The Information Age is upon us, like it or not.
That explains why many organisations, big or small, have chosen to jump on the digital bandwagon and embrace the good, the bad and the ugly that come with it.
Through digital engagement, organisations hope to reach out to a wider audience, build brand equity, and have meaningful two-way communication.
But the world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows, as the film character Rocky Balboa quipped. For every iota of positivity on the Internet, there is probably an equal amount of hate and negativity, if not more.
The proverbial Internet troll – a person who posts provocative and controversial remarks online to harass others – typifies the online hate and misinformation we see today. Internet trolls lurk on every corner, waiting to pounce. When a crisis strikes, you can be sure they won’t pull their punches.
How should organisations deal with Internet trolls during a crisis?
Stay calm and professional
Don’t accept the gambit. Internet trolls want to rile you up, and they will post offensive and provocative comments to trigger an angry response from you.
They hide behind the cloak of anonymity, hurl baseless accusations and even fabricate stories to sully your organisation’s good name.
No one likes taking a sucker punch and being maligned. While it feels natural to get angry and retaliate, you fall right into the troll’s trap if you lower yourself to their level.
If you must respond to the trolls, do so in a tactful and constructive manner. Listen to what they have to say, thank them for their views and agree to disagree.
It always pays to be the bigger person in the court of public opinion. If you criticise the troll publicly, you run the risk of appearing petty and defensive.
It may sound counter-intuitive or oxymoronic, but a general rule of engagement towards internet trolls is that you don’t engage them. Period.
Ignore them and starve them of the attention they so desperately seek. In turn, the trolls will likely move on to their next target.
The 19th century American novelist Mark Twain once said: “Never argue with a fool; onlookers may not be able to tell the difference.”
Fast forward to the present day, and it appears the maxim still holds true. Arguing with Internet trolls is a pointless exercise for their logic and reasoning operate on a parallel universe. They will frustrate you with straw man arguments and false dilemmas and soon the comments section of your social media post will be cluttered with the unsightly back and forth.
Even worse, Internet trolls won’t let you win an argument. Once defeat is imminent, they usually start playing the humour or satire card. “I was only joking. You mean you can’t take a joke?”
Let your fans and followers handle it
Over time, organisations that serve their customers can well expect to cultivate a loyal customer base.
During a crisis, you can count on some of your most loyal customers to defend your brand. They may do so by calling out hate speech, flagging up fake news and offering glowing reviews of their brand experience.
Never allow your loyal customers – your de facto brand evangelists – to sustain collateral damage. If your customers are being heckled and abused by the Internet trolls, you must take decisive action to defend your customers and restore order and civility.
Internet trolls will remain a problem for a long time yet even as lawmakers and social media companies take active steps to curb online hate speech and misinformation. We can’t control what others say about us, but we can certainly control how we respond.