Is your company being attacked by trolls?

A troll -- sometimes referred to as a hater -- is a person who makes noise online by complaining, writing inflammatory things, starting arguments, making accusations or upsetting people. They post extraneous, angry or off-topic comments in online communities (including social media sites, newsgroups, forums, chat rooms, and blogs) with the intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or disrupting normal discussions.

The act of trolling is a form of online harassment.

In the financial and professional services industries, trolls often start trolling because they feel they're not getting responses to their inquiries, have been mistreated by a firm, disagree with a company's policies or are dissatisfied with performance. The dissatisfaction or disagreement escalates into postings that go far beyond the initial issue.

In a recent search of major financial and professional services company blogs and websites, the most common sources and forms of trolling fall into the following categories:

  • Rants from customers who feel that they have not been treated fairly. Typical examples are insurance company clients who have not received payouts for their claims or bank customers not getting responses to their questions or issues quickly enough.
  • Complaints about poor customer service, especially long call-waiting times. (Some trollers troll the whole time they are on-hold!)
  • Ravings about positions firms have taken.

How to handle trolls

Here's what you can do to keep trolls from hurting your firm's reputation.

1. Post "troll guards"
Identify social media managers -- or "troll guards" -- to watch your social media sites and blogs looking out for trolls. Depending on the size of your firm and scope of your online properties, this could be a part of a single person's job or a team that's on-duty 24/7.

2. Develop a social monitoring plan
Work with key stakeholders and your social media managers to document when and how social media properties are monitored. Include specific information about times of day and days of the week sites must be checked, along with how it should be done -- using software, spot-checking or a combination of both.

3. Never ignore trolls.
The worst thing you can do is hide or archive messages from trolls before publicly responding to them. Trolls want attention. It will anger them more and keep them coming back if they feel they're not being heard. Remove messages only when a situation has been resolved or if it gets completely out-of-hand.

4. Turn menace into opportunity
Face facts: Many trolls are a bit unhinged. Over time, they will publicly reveal this. Do your best to respond to them. This is a great way to demonstrate that your firm goes the extra mile to meet client needs even when they're unreasonable.

5. Have a communication plan
For some trolls, providing a customer service phone number or link to a chat line is enough to quiet them. Others could be in for a long, hard battle. Take time to work with key stakeholders to build a complete response plan. Outline what responses different types -- and levels -- of comments receive. Determine when and how issues get escalated to senior leaders or security personnel. Document and communicate the plan clearly to all stakeholders. Meet regularly to determine if it's working and refine it over time.

6. Prepare responses ahead of time
Determine the most common types of issues your firm responds to most frequently, then come up with a series of answers to them. Get buy-in from key stakeholders, compliance and legal people. Having them handy will speed your response time, which will help calm trolls. Tip: Create variations on your responses. It will make them seem less "canned". Trolls hate it when they think they're getting responses from a machine.

7. Create response personas
Put names after your online responses. It will make them seem more personal and authentic. Don't use real ones because it could put employees at risk. Also use more than one name. After all, it's not humanly possible for one person to handle all online communications on all topics 24/7.

8. Protect private information
NEVER let employees give away any personal or private information to trolls. Don't take any chances that they could connect outside the office. It is a dangerous world, so caution is well-advised.

9. Make monitoring easier
If your firm has multiple social media channels, watching them individually is tedious and time-consuming. Social media monitoring software like Gremln, Hootsuite or Mention makes the process easier and more efficient. Posts and comments from a range of social media channels and online sources are monitored from a single dashboard.

10. Don't forget "dark" posts and ads
Nothing angers a troll more than receiving an ad for a product or service they're dissatisfied with. That's why trolls often rant on posts and ads for these offerings. Regularly check your social ads to see if they're getting negative comments. Have a plan to take them down and refresh them to ensure you don't have a "rant" stream attached that could kill the sales you're trying to achieve.

11. Have troops at the ready
Always know when and how you can access product experts, customer reps, legal help, leadership support and others. It's too late to figure out how to find these people when you have a troll-on-a-tear. Develop a contact list that includes a plan for reaching people at night, on weekends and holidays. Don't forget: Trolls have more time to cause mischief when they're not at work.

12. Call-in back-up support
If your company is about to make a big announcement -- release results, make a charitable contribution, acquire a new firm -- make sure you have extra support to handle trolls. There's nothing like a big media announcement to bring them out.

13. Overwhelm the negatives
If your firm's social sites are being taken over by trolls, make it your mission to overwhelm them by publishing a lot of helpful content that will generate positive feedback. You may never be able to eliminate trolls, but you can make them seem less significant.

Do you need help with your firm's social media strategies? Contact a firm that stays up-to-date on the latest social trends for the financial and professional services and technology industries.