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Six ways to manage online trolls

Managing online trolls

One of our followers, Jackie from Alchemy for the body and soul, recently asked us for advice on how to manage negativity towards her business online, and how to tell when customer feedback crosses over into darker territory – trolling.

This question comes up a lot for business owners, and unfortunately it’s now an inevitable part of running any business these days. But don’t despair, you can take some sensible precautions to redirect, minimise, counter – and sometimes even make fun of – those harmful internet trolls. 

How do I tell the difference between an unhappy customer and a troll?

According to social media marketing giant, Hootsuite, you can pick the difference between an unhappy customer and a troll by examining the person’s motivations.

An upset customer is someone who is likely to listen and understand if you address and resolve their complaint appropriately. They might still be unhappy in the end, but will generally cease the negative behaviour after feeling that their complaint or feedback has been taken seriously.

On the other hand, a troll is someone who isn’t looking for resolution. They have their minds set on a particular point of view or narrative. No matter how hard you try to persuade them with facts or reason they will not hear another side of the story. For some trolls, this is either just a game that has no consequences for them (but big consequences for you), while for others it might be something more emotional and vindictive.

Below are some examples of trolls in their element:

Handling trolls can be exasperating but it’s important to remember you can never win a battle with a troll – no matter how hard you try. Instead, take the advice of Michelle Obama: “When they go low, you go high.
How do I manage a troll?

Regardless of whether you’re dealing with a troll or not, it’s important to have a plan for handling dissatisfaction online. Responding to customer feedback and reviews is critical to converting unhappy customers into happy ones, and demonstrating to your community that you take their concerns seriously.

If you have spotted a troll, Jody Allen, founder of lifestyle blog Stay at Home Mum, recommends five ways to deal with them:

  1. Don’t delete negative reviews
  2. Include a social media policy on your page
  3. Be clear when a troll crosses the line – and act accordingly
  4. Don’t add fuel to the fire
  5. Feed them to the wolves
Don’t delete negative reviews

It’s hard to see people write bad things about your business but it’s important not to delete negative reviews (so long as they are true). Sharing a negative customer experience is a legitimate use of social media, and deleting these reviews or comments will only cast your business in a bad light. It could even incite trolling (see example below).

Instead, it’s important to respond to the upset customer’s comments publicly and then take the conversation outside of the thread (via direct message) in order to resolve the issue. This will also show the wider audience that you’ve responded in a practical and professional way. Just note that some social media platforms won’t allow you to message a customer directly, and instead you may need to wait for them to initiate contact.
Include a social media policy on your page

Having a clear social media policy displayed on your social media page means you are signalling the rules of ‘fair play’ to your audience. If there is a policy in place then it’s not unreasonable to ignore, block or ban people from your page.

If you can’t post a policy as a separate document to your page, consider posting it as a comment and then ‘pinning’ it to the top of the page.

Be clear when a troll crosses the line – and act accordingly

If you have a social media policy in place and have made reasonable efforts to resolve the issue on your page and through direct messages, and the person is continuing to post hateful or hurtful content to your page, then you are now well placed to delete or ban them.

If the attacks become personal in nature (referring to someone’s appearance, gender, disability or similar) then this should be a clear line in the sand to ban the user. 

Don’t add fuel to the fire

Amanda Cunningham, Social Media Manager at Intrepid Travel, says she follows one simple rule when it comes to all social media engagement for the brand.

“We only engage if we have something positive to say. If someone is coming to us upset we understand there might be an underlying reason – it could be lack of understanding they’ve received from our staff, or frustration about something out of our control. Our responses are always empathetic, constructive and for the benefit of our whole community.”

Feed them to the wolves

This last tactic generally applies to businesses with larger social followings who have grown a community around what they do. Negative comments can be left on the page for your loyal followers, who will chime in and stand up for your business instead.

Using trolls to your advantage

An additional tip is to actually use trolls to your advantage. Some companies have turned trolling the trolls into an art form; they use troll-like tactics themselves to gain and engage more followers! All you need is a clever social media team member responding to the comment feed with humorous quips and clap backs. When done well, this can even become a positive and powerful marketing tactic.

Here are some examples of good responses to trolls:

Another popular, positive tactic is to post an announcement to all followers explaining the difficult situation and the business decision behind your social media policy. Many people will appreciate the transparency and the effort taken to do the right thing.
When to call in the professionals

If your business has been rocked by a particularly bad event and is experiencing a wave of trolls all at once (a troll-nami, if you will), then you might want to consider seeking professional PR advice to help manage the situation.

Get in touch with us and we’ll let you know how we can help.


We hope this has been a helpful guide for you. Is there anything we might have missed? How have you dealt with trolls in the past? We’d love to hear your insights in the comments below.