Procurement · 11 October 2016

Know your enemy – don’t feed the internet trolls

Internet trolls can cause significant damage from behind a cloak of anonymity
Internet trolls can cause significant damage from behind a cloak of anonymity

For the uninitiated – internet trolls are people who deliberately posts upsetting or inflammatory comments on forums, articles and blogs to get a rise out of people.

It is unclear whether the word “troll” in reference to this particular kind of internet reprobate comes from the fairytale monsters or the fishing technique of baiting a hook and waiting for something to bite. However, one thing that is unattested is that to qualify as a troll the commenter must be actively seeking to cause bad feeling.

The rise of internet trolls has led to the creation of one of the internet’s most popular mottos: “Don’t feed the trolls.” Simply put, if you ignore the trolls, maybe they will go away on their own – don’t take the bait.

Business owners defending themselves against trolls face an entirely different battle to those facing other negative feedback, such as a bad review, because the trolls are seeking something other than compensation. Trolls want attention, and notoriety within the forum.

According to recent research by reputation management company Igniyte, half of all British businesses claim to have had commercial interests affected by negative reviews.

Key findings:

  • 52 per cent of those questioned have experienced a decline because of postings online in the last 12 months
  • A further one in five (21 per cent) are terrified further negative content could destroy them for good – up from one in six two years ago – with more than one in ten (11 per cent) reporting the situation is getting worse
  • Almost half (47 per cent) of the 500 business owners and decision makers questioned by Igniyte have been affected by malicious posts and trolls in the past year too
  • Another one in ten (ten per cent) feel the landscape is becoming trickier to manage and one in eight – 12 per cent – of those affected say they don’t know how to make things right.

Finding a way to monitor comments left on your site can be challenging – especially for a small business already pressed for time. Almost one in five (19 per cent) have been forced to create an in-house role to monitor and review online content, while 12 per cent have signed up to a third party review platform.

Speaking about the findings, Igniyte director Simon Wadsworth said: “In a world where online comments, posts and reviews are constantly gaining in significance, firms must find ways to monitor and, where necessary, tackle damaging content.

“Getting to the root of the problem is essential. Employing good customer service and using negative feedback productively can help improve operations.

“It’s about having a robust business with good customer service/complaint handling processes and strong positive dialogue as its starting point.”

But how can businesses tell the difference between a run-of-the-mill unhappy customer and internet trolls? Here are some things to look out for according to RationalWiki and Cornell and Stanford University researchers.

Internet trolls alert signals

  • Trolls tend to be somewhat haphazard with punctuation, and they swear a lot
  • Trolls have lots of deleted posts – if you find that you are deleting comments from the same person over and over, it is better to simply block them as they are most likely trolling the site
  • They reply a lot – they post lots of comments in the same thread, especially once someone has taken the bait
  • They will often use more negative language than the typical commenter on the site
  • They will harp on and on about the same subject
  • Trolls don’t get angry in their comments, instead favouring an arrogant tone. A typical troll might say something along the lines of “I’m laughing at you guys” or “you guys are all so stupid”
  • Their comments are usually fairly short

Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer for small businesses in the online war with internet trolls. In the end, it comes down to monitoring your comments, engaging with customers and providing a dedicated customer service.

And lastly – if you think you spot a troll, don’t be afraid to block them.

READ MORE: How to unlock great customer experiences in the “age of emotion”

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Letitia Booty is a special projects journalist for Business Advice. She has a BA in English Literature from the University of East Anglia, and since graduating she has written for a variety of trade titles. Most recently, she was a reporter at SME magazine.

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