Most brands have a robust social media presence — it’s a necessary marketing channel when so many eyeballs are fixed on small screens. Social media can significantly increase sales and consumer reach, but no brand can discount the potential power of negative social media to disrupt brand image and suddenly shift public opinion in response to a real or perceived misstep. Now, more than ever, brands need to be prepared for social media trolling and be aware of some best practices.
Many who are ‘chronically’ online or familiar with the social media behemoth TikTok have recently seen one of the biggest luxury brands in the world, Chanel, be forced to delete their TikTok account due to the sheer magnitude of outrage and trolling. The trolling was so intense and extreme that Chanel may not be making a reappearance for quite some time on the “world’s most popular web domain.”
So, what led to Chanel deleting their TikTok? A less than desirable advent calendar with a hefty price tag. That’s it. If a veteran brand like Chanel can get bullied off the most popular social media, what does this mean for smaller brands who could find themselves at the other end of internet pitchforks and flamethrowers?
In our experience managing social media accounts, our team has seen first-hand the damage trolls can cause as they disparage, discredit, undermine, and harass brands. For one unfortunate client, this trolling has persisted for years. However, there are steps brands can take to ward off trolls and protect their brand image. If your brand is being harassed, we recommend using several of these methods together for the best results in brand protection.
Moderate and Censor Comments
This tactic is relatively simple and can be helpful for brands who do not have real-time social media operations support. Instagram, Facebook, and Tiktok all have the functionality to censor and filter certain words in comments left on a post or story. We suspect Chanel has implemented this tactic to help manage the volume of trolling. Their Instagram is squeaky-clean, whereas the backlash has not stopped on Tiktok. Only the brand can see comments that use the censored words, which is good so that they can gauge the continued level of trolling. There are a few weaknesses to this strategy alone, though. First, any words not explicitly censored will still have public visibility. From experience, trolls are clever and determined and will find a whole list of alternative spellings, wordings, or tactics to get their comments seen. Next, this filter only functions on the brand’s account. So, if customers or clients search the brand name, product names, hashtags, or specific wording, they will have visibility into trolls who create content and posts using those words. Finally, the filter cannot go back and delete or hide comments that were in place before it was made. That means previous comments will still be visible unless manually deleted.
Many growing businesses concerned about brand image and reputation find an advantage and value in having consistent, daily support on social media accounts. Social media algorithms reward activity on an account a live operations presence interacting on the account is a worthwhile idea (even fractionally), and then they’re in place in case of a misstep or a sudden flurry of interest. The oddest things can spur trolling, and it’s helpful to have someone strategically in place who can channel the brand voice and mount a successful defense.
There are many examples of brand missteps that have led to mass trolling. One of the best examples features Flo from the auto insurance company Progressive. There was a food truck-related debacle on Tiktok where a video, just shy of two minutes, was able to garner 5.4 million views talking about the creator’s off-putting experience with Progressive’s signature personality, Flo. If criticism is allowed to go viral, a brand can expect that it will be trolled for the foreseeable future. At the time, Progressive’s Instagram was flooded with comments calling for Flo’s (a made-up character, to be clear) termination.
Having real-time support on social media accounts can greatly discourage trolls and take away their power. Clearly, Progressive does not utilize this method. Hate comments from June are still live, and there is no presence of Progressive’s voice in the matter. One of the greatest benefits of real-time support is pushing back at trolls that spread misinformation. The last thing a brand wants is for someone to scroll through their account and find entire pages of posts with concerning comments. Customers caught up in the storm start questioning a brand’s reputation and may very well remember the negativity when it comes time to purchase again — or in this case, renew a policy. Investing in consistent support can help mitigate brand damage and stem the loss of revenue. You want customers to see your voice and presence as a response to trolls. When someone is actively working on a brand’s social media, they can delete comments in real time, respond to concerns and criticism, and deal with direct messages (DMs) from customers that have questions.
Search and Confront
Trolls can become extreme and aggressive - never missing a post, interacting, and spreading misinformation on industry forums, positive posts, and product reviews. Our clients have even experienced influencers and brand partners being harassed on their own pages. If your brand voice and tone support an offensive tactic, your social media manager can confront trolls and search out their comments on hashtag mentions of your company. Most loyal customers trust your brand more than random strangers on the internet. Use that to your advantage! Your brand voice holds credibility and deserves to be in the conversation. To do this successfully, you’ll want to search for your brand name, products, tagged posts, collaboration partners (collabs), and reviews to see if trolls have dedicated time to flooding customers and influencers with comments or spam. One of the easiest ways to stop the spread of misinformation by trolls is to genuinely and thoughtfully respond to comments on these posts — or in extreme cases where you can tell that your customers are being affected, reach out to them in their DMs. This tactic has been successful for our clients at HigherRing. Customers are usually understanding and appreciative of companies that take the extra time to communicate with them directly, and sometimes, they can become part of your defense strategy. Just a reminder, though, never ask customers to respond on your behalf. It’s not their battle.
Drop Personalized Hashtags
Many brands have created personalized hashtags for their brand or products that customers are encouraged to use. However, when public opinion temporarily shifts against a company, or they begin getting trolled, personalized hashtags make it easier for trolls to gain visibility and target a wider swath of stakeholders. Brands should temporarily or permanently stop using these hashtags when they notice this type of trolling because they put their customers or partners at risk. It can be frustrating to customers if they use the hashtag for a brand and get flooded with trolls. This may cause loyal customers to stop posting or disengage from the brand entirely. To reduce this risk, brands must watch their hashtags for trolling and avoid using them for a while until the trolling lessens. But even when a brand stops using its own hashtags, that doesn’t mean the trolls have stopped. If this is you, you may want to invest in support to consistently monitor your social media accounts and hashtags.
It is unfortunate that brands must prepare for the possibility of being trolled. However, we know social media backlash happens and have seen it launched by dissatisfied customers, former employees, and random people alike. Trolling can happen to any brand at any time and can be triggered by such small things as an order missing an item. Trolls love attention. Content on social media spreads virally like wildfire, and grumpy customers may post even before reaching out to customer service with complaints. As you consider your brand image and reputation, planning ahead as part of your overall social media strategy makes sense. More than ever, people are emboldened by the internet and social media to express their thoughts, concerns, dissatisfaction, and hate. Even brands trying to uphold social impact business principles are not safe from trolling. We can all benefit from preparing for a storm that may never come rather than having our accounts flooded and trying to wade through it unprepared.