If you’re a business owner or blogger using social media, or have any sort of online presence, you will eventually encounter trolls, haters, and other anonymous troublemakers.
NOTE: I had originally planned this article as a bonus chapter in my book, How To NOT Suck At Social Media – a Beginner’s Guide for Businesses, but it did not make it into the first edition and it is overall good advice for just about anyone trying to build a following.
At the end of this article there are quotes/advice from some of the best pro-bloggers out there, including Pat Flynn, Yaro Starak, Will Harris and Cliff Ravenscraft.
Trolls and Haters are Inevitable
For anyone building an online presence for their business, brand, or blog, these bottom-feeders of the Internet are unavoidable.
The strategy for dealing with these cretins is very simple: ignore them.
This is also commonly stated as, “Don’t feed the trolls.”
So why such a long article if it is so easy? Well, I said it was a simple strategy, but that doesn’t make it easy.
What is an Internet Troll?
You can find all sorts of definitions of an Internet Troll out there, but here’s the way I see them.
Let’s take the word troll first. Again, there are different theories as to how this term came to be used in this context, but the one I like the best relates to the term “trolling for suckers.”
This practice of “trolling for suckers” commonly involved a discussion forum, such as an online gaming community site, having a random and very inflammatory post thrown in the mix by an anonymous person. This post was usually designed to get a reaction from unsuspecting users. It was most effective when there happened to be a popular discussion taking place among members, especially in any topic that had a tendency to get heated.
The troll would throw an often-unrelated comment into a forum thread designed to get people upset. Shock value mattered here, so NO tactic was off limits to the troll. Racist comments were usually the default “if nothing else is working” response.
The bottom line is, a troll wants a reaction. It is why they do what they do. And the anonymity of the Internet gives them the thrill of saying ANYTHING to get that reaction. Most decent people wouldn’t dream of saying half the stuff that a troll will.
How Far Will Trolls Go To Get A Reaction?
I want to make sure I’m hammering this point home because if you haven’t experienced this, it can be a shock. Even the best of us can get trolled.
Again, NO topic is off limits to a troll. Seriously. Think about the worst thing you can imagine. A troll will say and do anything for a reaction, including the stuff your imagination just cooked up, plus a whole lot more you never even thought of.
Trolls love to get personal, also. If they know anything about you – which they will once you begin building your tribe and sharing a little bit about you, the person – they will use it to get a reaction.
So, I hope I haven’t scared you away from using the Internet to build a following for your online presence.
This is the reality of the situation but once you know how a troll’s mind works, you can easily deal with them.
Is A Troll The Same Thing As A Hater?
Not always. A troll is looking for a reaction for any reason, and often can have nothing to do with you at all.
They’re just trolling for suckers, hoping someone, anyone, will react.
A hater is more focused on their target. You can also think of these people as really harsh critics that may or may not be grounded in reality. They can hate you or your business for personal reasons, or they could just be a genuinely negative person.
Are Negative Reviews Also Considered Trolling?
No, the difference is that trolls are anonymously seeking a reaction by posting deliberately inflammatory content. They are not worth engaging.
Negative reviews are more than likely just pissed off customers. They could be haters, so there would be no need to attempt salvaging a relationship with them.
However, there may be value in engaging if you feel their complaint is valid and there’s a chance you can make them happy. Just don’t go too far. Know when to shut up and take the bad review. You can’t undo it. Know the point of diminishing returns with a pissed off customer. And definitely never try to battle a negative review by being argumentative, especially in a public forum (social media sites, Yelp, etc.)
Six Tips For Dealing With Internet Trolls
Now that you know a little more about how a Troll’s mind works, here are some tips for dealing with them.
- Remember That They Want A ReactionThey’ll go to any length and say ANY thing no matter how distasteful. They have no boundaries. Nothing is off limits when it comes to shocking you and provoking a reaction.
- Don’t feed the trolls! Ignoring is always the best strategy. They win when you react, and you ALWAYS lose when you engage them.
- It isn’t personal. You might be the intended target, but more often than not, they don’t care who reacts as long as someone does.
- Become indifferent. Don’t just ignore. Become indifferent. They’re likely obsessively waiting for a reaction. Don’t give them one.
- Ban when you can. If trolls show up to a Facebook page or website that you control, just delete their comments. Ban them when you’re able to. Report them when you’re not able to ban them. Youtube currently has the worst environment for trollish comments, but if it is your own video, you can either disable comments or require approval.
- Discourage friends and family from engaging. There are places, like Twitter, where you will have no control over what people say. Ask loved ones to not defend you. Explain that it will just make things worse. You will never be able to reason with a troll.
Why Is It So Hard To Deal With Trolls?
I know from nearly two decades of experience that this is sometimes extremely difficult to ignore trolls and not take negative comments personally.
