With their bright hair, (debatably) adorable faces and even cuter outfits, many millennials spent their childhoods collecting trolls. But when it comes to the internet, the social media troll is much different. Nostalgia aside, this troll is one social media managers of all ages should avoid.
Whether they’re just goofing around or straight-up harassing your accounts, internet trolls can take their toll on social media experts. Sometimes, their messages might just be pesky. At other times, a troll can mount a full-on hateful attack that wreaks havoc on your mental health.
It’d be great if we could avoid trolls entirely, but the internet is a deep, dark place. You’re bound to encounter some trolls along your travels. Fortunately, we’ve got tips and tools to stop any troll problem before it gets out of hand. We’ve even included some expert advice from Hootsuite’s own in-house social media team. Read on for more on what to do when trolls attack.
Bonus: Read the step-by-step social media strategy guide with pro tips on how to grow your social media presence.
An online troll uses the internet to deliberately provoke or get a rise out of others. Their actions can be a small-scale irritant or cause a major problem.
The term “troll” usually refers to someone who maliciously harasses, attacks, or cyberbullies others. They might take your words out of context, spam you with offensive content or even engage in racist, homophobic, misogynistic, or otherwise hateful rhetoric. These trolls serve no purpose other than to make your life miserable and must be dealt with swiftly.
Are there harmless trolls?
There are a few different types of trolls, and not all are malicious. Some trolls do it all in good fun. They’re the ones who goof around with brands, poke fun at celebs and make jokes that don’t really hurt anyone.
These trolls can still be a nuisance for brand managers, but they could also provide a lot of fun social engagement. Some social media brands, like Wendy’s, are famous for playing along with trolls or even roasting other brands.
do you want a roast or would you prefer a cover of a roast? #NationalRoastDay
— Wendy’s (@Wendys) January 12, 2022
Note: Don’t forget that an unhappy customer is not a troll. Someone lashing out because of your product or service isn’t the same as a troll spreading chaos for the sake of it.
How do you spot a troll? Dealing with these deceitful devils is a delicate dance. After all, the last thing you’d want to do is assume one of your responders is a troll when they’re just a well-meaning weirdo.
But there are some telltale signs that you’ve been trapped by a social media mischief-maker:
- You feel agitated. This may not always happen, but something might feel a little off in your interactions with a troll. If their reply seems weird or disproportionate, that might be the first sign to look for other clues.
- They don’t make sense. Online trolls can be particularly great at presenting absurd ideas in faux-intelligent language. (Much like politicians, really…)
- They are not staying on topic. Again — this is something that angry people do online all the time. But a troll might change the subject to something overly silly, seemingly random or downright stupid. Or they might respond with an unrelated image or link.
- They’re calling you names. We’ve established that there are good trolls and bad trolls. The bad might lazily glom onto whatever buzzword is trending at the time. If they’re referencing eye-roll-worthy memes like “Deez Nuts” or trying to RickRoll you, consider that a red flag.
- They’re condescending. When a troll manages to get you riled up, they’ve won. Their next move is to act like nothing’s wrong or even feign surprise that you’re annoyed. If you’re not on your guard, that response might get you even more upset.
- They’re relentless. Most internet users are easily distracted and move on from a subject. But if someone’s endlessly throwing gasoline on your mentions, there’s a good chance they’re having a little too much fun — and likely trolling.
So the clues suggest that an account might be trolling you, but now what?
Here are some tips on how to handle trolls on social media and maintain a sense of peace on your brand’s social media page.
Sometimes it all boils down to willpower. Trolls thrive on interactions, so they won’t be able to play their cruel game if they don’t have a willing participant. This is where the popular internet phrase “Don’t feed the trolls” comes from.
It’s on you to maintain a steely exterior and avoid taking the bait whenever possible. This isn’t always possible, so use your discretion. If the troll is starting fights with your customers or generally making your social media an unsafe place for others, leaving them alone will not be an option.
We know how excited you all are to react to #AfterWeFell but also want to make sure our page remains a spoiler free space. Enjoy the film and please be courteous and respectful of others in the community.
— After Everything Movie (@aftermovie) September 1, 2021
The page promoting the film After We Fell urged followers to avoid spoiling the film online.
Just be careful before adopting an “ignore all negativity” policy. Nick Martin, Hootsuite’s own Social Listening and Engagement Strategist, recommends evaluating angry posts first to see if they might be real.
“Don’t reply to someone who just wants to pester the brand and gain internet clout. But if someone has a legitimate reason for being upset, you’ll want to figure out a way to engage with them and, hopefully, solve their problem. At the very least, their comments may be valuable customer feedback.”
– Nick Martin, Social Listening and Engagement Strategist
When possible, establish rules for conduct on your page. Every social networking platform has a code of conduct. You can do the same, even if you don’t want to draft up some complex legalese.
For example, if you’re running a Facebook group, you can pin a post setting the tone for the conversation, using language that encourages users to “keep conversations respectful.” You could also put a statement or rule (without being too bossy) in your profile description. That way, you can point back to the guidelines if you need to delete a comment, report a troll, or even block someone.
