• July 1, 2016
  • By Leonard Klie, Editor, CRM magazine and SmartCustomerService.com

On Social, Not All Negatives Are Bad

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Across the Internet, in company boardrooms, and in classrooms at business schools across the country, the company move was hailed as a giant success. Not only did Target manage to turn the brandjacking—which quickly could have become a corporate crisis—into a marketing opportunity, but the ploy generated a huge outpouring of customer support. Very quickly, the post of the tiny troll dolls was shared and liked by tens of thousands of people, and the company received thousands of comments, most of them positive.

Because most Internet trolls are trying desperately to get an emotional reaction from their posts, it is critical that companies never engage or challenge them negatively, experts advise.

In fact, this might be one of the few times when it is actually better not to address the issue at all.

“With trolls, it’s best to just ignore them,” Kolsky says.


Legitimate customers with real issues to resolve often aren’t looking to draw a lot of attention to themselves, a point that also needs to be considered. “It’s a myth that every tweet is public,” Johns points out.

“Customers are moving away from public displays of dissatisfaction,” he continues. “They’re moving much more to private, in-the-moment channels first, and then moving to more public channels if their issues are not resolved.”

The top social channel is shifting to direct messaging, according to Johns. “Yes, companies are seeing three times more traffic on their social feeds, but most of it is in direct messaging,” he says.

When trolls launch their negativity on public social channels, there is little a company can do but let the situation play out, “especially if it is clear that the poster is a social predator and not in search of resolution,” DiMauro adds.

That’s not to say, though, that companies are completely powerless. They can work with their Web services or social media site providers to get unauthorized or bogus pages taken down. Working with Facebook, it took Target about 16 hours to have the “Ask for Help” page removed from its servers.

When the problem occurs on a company-owned channel, such as a branded online community or forum, there is usually a lot more that companies can do.

The first thing experts recommend is keeping a record of the post and all subsequent exchanges. Because the original author can later delete or modify the post, it is a good idea to maintain a screen capture or document it in some other way just in case it escalates or, in really extreme cases, requires legal action.

Another recommendation is a type of bozo filter that makes troll comments visible only to the people posting them; such filtering software can flag both specific users and offending language. “The predator can have a field day issuing spammy attacks and think that they are public, but because no one else sees the comments, they get no response and eventually stop posting,” DiMauro says.

With posts on company-owned properties, companies can also freely delete comments that contain profanity, racial slurs, or irrelevant content and ban their authors, experts suggest.


The decision to delete comments, though, needs to be addressed on a case-by-case basis.

DiMauro suggests digging into the intent of the post. “Does [the person] mean well and just wants to heighten awareness of a situation or is he trying to create chaos?” she says.

Next, she and others suggest that companies consider the source.

“Most companies still don’t take the time to figure out who the person is and why he matters to the business,” Kolsky argues.

DiMauro suggests looking at how trustworthy and influential the person is as well as whether the message was written with a rational point of view or not.

Once you’ve established that the comment—and the person lodging it—are entirely without merit, the best long-term strategy might just be to ignore him. However, as social media is a highly visible, public forum, commenting once to let legitimate customers know that what the person is saying is inaccurate and unfair and providing the facts to support you will at least give other viewers the true picture.

Brad Cleveland, cofounder of and senior adviser at the International Customer Management Institute, cautions that not all Internet trolls should be automatically dismissed. A good measuring stick, he says, is whether the issue raised is something that can be addressed. “Is it real? Is it something we can do something about? If it is, then let’s fix it,” he says. “And if it’s not, then we need to realize that, too.”

DiMauro also recommends considering the customer’s history with the company before making any decisions. “A quick peek into the company’s CRM system can often bring color to the situation,” she says.

Johns agrees. “Link customer identifiers and other CRM data to social profiles to segment [posts] out,” he says.

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