The Internet has replaced many of the most important aspects of business that were once either hidden or handled through traditional means. One would manage their reputation through the press, with television commercials, and by promoting word of mouth. Today, people are learning more about businesses online than through any other media source and as a result, the “Trolls” now have something to say about it.
They aren’t all bad, but can definitely be a nuisance. In many cases, they can genuinely hurt a business. Here we will look at some of the things you can learn from trolls as you focus on one of the most important components of digital marketing: reputation management.
What Trolls Can Do To Your Reputation
On the Internet, the truth often has very little to do with the perception. Anyone with a few bucks, an axe to grind, and a little time on their hands can put together a website that does immense damage to your online reputation. Anyone with no money or time but who has an axe to grind can post about you on Twitter or Facebook, write a negative review on any of a billion review sites, or communicate to their friends and family in a quick burst over IM.
The image above is a screenshot from a Google search for “Planet Hyundai Las Vegas“. One unhappy customer. One incident handled poorly. Unlimited damage done over the last 4 years. There are lessons to be learned here about customer service, but first we must identify with whom we are dealing.
Identify The Troll Type
Trolling on the Internet was originally coined to represent laying bait on online forums and communities in an effort to get other members to attack you similar to the fishing technique of the same name. As the definition of the term obscured, many who trolled became known as trolls, the mythical annoyances who went around making people mad.
This unintentional dichotomy is important to understand when dealing with a troll. Is it a customer with a genuine gripe that needs to be resolved or is it someone who woke up one morning and said, “I want to mess with somebody today.”?
Someone who is trolling you on social media or on a review site is likely looking for some kind of retribution. They feel that your business or someone in it did them wrong and they want to either hurt you, help themselves, or both. These trolls will leave bait for you to take or not, but the situation can often be resolved with professionalism and customer service. They just want attention (and often not in a bad way).
The trolls, those ugly souls who just want to watch the world burn, will post things simply to hurt you. They don’t want retribution. They will likely not read a response if you leave one. It can be a competitor, a former employee, or an unstable customer who simply doesn’t like you. They aren’t looking for attention for themselves but rather a negative spotlight to be shone on your business.
When dealing with trolls, you must determine if they are trolling for attention or if they want all of the attention to shine on you before knowing how to fix the situation.
Know When To Take The Bait
When you’re dealing with a troll who has a genuine concern they want addressed, you have to take the bait. Even if you simply tell them in a professional manner that there really isn’t anything you can do, it’s better than being silent. If someone came to your restaurant and later complained on Yelp about the service, you need to reply.
Avoid giving away free things in public. It may seem like a good idea that if someone didn’t like your almond chicken that you should offer them a gift certificate in the reply to the bad review to prove that you stand behind your product, but unfortunately doing so will likely increase your bad reviews. People love a free meal.
Instead, demonstrating concern and wanting to discuss the specifics of their encounter will go a long way towards showing that you are interested in their feedback and you want to improve the situation. Empathy is a powerful tool and allowing them being sincerely concerned with their bad experience is a trait that every business owner should have.
In the case where you’re dealing with a troll who simply wants to hurt you, be very selective with your response. If the insult is small, a simple apology will do. As the insults escalate, you must be careful with your reply. Sometimes, the customer is clearly wrong because they expect too much for too little. Fight the urge to call them unreasonable. Instead, say something like this:
“We are very sorry you feel that way and will do everything within reason to resolve this. If you will contact us, we would like to work together to find a solution.”
If they’re trolling for attention, they may contact you. If they are simply being obnoxious trolls, you will likely never hear from them, but at least you were professional in your reply and those who read the words of the troll will hopefully see that you were trying to be helpful and address the situation directly.
If they’re just being idiots, decide whether to ignore or to post a professional yet demeaning response. Ignoring is safe as most people can recognize when something doesn’t need a reply. If you do reply to harsh criticism, stay as unemotional as possible. Take the high road. Do not get too negative with them and definitely do not throw sarcasm into the mix.
“It is clear by your post that we are not the right fit for you. While we cannot please all of the people all of the time, we do strive to fulfill everyone’s needs whenever possible. Thank you for your feedback.”
When in doubt, let the troll be. If there is no way to resolve it, “egging them on” can do more harm than good.
Be Transparent And Honest
There is nothing worse than getting caught posting fake reviews or responses. Nothing. If you have doubts about that, read up on the media storm that surrounded Honda’s Crosstour launch on Facebook last year. It was bad enough that they posted a poorly conceived campaign without talking to professionals. It was worse that they replied with excuses about bad photographers and improper angles.
The big damage happened when some of their employees started posting positive, defensive replies without identifying themselves. On the Internet, anyone with the right motivation can find out just about anything about you and your employees. In this case, it wasn’t hard at all.
Transparency in reputation management means that you identify yourself in all interactions. Honesty means that you MUST fight the urge to post false reviews, fake testimonials, or “voice of the people” opinions from someone that doesn’t exist (or even worse, your cousin). It is often hard to get caught, but the results of getting caught can be catastrophic. Even in automotive social media, it’s important to do the right things. Don’t take the risk.
Attend Personally (In Other Words, Make The Conversation One On One)
It’s hard sometimes to pick up the phone and call an upset customer. Anyone who operates a business for long enough has had the angry customer call that was pointless, demeaning, and bad for the blood pressure. Still, in most circumstances described above, that’s exactly what we want to accomplish.
If someone walks into your clothing store and starts yelling because their credit card was double-charged, the first thing you do is ask them to come with you to discuss the situation away from other customers. That is the same thing that you’re doing when you request that an upset customer call or email you. You’re moving the conversation out of public view and into a personal setting.
Your goal once there is to either make them happy if reasonably possible and get them to talk about their rejuvenating experience only or to make sure that they never post again if you can’t make them happy other than apologizing. It’s that simple. There are many examples where an irate customer becomes a valued advocate for a business based upon “the call”.
It’s scary to some, annoying to others, and something that nobody looks forward to. Make the call anyway.
Learn From The Trolls
Sometimes, trolls make valid points. Sometimes, your biggest critics can hold the key to future success through the knowledge and discussions you have with them. The day we stop improving our business is the day we start letting it decline.
Learn from your mistakes even if you weren’t in the wrong. Doing things the right way can still yield a troll’s response. Perhaps the way you’re presenting your pricing is bad even if your price is right. Maybe you have a service that works well but is delivered in the wrong way. There are endless permutations to just about every aspect of any business. That’s where trolls can be your best ally.
The best case scenario in any troll situation is that:
- They turn from upset to satisfied.
- They post positive things about you and rebut or remove their trolling remarks.
- You learn something about your business that will improve it and help to avoid future trolls.
If you can make these things happen, everyone is happy and you’re a step closer to managing a flawless reputation.