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How to keep Trolls at bay

THE Internet has opened a world of opportunities for organisations and businesses. That's the upside.

But the corporate embrace of social networks across Facebook, Twitter, blogs and forums also presents viral possibilities to negative forces – disgruntled customers, whingers and people who are difficult for the sake of it.

Companies and brands that enjoy the upside of social media, more than likely are struggling with the downside of negative comments, gibes and the outpourings of cantankerous individuals, which may inflame passions worldwide.

The Urban Dictionary has classified the proliferating new generation of Internet critics as "trolls" – those who typically unleash "cynical or sarcastic remarks on an innocent by-stander, because it's the Internet and, hey, you can."

In this new media era, when corporations are vulnerable to the virally contagious effects of Facebook or LinkedIn "like" buttons or the "retweet", the challenge to businesses is learning how to separate trolls from true complainants and finding ways to handle inflammatory commentary with a cool head.

"Negative comments are something every business deals with at the end of the day," says Brian Giesen, director of digital strategy Australia & Asia Pacific at Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide. Regardless of the size of a business, it is important to respond to criticisms, says Giesen.

And these days a response is expected within 24 hours, but companies should consider this touch point.

"Anytime a customer is unhappy with your business presents a golden opportunity to reach out to them, fix the issue and turn it into a positive," he says.

Front of mind in this new era, Giesen says, should be that social media has brought with it the perpetuity factor.

"You are not only turning around the perception of one customer with social media and digital in general, every time you are commenting and responding it is up there for the permanent record," he says.

"In two months or three years from now when somebody searches for your company's name, there's every chance that negative comment and your response will show up in search results."

Replies to disgruntled individuals not only address the complainant, but also all of their social groups and followers, dramatically increasing the reach of messages.

Unreasonable, defamatory and vexatious comments may create an indelible blot within search engine results and on review sites with social media sites reluctant to remove content once it's posted.

Counting on Prosumers According to Liem Viet Ngo, a senior lecturer in Marketing at the Australian School of Business, one of the driving forces in online comments and reviews is the rise of the "prosumer" (professional consumer) combined with the "groundswell" phenomenon.

Highly sophisticated and informed in their choices of goods, prosumers are often characterised as young hip influencers who are empowered by social media and noted for being extremely demanding.

The Internet may be evolving the business of reputation management, but Stuart Gregor, managing director of Sydney-based Liquid Ideas, says there's a risk in overreaction.

"By that I mean reacting to every single small complaint from an ex-employee to someone who has an axe to grind. Then there's the other extreme when a company just ignores it all and puts its head in the sand. You might have got away with that a decade ago, but you simply can't get away with it now," he says.

7 tips for keeping the trolls at bay

1. Do your research. Check to see if the commenter has a track record for complaining. Or, do they have an axe to grind?

2. Follow the 24-hour rule. The quicker a negative is resolved the better.

3. Remember everything is permanent (sometimes even if you delete comments). It is unlikely you'll get legitimate negative comments taken down by websites.

4. Answer publicly as that stays as a permanent record in web searches.

5. Talk like a human rather than a corporate spokesperson, but don't be too informal.

6. Don't make light of anybody's predicament.

7. Don't feed the trolls.



Michael Walls
0407 783 413

Access News is a print and digital media publisher established over 15 years and based in Western Sydney, Australia. Our newspaper titles include the flagship publication, Western Sydney Express, which is a trusted source of information and for hundreds of thousands of decision makers, businesspeople and residents looking for insights into the people, projects, opportunities and networks that shape Australia's fastest growing region - Greater Western Sydney.