Even though you don’t have to pay a toll to get onto social media, trolls still abound.

They sit on Twitter and Facebook waiting to pounce on unsuspecting brands, organizations and individuals. In truth, they can be scary. Their methods range from posting negative comments about your group to flooding your Facebook wall with graphic, inappropriate content in an attempt to get you to take it down.

It can seem overwhelming, but there are ways to navigate the – at times – rough terrain that trolls thrive in.

For detailed steps to take when responding to negative criticism, read on!

Background Research

When you come across a negative comment or tweet about your organization, scan the poster’s profile.

A quick look at their name (is it real or anonymous?), their bio (do they work in an industry or represent a cause directly opposed to you?) and their past few comments (do they only post negative comments, and do they do so frequently?) will tell you whether this person is a legitimate stakeholder who you should connect with, or a negative troll whose opinion will not change regardless of what you do.

This quick research does not need to be extensive, but it plays an important role in filtering out the genuine people you want to engage, and those who are just there to antagonize and should be left alone.

Error? Concern? Complaint?

If the person is a genuine, legitimate stakeholder, the first thing a social media officer should look for is whether there are any factual inaccuracies in the post. Has the individual been misinformed? Are they reading literature not based in fact? Do they have your organization confused with someone else? If so, reach out to the individual and provide them a link with the correct information.

Perhaps the individual is reaching out about a concern they have. It could be that they saw an article on the news or read a blog post somewhere that gave them pause for concern. If they’ve followed up with you, asking a question or expressing that concern, reach out to them and offer a response (with links to your website) that helps ease the situation. If the dialogue continues back and forth, ask the person to Direct Message, e-mail or call your office and take the conversation offline.

Finally, it is possible that the person is a genuine stakeholder who just needs to vent. Maybe they had a bad one-off experience at an event or a disappointing interaction with a member. In this case, thank the person for raising their concern, apologize (assuming you are at fault and the issue isn’t too grand) and let them know you are reviewing and dealing with it internally. Like above, if the dialogue continues, take it offline by providing an e-mail or phone number for the individual to reach out to.

Amy’s Baking Company in Scottsdale, Arizona, has become a textbook example now known around the world for how not do this, posting things like this on Facebook:

FB post negative

Honesty and Humour

In any case where you respond to someone posting negatively, it is important to remain courteous and polite, while also maintaining your brand’s voice. Be honest in your responses, but if you have a bit more of a casual voice on social media, don’t stray too far away from it.

Take this example, from UK supermarket Sainsbury’s for example:

Twitter trolls

Some of the interactions that have resulted in the best public relations have been when brands inject a little humour into the situation.

Of course, do this carefully and evaluate whether it’s the right move on a case-to-case basis.

One of our favourite examples comes from the American Red Cross, when one employee accidentally tweeted from the wrong account on the Hootsuite platform:

Screen Shot 2015-06-05 at 11.44.13 AMScreen Shot 2015-06-05 at 11.44.23 AM

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