It can be particularly anxiety-inducing to combat a troll problem when you’ve pre-scheduled your posts, then gone on to whatever other work you’ve got piled up on your to-do list. But social listening tools like Hootsuite allow you to stay on top of your replies and comments (both good and bad).
If you use Hootsuite Streams for social listening, you’ll be able to monitor and reply to conversations across platforms from one simple dashboard. That means you can keep an eye on your comment section — and stop trolls in their tracks as soon as they start posting.
Nick Martin (yup, that’s him in the video above) recommends using Streams to monitor conversations that don’t even mention your brand by name.
“For the most part, trolls will be in your replies, but sometimes they talk about your brand without directly @ mentioning you.
Set up listening streams that include your brand name, product name, and even your executive team’s names. It’s important to include common misspellings of your brand keywords as well. In Hootsuite’s case, we include terms like ‘hoot suite,’ ‘hotsuite’ and ‘hootsuit’ to make sure we capture as many relevant mentions as we can.”
– Nick Martin, Social Listening and Engagement Strategist
You can’t treat social media like an afterthought, even if you’re running a large operation. Social listening tools like Hootsuite are a great start, but you’ve got to be willing to keep an eye on them. That’s why the best responses to trolls come from experienced social media managers.
If you find yourself overwhelmed by negative comments, unable to stay on top of your replies or tell the difference between good and bad interactions, you need to resource your brand accordingly. After all, some bad comments can reflect terribly on your brand as a whole.
If you’re going to work in a particular place, you need to become familiar with your surroundings. That’s as true in real life as it is online.
That means you need to get familiar with larger internet trends along with those that apply to your brand’s niche. You don’t need to know everything, but you should pay attention to what’s going on, so you’re less likely to be duped.
And if you’re ever confused, some resources can help. Websites like Urban Dictionary and Know Your Meme are great tools to use. They can help you understand why people are flooding your feed with the same image or confusing catchphrase.
Hey Xbox, my 9 year old is screaming at the top of his lungs since he can’t log in. When I try to calm him down, he throws his controller at the wall, and it is smashed into pieces. He is now threatening to run away. Please fix this.
— Offical Derek (Derek Like Woman) (@GregHef10802177) February 25, 2021
Xbox Support wisely ignored this obvious bait.
Sometimes it’s obvious when a troll doesn’t warrant a reply, but at others, you might be roped into a prank without realizing it. If this happens, don’t beat yourself up! There are many examples of Twitter accounts running support for big businesses, who have unwittingly replied, “I’m so sorry this happened to you,” to an account with an offensive or humorous name.
But remember to take a breath and think twice before hitting Reply. If you work in a space where anyone can reply, you’ve got to stay on your toes.
You’ve thought it out, looked at the context clues and counted to ten in your head. If you still think it’s a good idea to reply, you can start crafting a response to a social media troll. Just don’t let any emotions get involved.
Remember: You’ve got an audience, and there’s a good chance they’ll see how you respond to a troll. If you rise above the situation and communicate with poise, you can de-escalate a problem quickly. You can also win major brownie points from the rest of your followers.
you are a toaster
— Bungie (@Bungie) May 4, 2022
Bungie’s infamous reply against an anti-choice troll earlier this year was a master class in clever, concise replying.
This is a more advanced technique that shouldn’t be employed all the time, but if it fits your brand and the scenario is mostly innocuous, you can incorporate trolling into your broader marketing plan.
The best example is an oldie. Think back to 2017, when Carter Wilkerson asked Wendy’s how many retweets he’d need for a year of free chicken nuggets. That’s the kind of light, silly behavior that could have just been ignored by the brand. Instead, they turned it into a whole thing — and it became one of the most viral moments of the 2010s.
HELP ME PLEASE. A MAN NEEDS HIS NUGGS pic.twitter.com/4SrfHmEMo3
— Carter Wilkerson (@carterjwm) April 6, 2017
Obviously, you shouldn’t copy this exact marketing spin. Still, if you approach trolls on the internet with an open mind (and tread very, very carefully), you might be able to use their replies as a marketing win. Just make sure you know exactly what you’re doing.
Other advice suggests that deleting a troll’s comments will only enrage them further. But if someone’s using hateful language or making your audience uncomfortable, you need to deal with them.
Think of it like graffiti on your storefront. You don’t want those comments to be a stranger’s first impression of your brand.
The key is, as always, discretion. Using common sense, you can determine whether someone is engaging in bad faith. If they’re crossing the line into hate speech or making anyone feel uncomfortable, then give them the axe.
On platforms like Instagram and Facebook, you can delete or hide rude comments. Twitter also allows to hide comments, but on this particular platform, it’s usually best to block.
so does everyone else also immediately read the ‘hidden replies’ the second they see them under any tweet even though that is the opposite of the intended effect or
— Alanah Pearce (@Charalanahzard) September 2, 2020
Hiding replies on Twitter will add an icon to your original tweet that serves as a beacon for other curious trolls. That’s because those replies aren’t gone for good — anyone who knows to click on the icon can review the hidden comments. That can cause the trolling to snowball in a major way.
Want to catch those nasty trolls before they infect your audience? Hootsuite makes it easy to monitor keywords and conversations, schedule and publish posts, engage your audience, and measure performance — all from one simple dashboard. Try it free today.