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Troll Control: Fabulous Tips From Five Experts

Every community manager worries about trolls. Potential risk, how to respond in a way that minimizes damage or–in a best case scenario–boost reputation when a troll jumps into a conversation…

When you aren’t sure what to do, decision trees can make the decision simple. This one from Kuno Creative is pretty ingenious. 


Trolls have been on my mind lately. Not that I’m dealing with one at this particular moment, but because I’m in the midst of planning next week’s Twitter chat with Jay Baer.

#PRprochat: Troll Control with Jay BaerThanks to his upcoming book, Hug Your Haters, we’ll be focusing the conversation around social media conflict and what he calls “haters.”The book hasn’t been published yet and I haven’t  been fortune enough to get a sneak peek of this one, so I assumed it was about trolls. WRONG!

According to Jay, trolls make up a tiny percentage of haters online. Instead, most complainers fall into several distinct groups with different strategies to handle each. Who knew?

Hug Your Haters
(Image used with permission.)

We’ll be hearing more about complainers during the chat next Thursday, as we work our way through these questions.

  • What’s the difference between a troll and a hater?
  • As a brand, should we respond to ALL complaints, or just certain types?
  • Do we handle unhappy customers differently than other types of complainers?
  • Does each social media platform require a different best practice for responding to haters?
  • How can we magnify HAPPY customer interactions, to keep the negative in perspective?

I can’t wait to hear what Jay has to say. Admittedly, this area is a weak spot of mine as a marketer, and I hope to learn all kinds of wonderful tips. Be sure to join us!

But until then… back to the topic at hand. Trolls. Yuck.



I’ve been fortunate not to encounter too many trolls online yet. There is a particular one that seems everywhere in PR-related communities, whom I avoid as much as possible, and a tribe of trolls that congregate on less moderated blogs and groups, but I’ve been largely successful at remaining under the troll radar. I’ve only been attacked personally a few times, which seems reasonable, given how much time I spend on social media.

On social media, my reaction depends on the platform, but my general rule of thumb is to avoid confrontation (when possible), always be polite and keep responses minimal. Each response magnifies reach, exposing the negative conversation to more people, which increases the odds of retweets and growing exposure. If a response is necessary, keeping it short helps control exposure as much as possible.

I’m a person, however, and most brands aren’t so successful avoiding troll. They learn how to do troll patrol and manage it on an entirely different level than most of us deal with.


Having the occasional grumpy moment does not make you a troll.

However, if you are consistently negative, unwilling to compromise, confrontational or argumentative, or constantly preaching at people… you just might be a troll.

A few red flags include thinking you are always right, ongoing rudeness, continually correcting people or telling them they are wrong, abruptly ending conversations on a regular basis, having an abnormally high number of people stop responding to you, and being told you are unpleasant or negative. Take those signals very, very seriously.

Keep feedback constructive. Never, ever be abusive, rude or unwarranted.

Troll patrol, troll control… See the path I’m on today?



To collect a few “best practices” for you, I’ve turned to those who DO know. Community Managers.

Let’s start with Serena from Business Wire.

 Business Wire quote - troll control

I can agree with her point. As co-moderator of a large Facebook group for PR professionals and journalists in Arizona, establishing member guidelines makes a big difference in the quality of group engagement and content. Without community rules, topics veer all over the place and a group loses value quickly as a niche resource–the very thing that makes it successful.

Beki Winchel quote

Checking up on the past social media activity is a FANTASTIC way to determine if they are a troll or not. If they have a history of being rude, confrontational and argumentative, it lets you know to proceed with caution, treating them as a troll. If they don’t have a history of bad behavior, you’ll know to take a closer look at what’s happening, and do your best to repair the situation.

On a similar theme, I found a fantastic quote from Jay on a recent Oracle blog post.


Good point. Why throw fuel on a bonfire that’s already at full blaze?

Ann Handley shares a similar view. Sometimes we are quick to classify someone as a troll–highly unflattering, btw–when perhaps a closer look would show a frustrated customer who just needs to have a bad situation resolved. Don’t be hasty to assume.

Ann Handley Troll Quote

For a large brand like MarketingProfs, an authentic voice of a real person makes a very real difference. Like coming indoors after trick-or-treating in the snow, then wrapping a warm blanket around your shoulders, it can transform something bad into something wonderful. It can create a brand advocate and loyal customer.

And our last tip, from a personal friend and fabulous former moderator of #BizHeroes and @PaperLi, Kelly Hungerford.

Kelly Hungerford quote on troll control

Trolls are mostly invisible unless they are given a platform that strengthens their voice. They want response, and evaporate when they don’t get it. Silence is often the best option, once you are sure it is actually a troll and not a customer.

As Jay says, most complainers aren’t actually trolls, they are complainers. Let’s give them less of a spotlight, and focus our energy on customer service. It’s a win-win. Don’t miss the #PRprochat Twitter chat with Jay next week! Thursday at 3pm EST.

Do you have a troll tip to share? Connect with me on a social media platform, and we’ll chat about it!


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