Blue Note: What to do with Trolls, Detractors & Bozos


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Whether or not you are actively engaging in social marketing in an owned capacity ( or on free popular social networks such as Twitter or Facebook Fan Page you are part of an online community around your brand, product or service. If you are actively observing this behavior and you have never experienced a troll, detractor or a bozo be afraid.

Trolls and detractors

Be very afraid.

This either means that you are completely irrelevant (and you should be reviewing your content strategy) or it means your haters are assembling elsewhere, rallying a tribe and you are about to be ambushed.  To thank for this wisdom – Richard Bartle, social anthropologist/scientist. He drew a correlation between online player types most common in gaming environments and the way that people derive similar emotive satisfaction from their pastime, entertainment or sport – synonyms for game – on social networks. We refer this as gamification). Bartle’s theory on player behavior indicates that there are less than 1% who take pleasure in bringing everyone down in every dynamic environment. Scott Stratten calls them trolls. Hannah Ireland refers to them sweetly as ‘detractors’.  Guy Kawasaki, refers to a keyboard commando in a Brooks Brothers suite and C-Suite job title as a ‘Bozo’.

Many experts in social media advise to simply ‘block the haters’ and eliminate them, their posts and their presence. This is a natural reaction to criticism but begs for a closer look and more consideration.

Don’t despair. The presence of a hater is a good thing…it means your community is vibrant (alive) and like any healthy ecosystem will require the presence of natural bacteria to thrive. Haters are everywhere and don’t necessarily need a reason to vent.  They also inhabit places you aren’t necessarily looking such as forums and message boards.  (We always recommend monitoring brand health, company keywords and phrases that include suck, hate, etc. to uncover pockets of discussion, sites of relevance, etc.)

In the event of a social media faux pas such as the #QantasLuxury debacle or an unexpected attack of Twitter trolls do yourself a huge favor – Be the bigger man.

  •  Keep your eyes, ears and mind open. (Is there any truth in the negativity that you can extrapolate?)
  •  Publicly own your mistakes. (The earlier, the better.)
  •  Take it Outside (Bring the negative discussion into a private forum like DM, email, or better yet have someone who is qualified to make amends pick up the phone and have an escalation plan.)
  •  Convert the Concerned. Make them a “disciple”. Whilst wiki give a pretty weak definition I think the term articulates how historically people get connected to a cause or an idea to the point of self inconvenience and personifies loyalty beyond reason. Having digital media kits and a strategy in place for those who you can educate and empower to teach others is practical.

Appreciate that the person who is willing to write 140 of characters of contempt is emotionally engaged in your brand, product or company right now. You have someone’s attention. They crossed the psychological chasm from lurker to being a creator and there are approximately 100 people behind them staring at their screens and clutching their proverbial pearls if you believe in Researcher Jakob Nielsen’s theory of “Participation Inequality“.

Instead of knee jerk inclination to block, wait. Breathe in, exhale. If your community is engaged (the highest state of social marketing nirvana) then you might not have to do anything. Those truly switched on are usually the first to defend the environment for which they are rewarded and garner respect for their participation. Develop a sensational advocate program and harvest a thousand flowers.

Have you any advice on managing negativity? We’d love to hear your suggestions and examples!


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