It can be even harder for your friends or family members to see some jerk saying horrible things about you or your business.
Even when you’re able to ignore them, it can still bother you and upset your loved ones. If you’re taking it personally, you have to realize that it is rarely personal for the troll.
So if it bothers you on some level, consider asking yourself why. Take time to examine those feelings. Are you insecure about something? Whatever the reason, be honest with yourself. Say it out loud or write it down. Examine the reasons, then find a way to deal with it and move on.
You’re putting yourself out there trying to build a business, or build an online presence for your business. Can the troll say the same? You’re awesome just for trying, for showing up and taking action. You’re not some loser leaving anonymous comments on websites.
If it bothers you that someone has attacked you – consider the source! You’re giving them way too much credit.
The same could be said for haters and even negative reviews.
Why do trolls exist?
There’s a psychological concept called the Online Disinhibition Effect. The basic premise is that people behave much differently when engaging others behind the keyboard than they would in a face-to-face conversation.
This behavior can be mild, like when a co-worker gets mildly passive-aggressive in an email. They’re acting this way because they can’t see you, and you can’t see them, so it can be easy to get caught up in the moment and say something you wouldn’t normally say if the person was standing in front of you.
The other end of this spectrum involves the complete anonymity that the Internet offers. When people can’t see you AND don’t know who you are, you are way more likely to act like a crazy person.
Keep this in mind when dealing with trolls, haters, or even just a negative review. It’s very unlikely that the person spewing hate in your direction would have the guts to say it to your face.
Sometimes it is personal
Yes, I’ve been trolled. It’s hard for me to admit, especially because it happened in recent years, when I was supposed to be too experienced to fall for it.
Rather than go into the whole, sordid story, let me save you some time. I made several mistakes, mostly with assuming that only certain types of people troll and that real life co-workers wouldn’t anonymously email me hate mail. We’re all adults, right? Well I was wrong.
And the one thing I wish I hadn’t done was engaging that troll. We’re all human and can make mistakes, so I’m told.
Point is, it can happen to anyone. I learned my lessons the hard way and doubt I’ll make the same mistakes again. Hopefully I can help you avoid them!
How The Pros Handle Trolls
Professional bloggers and online community managers have to deal with trolls as part of their occupation.
I’ve reached out to some of the best out there and specifically asked for them to share their insights with my readers. These guys are both awesome and very busy, so having them lend their expertise to the Bossa Nova Interactive audience is a real gift! Take advantage of what these experts have to say about trolls:
As far as trolls, and I don’t mean the people who have negative criticisms who are actually respectful, but instead those who are mean, nasty and disrespectful and out of line – I laugh because I honestly don’t know why they waste their time. If they had something real to say, they’d say it in a respectful manner, in which case I would listen and then address appropriately. But disrespectful trolls, I laugh, and then I block them if possible and move on. Done. I have more important people to worry about. “
I ignore them and move on with my life. If they comment on my stuff, I delete it. Life it too short to deal with those who are focused on criticizing others.”
It’s always tempting to engage with trolls, haters, or negative reviews, yet rarely worth the time and effort to do so. I’m still prone to doing it anyway, though, mostly because I’m notoriously insecure and want to everyone to like me, even people I have never met and probably never will. With that said, however, I only do so if what they’ve said actually warrants a reply, like thanking them if their comment has a legitimate point, i.e. they’ve noted a spelling error or factual inaccuracy, or – as happens regularly with the Random Roles interviews I do for the Onion AV Club – noting that some role they wished I’d asked about was on my to-ask list but there just wasn’t enough time. But if someone’s just making a comment to be a jerk, there’s no point in doing anything other than ignoring it.
The good thing, though, is that you can usually tell within a single exchange whether the individual who’s left you a nasty-gram is a true troll or not.”
Trolls are a tricky thing to deal with depending on what they are saying and where they are saying it.
I have in almost all cases chosen to ignore them. You can’t actually “beat” a troll as they thrive on attention and feedback. If you take away these tools then they stop.
On rare occasion I have stepped in to defend myself, usually when the troll is being unusually slanderous and I believe, inaccurate, to defend my case. Often my audience has stepped in as well to help, which is the ideal solution a troll – an army who loves you.
If you absolutely have to reply to a troll the most important thing you can do is disassociate your ego from the conversation and focus on the facts. In other words – get totally zen about it. It’s much easier to be perceived as the more credible source when you state things how they are to you without reacting to personal attacks.
I often tell myself to feel sorry for the troll as they are wasting a lot of their life on what is negative and useless. They are suffering, and as a result I should try and reframe them as a victim of bad choices, rather than someone trying to attack me personally.
Easier said then done, but the zen path is always there.”
So What’s Your Strategy?
Ever encountered a troll in the past? How have you dealt with it? Share your strategy or stories in the comments below.