Please Don’t Feed The Trolls


When someone asks me what to do about a bad review posted

OK, so it's an Orc and not a Troll. But I didn't photograph any of the trolls on our visit to the WETA Workshop in Wellington, NZ. Please don't feed the trolls (or Orcs) anyway!

online, I usually tell them that it depends on the situation. The #1 rule in online reputation, however, is to avoid feeding the trolls.

Not the copyright trolls, discussed in my April 25 post The Ballad of John Lennon and the Copyright Troll.  These Internet rolls are perpetually unhappy complainers who exemplify my mother’s favorite aphorism that “misery loves company.” These unfortunate individuals seem to have nothing at all to do except post message after message on the Internet, attempting to make other people as miserable as they are.

It’s almost always a good idea to publicly engage with unsatisfied clients and customers (especially if you’re at fault or the person doing the complaining has a big audience). But engaging with a troll won’t help, and can make things worse.

Here’s how to handle a bad online comment or review.

  1. Pay attention to the person’s grievance. Make sure you understand what they’re upset about, so there are no misunderstandings.
  2. Apologize. It’s never easy, but grace under pressure in a public apology will almost always go a long way toward restoring your reputation.
  3. Restate your company’s attention to customer service, and promise to provide excellent service and products.
  4. Consider offering a coupon, gift, or refund.
  5. In the case of an anonymous poster, ask them to contact you so that you can resolve the matter. (If an anonymous poster doesn’t respond to two requests that they contact you for a resolution, it pretty much seals the deal in most people’s minds – and if they do, be sure to post the resolution yourself: “GT contacted us, and I’m happy to report that she accepted our offer of a 50% off coupon on her next visit to make up for the rare problem she experienced the day our ice machine broke.”)
  6. Work with your staff (privately) to see if you can pre-empt future public complaints with a better behind-the-scenes customer relations program. Was there anything you could have done at the time of the problem that might have avoided a public discussion?

This brings us back to trolls. Whatever happens, don’t get caught in a public shaming session with a troll. Nothing you can say is going to make them happy – and no matter what you say, they’ll turn it into something negative. Trolls seem to have all the time in the world to complain and snipe and respond – but most of us don’t. So move on after a brief attempt to placate a troll.

How do you spot a troll? It isn’t always easy at first. But most social media sites allow you to look at someone’s past postings. I pulled up the Yelp profile of one troll, and found that he’d posted 172 negative reviews in the space of 35 days, plus another 15 responses to business owners or other Yelp members who responded to his vitriolic nastygrams about restaurants, shops, barbers, and theaters around town.

If someone like that posts something negative about your business, you have just two choices. If it’s an opinion, ignore it. If it’s a falsehood or a misrepresentation, ask the site to remove it.  Remember that people’s opinions are protected free speech — but false statements of fact aren’t usually protected.  So if someone says, “I didn’t like the food at Deb’s Restaurant — I didn’t think it was very good,” there’s not much you can do.  It’s their opinion, and it’s stated as an opinion, therefore, it’s protected.  But if they say, “Deb’s Restaurant gave me food poisoning last night and the manager wouldn’t even call an ambulance,” that’s a claim.  If it’s false — if there was no such patron, no report of food poisoning, and no request for medical assistance — then most sites will remove the false claim when you provide proof of your claims.  It’s not easy, but it’s possible.

But, in general avoiding any engagement with the troll is the best advice.

About debmcalister

I'm a Dallas-based marketing consultant and writer, who specializes in helping start-up technology companies grow. I write (books, articles, and blogs) about marketing, technology, and social media. This blog is about all of those -- and the funny ways in which they interesect with everyday life. It's also the place where I publish general articles on topics that interest me -- including commentary about the acting and film communities, since I have both a son and grandson who are performers.
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6 Responses to Please Don’t Feed The Trolls

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  6. Fred says:

    I found this to be GREAT advice:
    Consider offering a coupon, gift, or refund.
    In the case of an anonymous poster, ask them to contact you so that you can resolve the matter. (If an anonymous poster doesn’t respond to two requests that they contact you for a resolution, it pretty much seals the deal in most people’s minds – and if they do, be sure to post the resolution yourself: “GT contacted us, and I’m happy to report that she accepted our offer of a 50% off coupon on her next visit to make up for the rare problem she experienced the day our ice machine broke.”)

    It is amazing how a coupon for a free offer or a discount turns the Troll into a WIN-WIN for an unhappy customer. And your suggestion to post the resolution is good re-enforcement for your customer service policy.

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