Marketing Magazine recently published an article by me on dealing with internet trolls.They’ve been kind enough to let us reproduce it in full below:

lol the troll by dan goodswen

In The Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne seeks advice on his latest foe, Joker, from his astute cockney butler Alfred.

Mr Wayne (logical, measured, likes to dress up as a bat) is stumped.

“Criminals aren’t complicated,” he tells his trusty manservant, “we just have to figure out what he’s after.”

Let’s pause there. Substitute the word ‘criminals’ for ‘customers’, ‘fans’ or ‘followers’, and you’ve about summed up the way most brands approach community management:

Customers aren’t complicated, we just have to figure out what they’re after.’ 

Most brands have a list of pre-approved responses, an escalation matrix, tone and style guidelines, brand voice guidelines, community guidelines and so on.

They probably have directives to respond to each post or tweet within a set period of time (after all, brands are being judged on how quickly and efficiently they respond to posts), and community managers are tasked with being the arbiters of these directives.

But these directives, these guidelines – these community management ‘principles’ – fail to take into consideration posts that don’t play by the rules.

Picking up where we left him, Bruce Wayne is failing to grasp why someone would commit crimes seemingly without motive.

“With respect, Master Wayne” Alfred tells him, “perhaps this is a man that you don’t fully understand.

“Some men aren’t looking for anything logical, like money. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with.

“Some men just want to watch the world burn.”

Alfred is of course referring to Joker, but his advice is also true for the arch nemesis of the community manager: the troll.

You can put in place all of the measures and matrices and management you can think of, but there will always be exceptions.

Trolls aren’t looking for customer service – in all likelihood they aren’t customers at all. They aren’t looking for a measured response or a reply within 15 minutes. They aren’t trying to make a point or a serious criticism.

They’re looking for opportunities to create chaos.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a top ten brand or a mom and pop shop, if the trolls see room to ruffle feathers, they’ll have a go.

So if the usual measures don’t work, how then do you deal with a troll?

In The Dark Knight, Joker is ultimately defeated by the people. They refuse to play his game, not giving him the satisfaction.

You can always do the same. You’ve probably heard the expression ‘don’t feed the trolls’, and certainly, that is one way to go.

But comments left unattended look messy and can result in more trolls joining in. And if the troll hasn’t used offensive language, or insulted or threatened anyone, then you really have no room to delete their post or comment.

No, feeding the trolls isn’t the issue. It’s what you feed them that makes the difference, and to understand that, you need to understand the fundamental reason they behave the way they do.

In their own words, they do it “for the lulz”.

So give them what they want. Next time you have a troll, try this; simply reply to whatever they post with ‘lol’.

By ignoring the rules, you’ll both diffuse the troll and let them, and the rest of your community know that you’ve got a personality – that you’re not a machine stocked with automated responses.

Batman had to go to extreme lengths to defeat Joker, building a machine with the power to spy on every citizen of Gotham. But you don’t need to be that rigid, that inflexible. You don’t need to take the hard line.

As Joker would say: “Why so serious?”

So, have a little fun every now and then. Lol the troll.