic to choose.
Use a mix of tactics and see what your audience likes best. Study how other businesses, personal brands, and online personalities handle trolls. What of their tactics gets the best response?
- Don’t respond to trolls
- Don’t respond to anyone
- Drop huge products/launches without anyone knowing
This tactic requires long-term planning. Beyonce Knowles did thousands of interviews as a member of Destiny’s Child. Not so much once she became “Beyonce.” You must have a superior product, brand, customer service, etc, to back up this kind of disengagement.
The Wendy’s (Fast Food Restaurant)
- “Shut up, loser”
- Troll the trolls back
- Gets away with this by being consistently funny and light-hearted
- The kids love it
Careful with this one: there’s a fine line between being playful and negging. If light-hearted roasting is consistent with your brand language (and your audience skews younger), this can be a great tactic.
The Jimmy Fallon (Tonight Show Host)
- “Join ’em to beat ’em”
- Laugh with the trolls
- Make fun of yourself
The jokes not on Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Fallon is in on the joke. He forcibly inserts himself by piling on more jokes (at his expense) and laughing heartily at the punchline. If a troll is making fun, join in. This is endearing. Perhaps only begrudgingly endearing to the troll, but we don’t care about them. You’ll endear yourself to your audience.
The Jeffree Star (YouTube Beauty Guru)
- “Can’t relate.”
- Troll them first
- Actively involve yourself in other’s drama
This is a super aggressive tactic that I do not recommend. But numbers don’t lie. At nearly 16 million subscribers, Starr has found something that works for his brand. You do you, boo boo.
The Jenna Marbles (OG YouTuber)
- “I’m sorry”
- Be so completely drama-free that incorrectly purchasing a fish and its’ tank system becomes a scandal
Jenna Marbles has been on YouTube for a relatively quiet decade. Sure, her older videos have some more adult language and subject matter, but Jenna has never been overtly controversial. Therefore, when she bought an exotic fish and the wrong tank/accessories to keep it (especially as she professes to be such an animal lover), the internet collectively lost its’ mind. And Jenna stepped up to the plate.
Sometimes, trolls on social media are just dissatisfied customers. Jenna responded to her subscibers dissatisfaction by releasing a 45 minute apology video. The video was honest and informative. She listed exactly what she did wrong (and now I know weirdly specific details about how to properly care for exotic fish). While she did mention that the pet store employee shouldn’t have recommended her purchases, she didn’t dwell there. Jenna made it about herself: what she did wrong, what she will do differently, and how she can make it better. Content comparing Jenna’s apology video to other popular YouTubers’ apology videos popped up all over YouTube afterward. Jenna came out golden.
The Lexus (Car Company)
- “How can I help you?”
- Tend and befriend
Tend and befriend is the Jan Brady of survival instincts. By that I mean, fight or flight (Marcia Brady, obviously) gets all the attention. Basically, tend and befriend means to make oneself indispensable as a means of survival. You ever see those birds that ride on the back of fearsome predators? Those birds are allowed to be so close to a carnivore that would normally eat them because they provide an indispensable service (like eating otherwise bothersome bugs). The Lexus Car Company used tending and befriending as a proactive way to stop dissatisfied customers from turning into trolls.
Lexus is known for producing extremely well-made cars for car people. The company acted fast when a major malfunction was discovered. They didn’t send out the standard letter informing Lexus owners of a recall. Instead, technicians were sent to each car owners home. The cars were fixed and detailed, at no inconvenience to the owner. Lexus got potential safety hazards off the road, without turning dissatisfied car aficionados into (rightfully) complaining trolls.
What She Said
At the end of the day, these tactics are just words. Any can be used while keeping this Maya Angelou quote in mind: “People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you make them feel.” Responding to trolls with kindness-like saying “I’m sorry you’re having a bad day” in response to cruelty-is a small way to tend and befriend.
Cancel culture is alive and well. When a celebrity or brand makes a mistake (or worse) there are calls for them to be cancelled. The offender may lose subscribers, investors, contracts, etc. Cancelled culture can make trolls seem scarier. Entrepeneurs and brands may appease trolls in an attempt to stop a #cancelled brigade.
The bright side of cancel culture are Stans. Stans are megafans-they will stand by an individual or product no matter what. It’s easier to employ The Beyonce troll tactic with a very loyal audience. Stans will take care of trolls, without you saying a word.
Make sure ordinary dissatisfied customers don’t become trolls by using The Jenna Marbles and The Lexus tactics. Always be striving to turn ordinary satisfied customers into stans. Invoke positive feelings in your audience by using The Wendy, The Jimmy Fallon, and tending and befriending.
How do you deal with trolls on social media? Let me know in the comments. Did you find this article helpful? Share it (and show Richmond Social Media some love)!
Speaking of Richmond Social Media, their next program sounds amazing. It’s called Buzzworthy: How to Build Exciting Content on Social Media featuring Andy Floyd and Amanda Marquis. It’s at The Innovation Center (814 E. Main, Richmond, IN), next Friday October 4th, from 8:30 am-9:30 am. See ya there!
Happy troll slaying!