How to Deal with Internet Trolls

twitterabuseAny social media manager working with a brand has a worst nightmare. It’s not Twitter going down, or Facebook taking away Insights. No, it’s Internet trolls. While trolls may be a pest for individual social media users, they’re ten times more annoying (and possibly damaging) for brands. Why? Because, even though we can all agree that a user fits the “Internet troll” profile, that doesn’t stop other users from lending their comments credence. Which means the brand can’t just ignore the tweets, Facebook posts, or blog comments.

One of Twitter’s most famous brand trolls is Jon Hendren, known by his Twitter handle @fart. Yes, that’s really his handle, and yes, he actually gets a lot of visibility with consumers. He’s a comedy writer that delights in tormenting brands on social media, and since he’s a pro, the tormenting is pretty funny. That means people latch on to his tweets and retweet, favorite, and comment on his brand musings. Also known as a brand’s worst nightmare.

Hendren is one of the most well-known Twitter users that are part of a loose-knit group of comedians called Weird Twitter (the group doesn’t acknowledge or use the Weird Twitter name, but many others do). Besides tweeting jokes, Weird Twitter users relentlessly troll brand Twitter accounts.

One of Hendren’s favorite targets is Domino’s pizza. He searches for other, lesser-known Twitter users that complain about their Domino’s pizza and then he retweets their messages. While their message may have only reached a few hundred people, their angry complaint is now shown to Hendren’s 70,000+ followers. Suddenly, that fairly insignificant complaint is big Twitter news. Hendren also makes fun of Domino’s directly, like in this tweet from November 28.

While brands may despise Twitter trolls like Hendren, there’s actually a lot to learn from his trolling. He was gracious enough to provide some tips to Digiday about how brands can effectively handle Internet trolls. Here are some of the highlights!

  1. Stop being boring. Harsh, but Hendren makes a good point. “Posting phoned-in “Fill in the blank: My favorite #thanksgiving food is ________” should get people fired,” Hendren rants. “But there were hundreds of tweets like that last year. It’s all so mind-numbing.” We have to agree. Falling back on clichéd, uninteresting tweets welcomes Twitter trolls like Hendren, who pray on the unimaginative.
  2. Social media is more impactful for smaller brands. “Once your company is established and a household name, social media probably doesn’t do anything to help. In fact, last year Coca-Cola used some data to show that social media for them had been more or less useless,” Hendren notes. While we disagree that social media is useless for big brands (think Old Spice, Red Bull, etc.), we do agree that social has more impact when a company is trying to establish itself and build a following. Plus, there’s less trolls out there waiting for you to slip up when you’re small and just building a following. Not so with behemoth brands like Domino’s.
  3. Social media can be a liability. Sure, social media can be a way to enhance your brand image and another great marketing touch point, but it can also be a great (read: horrible) way. People tend to remember social media gaffes more than social media wins. For example, AT&T posted a photo of someone taking a picture of the Twin Towers lights on 9/11 with the hashtag #neverforget. Not surprisingly, people pounced on AT&T for trying to profit from a national tragedy. Something like that stays with people, so avoiding major mistakes is almost as important as creating great campaigns.

The bottom line? Trolls are there to entertain people (and themselves), and brands are a really easy target. If you can be imaginative and rise to meet the comedy challenge (meaning don’t take yourself so seriously), you have a serious shot at making social media work for your brand.

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