Trolls. Cute (yet ugly) and laughable. They give life to our tales, ballads and legends.

Social media trolls?

Not so much. They wreak havoc.

All a troll wants is to inflict pain, ridicule, and humiliate a targeted person.

Left alone, these little social media misfits will tarnish your brand and reputation.

But… that doesn’t mean you can’t deal with them—effectively.

You can. I’ll show you how.

Bonus: Read the step-by-step social media strategy guide with pro tips on how to grow your social media presence.

What are social media trolls?

They’re people who deliberately provoke others online. By saying inflammatory and offensive things. They live to make people upset and angry.

People like your fans and followers.

They rant, post death threats, spew hate speech. They attack an opponent’s character. And say things to appeal to people’s feelings (rather than their intellect).

They’re foes— not friends—of your business. Clearly.

Don’t mix trolls up with angry customers.

The internet is filled with people stating their opinions. Including upset folk wanting to share their negative, but sincere, beliefs.

Not so with these digital devils.

Trolls often don’t believe a word they write. But say it anyway, just to piss off the others.

Simply stated… social media trolls = online bullies.

Where can they be found?

Trolls lurk online, wherever people comment, post and share with others. Like…

  • Social media, of course
  • Internet chat rooms
  • Email groups
  • Discussion forums
  • Blogs

Internet trolls are nasty. They cause sleepless nights for you as a social media marketer. Same for your customer service agents.

So then, it’s good to know the difference between a troll with a goal versus a customer with a (genuine) rant.

Troll or upset customer?

Sometimes it’s hard to tell.

Both might appear irked, perhaps even furious or enraged.

Fine. Stay calm. Look at the substance of their words. That’s usually the tell-tale.

Listen and think about their motivation. Do they appear frustrated, stating a seemingly authentic claim about your business, product or service?

Do they seek truth?

Do they abide by social media etiquette?

Or… do they sound outraged, seething and trying to incite rage in your brand or in other users?If so, you’ve got yourself a live, social media troll—an internet misfit, in the digital flesh.

For the un-delighted customer, listen to them. They want to be heard. If you address and resolve their issue, they’ll be satisfied and those unhappy messages will cease.

But not the online troll. They won’t stop until they’re forced out or get bored.

Trolls aren’t looking for resolution. They want to engage in battle, one that nobody can win.

Whether a troll or unhappy customer, they have something in common… both want to be acknowledged.

Let’s dig deeper to help you determine if you’re dealing with a troll.

5 signs you’re dealing with a troll

1. They’ll try to make you angry

Trolls exist for the sole purpose of upsetting people.

Got someone on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat stirring up trouble? By starting arguments or posting inflammatory content?

They’re (probably) a troll. Especially if they appear to be insincere in their comments, posts, or statements.

2. They act entitled

Many trolls have an inflated sense of worth. They operate as if the world revolves around them (or that is should).

“Me, me, me… great, great, great. And all you others suck.” Or something like that.

If you get this sense, you’re probably infested with a detested troll.

3. They exaggerate

A lot.

They use strong words like “never” and “every.”

Where most others would say “infrequently” and “some.”

Using extremes and superlatives are ways to inflame people.

And a good sign you have a troll to deal with.

Bonus: Read the step-by-step social media strategy guide with pro tips on how to grow your social media presence.

Get the free guide right now!

4. They make it personal

Discussions, debates, arguments—all safe game for healthy talks among your online users.

Until it gets personal.

Which is what trolls do.

Rather than discuss a matter, reasonably and logically, trolls attack an opponent’s character. They’ll call people names and say things to appeal to feelings and prejudices, rather than intellect.

5. They often can’t spell

Trolls seem to suck at spelling and grammar. They…

  • Spell words wrong
  • Use words wrong
  • Don’t capitalize first words of sentences
  • Avoid commas and periods
  • Mix up words that sound the same, but mean something different
  • Say “I” a lot
  • Same for “!!!” marks
  • Type in all caps
  • Use made up and goofy words throughout a nonsensical sentence

Cornell and Stanford researchers did a study about anti-social behavior online.

Trolls fail standard, readability metrics for the stuff they write.

Including, using less positive words and more profanity.

fine that makes it WAAAY EEZIER to spot theez f!@%$%# digital SOCIOpaths!!! yaaaay happy daze!

As you can see, trolls give themselves away pretty easily.

Great. Now that you’ve confidently identified one… what do you do with them?

