Negative comments: What do you tell the troll under the bridge?

March 2, 2012
How to respond to negative comments online

Do you know the story "Three Billy Goats Gruff"? There is a troll that lives under the bridge and he is preventing the three billy goats from crossing the bridge to get to greener pastures. What does this have to do with your business/website/life, you may ask?

Afraid of interaction

Here's how the interaction usually goes:

Me: Have you considered allowing comments and opening a two-way dialog with your customers on your blog/website/Facebook page?

Customer: Yes, but what happens if someone posts something negative?

Me: Transparency and authenticity is highly valued. What if you allowed those comments and responded to them like you would a customer in your store? Use it as an opportunity to turn the customer into a fan.

Customer: But, what if they are just being negative. What if the person leaving the comment is just being negative and out looking for a fight?

Me (thinking to myself): Ah, the Internet Troll. That type of Internet user that depends on the anonymous nature of the Internet to blast without remembering what we learned in Kindergarten: "play fair."

Me (speaking to client): Well, for your website, you can turn on moderation so you can see the posts before they go live. On Facebook, you can just be notified when a new comment is posted. 

What can we do about this?

First off, as in our story, don't feed trolls. It is a bad idea. 

In the story, the third billy goat runs up to the troll and pushes him into the river and the troll is gone.  Was this because the third goat was the biggest? I would suggest that he was the one who was willing to face him. Do we hear anything about the troll fighting back when faced? No. We simply hear that he went over the bridge.

A great article on how to stop trolls comes from Lifehacker, in which they make two great points.

Kill them with kindness

You can honestly thank the person for participating and that they have a valid viewpoint. Many times, kindness can defuse negativity. Of course, this isn't foolproof.

Accept constructive criticism

Perhaps the person has a valid point, but the way they express themselves is just inappropriate.

In customer service situations, I try to imagine the customer must have just had a huge fight or was just treated to some horrible injustice. Thus, they must have a valid concern that is getting buried by the emotion in their words. My job is to discover the root of their concern and address that while not reacting to the emotion. Counselors frequently teach this technique in conflict resolution — listen for the root issue, don't just listen to the words being spoken.

To summarize how to deal with negativity online

  1. Delete or don't allow the comment to post publicly when possible and appropriate.
  2. Respond with kindness.
  3. Accept criticism and respond to the root issue with honesty.

Image credit: mrsflinger