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Working in an online space or being a public figure means you will be dealing with trolls. Even the most beloved public figures have people who inexplicably harass them. A Pew survey from a few years ago shows that 41% of Americans have experienced online harassment. I’d be willing to bet that when you talk about public figures, that number goes up to around 100%, as trolling has become so common in online culture.
As somebody who talks openly about turning $583 into over $10 million to over one million subscribers on YouTube, and as the owner of Warrior Trading, I’m enough of a public figure that I’ve dealt with my fair share of trolls. I’d like to share with you what I’ve found is the best way to disarm the trolls. But first, I think it’s essential to establish some baseline assumptions.
Who are the trolls?
My definition of a troll is someone who posts/comments/ or otherwise publicly communicates hateful, derogatory or defamatory messages on social media pages in a persistent and harassing way.
To understand how to respond to trolling, we must understand the mindset of a troll. Trolling is so pervasive there have been numerous studies on the topic. Studies show that individuals who regularly engage in this type of behavior online are maladjusted and often suffer from various personality disorders in their real lives.
Looking at the behavior of trolling through this lens, that it is a symptom of a deeper psychological struggle that somebody is experiencing, has helped me take the comments a bit less personally.
Naturally, some comments will be easier to brush off than others, but trolling can be deeply triggering and painful for anybody who grew up with self-esteem issues. So much so that we routinely hear about influences saying they must take mental health breaks from social media. I recognize that I don’t have it nearly as bad as others, but as a small business owner, I also can’t afford to take breaks.
Here’s how I’ve handled trolling:
Don’t feed the trolls
We must remember that the goal of a troll is to elicit a reaction and a response. The moment you start engaging, they’ve won. I would say 99.9% of trolling doesn’t warrant a response. The best practice with most trolling is to mute, block and delete.
For business owners, it’s essential to know that up-and-coming businesses in your space may try to leverage your name to amplify their own voice. It’s called “trend jacking”. For example, Mr. Beast is the #1 content creator on YouTube. I often see new content creators struggling to gain an audience using “Mr. Beast’s” name or his picture to try to piggyback off his audience. If you make a salacious post about Mr. Beast, it will probably get a lot of views, right? In fact, one of the easiest ways for anyone to spur engagement on social media is to trigger emotion with divisive, exaggerated, salacious and triggering content. Tabloids still sell copies in the grocery store, right? Even though most people know it’s not credible, it’s a form of entertainment.
Hire a professional “Troll Patrol” to deal with the most offensive comments
It’s important to engage on social media with your most loyal subscribers. It’s not only good for the algorithm; it’s what creates that brand loyalty. It’s also worth noting that these subscribers will come to your rescue and be some of your fiercest defenders when you become the victim of trolling. As my business has grown, I have hired people to clear trolls/spam comments before I sit down to answer comments.
That way, I can spend my time responding to the good comments and engaging with my fans without losing any mental bandwidth to negativity. It took me a long time to figure out that I needed to do this, but it is necessary. If you are the face of your business or it’s something you’ve put your blood, sweat, and tears into, it’s hard to have a level head when it comes to responding to trolls.
Have an easy and nonpublic way for customers to give you feedback
There are certainly people who exhibit trolling behavior who are not malicious but merely frustrated. For businesses, you need to have a way for your customers to obtain (good) customer service and also give feedback. When customers feel ignored, they often take their grievances to social media to make themselves heard. I’ve invested heavily in customer service for my business, and I think it is enormously important. My team is also trained to take public grievances offline ASAP and find a solution for the customer via email if possible. The saying “the customer is always right” is good to remember.
Have a good lawyer on standby when things cross the line
There is a fine line between trash-talking, trolling, harassment and defamation. As your business grows, or as your personal influence grows, you will likely face a troll that crosses the line. Now, the question is whether you respond publicly or privately. A public response gives the troll exactly what they want. A private direct response is how I respond. And I do it via legal counsel.
When faced with a cease and desist letter written by your attorney, most trolls will realize the anonymity of the internet has not protected them from potential liability. This usually will stop the behavior. In the rare case it doesn’t, the legal system offers court-ordered restraining orders and permanent injunctions. Sadly, I’ve had to use these remedies at Warrior Trading. Most other large businesses do, too.
I believe when somebody crosses the line, it’s better to be known for being aggressive than to be known as a pushover. But when considering this step, it’s essential to consider the time, effort and cost it will take and if it is worth it to your business. Luckily, my wife, Lauren Cameron, is meticulous about getting our lawyers what they need to do the job, and I do not have to waste my time on the craziness.
The choice is yours
Public figures, including entrepreneurs and business owners, will have detractors that create persistent, derogatory, misleading, false, nasty and malicious content on social media. To a certain extent, consider it a badge of honor that you have become significant enough to attract trolls. However, how an individual or business deals with these trolls, either engaging with them or ignoring them, will impact public perception of your brand and your personal image. This choice is yours to make and must be carefully calculated.