9 tips for handling trolls on social media

1. Establish a policy

Most social networks have community policies for ‘being respectful’.

Create one of your own, too, as reminder of acceptable behavior for posts, comments and shares.

Then, if someone acts unbecoming or dastardly, point them back to your policy.

“Hey Joe, I’m nudging you with this friendly reminder about our community policy.”

No need for them to take it personally when it’s written out, right?

Like how Photographer Brandon Stanton did with his Humans of New York project.

Brandon explained the comment moderation rules in a Facebook post. This made it simple for fans and followers to know and abide by the community rules.

Humans of New York Facebook post about trolls

2. Ignore them

Trolls cause negative reactions in others, because they want attention. So then…

Just. Ignore. Them.

Don’t fuel them.

They want you to get upset. Don’t give them the pleasure. Deprive them of their live force, so they’ll go dig elsewhere. This works.


While you, as the social media admin, choose to ignore them, other well-meaning members might not. Now the troll is gaining the traction it craves and feeds on.

Inactivity is no longer an option.

No problem. Try a different strategy to avoid a tragedy.

3. Respond with facts

Are your trolls spreading rumors, wrong information, inaccuracies or outright lies?

Then disprove any tales told by trolls with facts.

Apple did.

With a response to #bendgate which began with this video. A lot of trolling followed rumors of the new ‘bending’ iPhone 6.

Apple took a stand. They admitted to an issue, which affected only nine customers in the first six days of going on sale.

Rather than deny, they accepted and disclosed. The controversy soon went away.

Do the same for your brand. Confess and address to rid the trolls of their fuel.

4. Diffuse with humor

Easy to say. Harder to do.

Done well, humor can humanize your brand and diffuse a situation.

Sainsbury’s groceries got it right.

They used Jujutsu to go with, not against, the flow when responding to a disappointing chicken sandwich.

Sainsbury tweet responding to a negative comment with humor

Sainsbury pulled this off because they…

  • Didn’t ignore the customer
  • Recognized the problem
  • Apologized
  • Mirrored the criticism with a witty reply

However, if your joke falls flat, that could keep the troll on a roll.

5. Block or ban them

Most trolls, most of the time, are annoying. And usually harmless.

However, sometimes trolls take things too far. Like escalating to threats or hate speech.

When they do, you can use your social might to block or ban them. Also, check the standards for appropriate content for that social network. If the troll’s posts are in violation, submit a report.

6. Correct mistakes

Listen to what people say on your social media accounts.

If you catch a mistake:

  • Correct it
  • Let the person know what you did
  • Explain why

If they’re a disgruntled (and reasonable) customer, they’ll most likely appreciate it. Because…

  • You listened
  • You responded
  • You made them feel heard

Which is what we all want. And it can turn frustration into loyalty.

Unless they’re a troll.

They’ll not care.

But it’s all good anyway. Why? Because…

  • Your community will hear it
  • You showed that you’re listening
  • You re-enforced your standards for appropriate behavior
  • Everyone can see how professional you handled it
  • Other trolls will know not to mess with you

You can’t control what’s said. You can control how you respond to what’s said. All good things for your brand.

7. Don’t be baited

Similar to ignoring them, don’t feed them either.

If they’re trying to be be funny, your response could be just what they want for their pending punchline.

If you don’t respond, there’s no joke.

If you do respond, keep your cool. With the ways, and for the reasons, we explained above.

8. Don’t delete their posts

Because that can escalate their bad behavior.

Those Stanford-Cornell researchers say that taking extreme action against small infractions can heighten antisocial behavior.

They also found that if two users wrote posts of similar quality, and one user’s post got deleted “unfairly,” that user would be more likely to write something worse in the future.

9. Build a supportive, friendly community

Trolls are a fact of social media life.

Make them your friend.

Remember, your community is waiting to see how you handle them.

Think carefully and thoughtfully about your response to a troll. Then, post it.

The others will notice. You’ve given them a chance to police trolls for you. They’ll most likely chime in to make trolls feel unwelcome.

As Bradbury points out in his Guardian piece… Take the high road. Whether it’s a customer with a legitimate gripe, or a troll with no intention of a good outcome.

Being responsive and responsible will help you build a supportive community of followers. Ones that will respect and stand by you.

This will make life for trolls difficult. They’ll most likely move on to spill their digital bile elsewhere.

Want to catch those nasty trolls before they infect your audience? Set up your Hootsuite dashboard to listen, monitor and respond to them. Try it for free.

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