We’ve written about tackling online trolls before, but with the rise of militant veganism showing no signs of abating, we thought it was a topic worth revisiting.
Anyone involved in the animal and land-based industries is a potential target for activists, and every week seems to bring more headlines about direct action, intimidation and violent protest.
Whereas these abuses are best dealt with by the police, many more occurrences of bullying, threatening behaviour and general trolling take place online every day. A lot of people who posted in support of #Februdairy (the dairy industry’s response to #Veganuary) experienced sustained trolling.
The victims of these campaigns are often small businesses who rely on various social media platforms to reach new customers.
But that doesn’t mean larger businesses are immune. There appears to be no one who militant vegans won’t attack, from small, family-owned pubs serving food they object to, to supermarkets selling fancy dress costumes. Any individual or organisation can become a target – and that’s just part of today’s landscape.
The upshot of all this is that all businesses connected with food production, agriculture, land management and field sports should have a robust plan in place to deal with a social media storm – a plan that can be quickly actioned.
So, to help you get started, we’ve put a few tips together.
1. Be sure you’re dealing with a troll
This might sound obvious, but there is a difference between a troll and a disgruntled customer and the two need to be dealt with very differently. If it is the latter, take the issue off line as soon as you can and contact the individual directly. Then delete their comment. However, if the issue can’t be dealt with in what they perceive as a satisfactory way, no matter how reasonable you have been, they may become a troll, so if you feel that might happen, keep an extra-watchful eye on your social media profiles.
2. Don’t give them a platform
Whereas company social media profiles are generally open for anyone to comment on, have the comments on your blog set so they require moderating. That way you see comments before they go live and can send offensive ones straight to trash and block users. This is also a useful way of dealing with spammers.
3. Be light-hearted … at first
Humour can be a great way of disarming trolls, providing that a) there was an element of humour in the troll’s post; b) the comments left are not the most hateful; and c) the humorous retort isn’t so severe as to cause another attack. Appropriately applied, humour can diffuse a situation and show trolls that you are not intimidated by their behaviour. Other social media users often appreciate a good retort too, which will demonstrate that your brand has personality.
Here’s a good example from Sainsbury’s.
If the situation escalates, don’t get into an argument. Far better to remove the person’s comments, or if there are a lot of them, simply remove the post and re-post later.
4. Counter fiction with fact
We’ve all seen examples of people criticising animal and land-based businesses based on misconceptions they have picked up from other opponents. I always believe that it is our duty to counter such comments with fact. In some cases, people really only need to be put right and hear an alternative voice to question their own views. Also, as a company or brand working in this area, you are an authority. Fans of your social media profiles will appreciate an articulate and public defence of your business activities, so are likely to support you.
If you adopt this approach, always remain polite and retain the moral high ground. Respond as long as the other person also remains polite but avoid getting into arguments. As soon as it turns nasty, or the person becomes offensive, step away, delete their comments and block them.
5. Ignore them
What trolls want most in the world is to provoke a reaction. They want to get under your skin. Sometimes, responding to them in anyway provides just the attention they crave. Often, by ignoring them, they will just go away. However, this approach is best taken only when what they put is so patiently absurd that it makes them look ridiculous. If they have posted something offensive about your product, your brand, or your customers, get rid of it.
Sometimes, if your brand has a strong community of fans and followers, they will jump on the troll and do your work for you. This can be very effective against a single troll, but you must keep an eye on the discussions as left unattended, they can soon degenerate into bad language, mud-slinging and insults.
6. Stealth blocking
Some social media sites, particularly Facebook, enable you make a comment invisible to all users except the person who posted it. This means whoever published the offensive remark is less likely to go off and publish derogatory material elsewhere than if the comment was deleted altogether. This is a particularly useful technique and one we often use.
7. Delete and block
Some comments are so offensive, so vile, that there is no point wasting your time on them. People who leave such comments are usually anonymous, or militants who have no interest in listening to reason. In this case, we simply delete their comment as soon as we see it and block that user.
Remember that your social media profiles exist to communicate with your customers, promote your products and ultimately add to your bottom line. They are not places where freedom of speech reigns supreme. They are controlled by you and you alone decide what is published on there.
8. Report threatening behaviour
Anonymous trolls are obviously the hardest to deal with. Emboldened by their anonymity, their contributions can be often vile. If they indulge in threatening behaviour, or anything else that contravenes the rules of the social media site, report them. We have done this several times and have found that in many cases, the profiles are shut down. Of course, it doesn’t take much for the same user to set up a new profile, but if they’re reported and shut down after every threatening comment, hopefully they will soon get bored.
9. Facebook reviews
If your company operates more in a B2B sphere, turning the Facebook review function off could be a good idea. It is unlikely to affect a prospect’s decision to buy from you or not. On the other hand, if reviews add value to your business and you serve a more consumer-based audience, then you quite rightly will want them on.
However, be prepared to turn the function off at the slightest hint of trouble, because many activists are very organised and can call on an army of keyboard warriors to add fake reviews. Often this can happen overnight, meaning you wake up to the problem and it is too late to do anything about it. Reporting them to Facebook, sadly, is unlikely to do much good.
If this does happen, then you’re faced with two options: turn the Facebook reviews off for good which will hide the bad reviews or try to encourage your network of customers to leave positive reviews to redress the balance. We’re not suggesting you solicit fake reviews yourself, but if you can ask satisfied customers to leave a good review, it will definitely help.
10. Call in the professionals
Finally, if all else fails or you really are stuck for what to do, give us a shout and we’ll do our best to try to counter the situation. We’re easy to find … seek us out on social media (just don’t troll us!), or course, hop over to our contact page.