No matter if you are a blogger, marketer, or community manager, you have had a run in with a troll. Rather than using their experience to help others, trolls concern themselves with asking "gotcha" questions or starting arguments with other community members for the purpose of attention. It is important to have an engagement plan of how to deal with them.
Before responding, step back and remember there are objective third parties who see the difference between a legitimate customer complaint and a troll's rant. If the post is a legitimate complaint: excellent, you have an opportunity on your hands because all brands encounter problems from time to time - the great ones acknowledge and overcome the problems. It is not always what is said about your brand, but how you respond to it. People follow you on Twitter or join your community to learn from and engage with likeminded folks; they do not want to be bullied or read others people’s battles. It is often best practice to not respond to trolls, but sometimes these folks can be transformed in to brand advocates.
Do you engage, delete, invite to discuss offline, or simply ignore? I welcome your comments and strategies.
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At the risk of sounding cliche, I'd say do what is right for your community.
To your point regarding identifying a legitimate customer complaint vs. troll, the quickest way to find out is to engage the user. If you are making an honest effort to hear them out and provide assistance, most customers will work with you because their primary concern is the resolution of their issue(s). Some of these folks can be successfully converted into advocates.
Trolls, on the other hand, are primarily concerned about making a scene or degrading the experience for other users. Outright deleting their content, banning their account, or ignoring them doesn't do much to resolve the issue(s). That approach only serves to kick the can down the road, which often leads more frustration and negativity. It will not simply go away. Someone at your organization will have to deal with it eventually, so you may as well make an honest attempt at resolving the issue.
I almost always favor private conversation for these situations. Some users (trolls specifically) will claim that you are attempting to squelch them by moving the conversation out of the public domain and into a private area where you can bend them to your will and continue oppressing them like the Satan that you really are. The truth is that no one really benefits from having heated conversations in public view and you are in a much better position to help them if there are no concerns of publicly exposing them in any way. Their reaction to your request for a private conversation will tell you a lot about the level of difficulty you'll have in dealing with the problem.
I'd advise going as far as you reasonably can before writing someone off as a troll and taking further action. If you can look into the mirror at the end of the day and feel that you did everything you could to make the situation better, then you've done your job. Sometimes there are users that simply cannot be appeased. The next logical question is what to do with them if that is the case? Only you can really answer that question within the context of your policies, proceedures, and the impact on your business.
Good discussion @Toby .
From my experience there's people who break the rules while trolling, and people who don't.
The ones who do, it's easier to reign them in and get things back under control.
We stopped removing those posts long ago and instead replace the post with a template from a moderator, and have our team respond to it based on the original text.
It sends a clear message to others viewing the thread that the content isn't allowed and lets us engage directly with someone who's unhappy. Two great signs to hold up in front of the community.
But the people who don't break the rules need to be treated a little differently. The ones who keep pushing the boundaries as far as they can without ever stepping over.
Most of them are passionate. And that's valuable (and risky too!). People find it hard to change how MUCH they feel about something. But it's easy to change what you feel about something. The people who love their football team, and cry and cheer and yell when they score are the same ones who yell, swear and curse when the team loses a match from a fumble.
A portion (not all) of the people who are wild vocal detractors and troll our communities are advocates waiting to happen. Once you identify them (and sometimes we're wrong... ) I tend to take them through the same path.
Identify and resolve their current vocal issue as quickly as possible.
In public is better, but in a private conversation is ok. But if they start to post publicly about the private conversation you need to beat them to it. Start posting as much of the update as you can publicly after any private conversation.
We're all creatures of habit, so once you break the cycle of them posting confronting text, they tend to start engaging with you more.
Once the original issue is resolved (and informing someone of a policy that won't change counts as resolved), keep a dialogue open with them. Checking in on the previous situation, asking their thoughts on other things, thanking them for raising an issue/filling you in etc.
There's no amiguity in this, there are people who have no interest in engaging or participating and simply want to make noise.
For them, I think the best thing to do is let their behaviour stretch the boundaries until they break it and then step in to enforce the rules. Any banning/suspension will then always follow a clear series of "out of line" content allowing other members/visitors to assess the troll as one.