How Do I Handle a Social Media Troll? Crisis Communication Tips

By Gerard Braud, CSP, Fellow IEC 

Are you prepared for social media trolls taking over your social media sites or even worse, your website or blog?

Is your strategy outlined in your crisis communications plan for your public relations team, communications professionals, or your CEO’s to see and follow?

What is a social media troll and why should you care?

Social media trolls are typically mean-spirited people who hide behind an anonymous persona and live for the joy of making other people miserable by posting mean or inappropriate comments on social media sites, corporate websites, and blogs. Trolls are the bullies of the social media playground.

A troll may target your social media site randomly and verbally attack your company for something they don’t like or disagree with. Trolls usually seek out corporate sites during a crisis to add their mean two-cents. Trolls may rise to the level of organized activists who attack your site as a group.

Trolls are the social media equivalent of either a single activist throwing eggs on your CEO at a high profile public event or the equivalent of protesters with signs picketing outside your corporate headquarters.

A clear sunny day is a good day to put time on your calendar to debate internally what your strategy should be for your darkest day.

As expected, the debate I ignited when I posed the question of whether a social media site should ever be pulled down is an indication of the conflicting opinions and passion we see among PR people over this topic. It also means there is probably conflicting opinions internally where you work.

Do you want to wrestle with those opinions in the midst of a crisis? I hope you say N-O!

What should you do now to prepare for social media trolls?

1) Schedule time on a clear sunny day to discuss and debate this issue with your corporate leadership.

2) Set a policy, then modify your crisis communications plan to reflect the policy.

3) Create a pre-written news release template that would be used to explain the rationale of your policy, should you be forced to use it in a crisis. For example, if you took your site dark, you would need to explain why to your audience. Likewise, if you allowed your site to remain up and be overrun by trolls, you might need to explain that to your audience via a statement. Remember, these statements could be posted to your website, e-mailed to employees and stakeholders, and shared with the media if necessary.

It may be best to consult with a public relations or crisis communications professional on your decision. When I proposed that a POSSIBLE option MAY be to take a social media site dark, many PR people cited examples of companies that could never do that. Well great, I say. Yes, there are clearly premier brands that would face harsh criticism if they took their sites dark. Yet, I clearly cited brands in my discussion that I think could go dark without anyone but the trolls noticing, because the social media reach for some companies is so tiny that no one really knows they exist, nor do they care. Where does your brand fit into this equation?

You may argue it is naive of some PR people or crisis communications consultants to say a social media site could or should never go dark, when in fact the final pulling of the plug could come at the order of the CEO. You can offer all of the wise counsel you want, but sometimes the boss ultimately has it his or her way, with complete disregard for what you think. All the more reason to have this discussion with your leadership team on a clear sunny day.

Making decisions that impact your reputation and revenue are not easy. Please schedule time to do it today. If you’d like me to sit in on the discussion, please give me a call at 985-624-9976.

Crisis communications and media training expert Gerard Braud, CSP, Fellow IEC is based in New Orleans. Organizations on five continents have relied on him to write their crisis communications plans and to train their spokespeople. He is the author of “Don’t Talk to the Media Until…”

More crisis communications articles:

How to Use Social Media for Crisis Communications

The Biggest Lie in Crisis Communications

4 Steps Every Company Needs to Take in Order to Avoid the Default Spokesperson

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