For those growing up in the 80’s and 90’s, they’re quirky little dolls with fuzzy hair. Thanks to Justin Timberlake, Anna Kendrick, and the folks at Dreamworks, our kids know them as magical creatures with amazing singing voices.
But for those of us who work in social media, we know what they really are. We only think of one thing when we see or hear the word troll: the scum of the internet.
We know an internet troll when we see one. He’s that guy or gal who posts mean, nasty, hateful things on innocuous Facebook posts for attention. He’s the contrarian who takes over your blog’s comment section with a bullhorn. He’s the internet version of that kid behind you on the airplane who refuses to keep his feet to himself.
In many ways, social media has become an increasingly polarized and divisive place. But we can all agree on one thing: we hate trolls. That's why most of the digital world rejoiced in January when the witty folks at Wendy's gloriously put one in his place.
Slaying the Beast
Earlier this year, Wendy’s social media team so thoroughly vanquished a troll on Twitter that he (@NHride) was forced to delete his Twitter account. So epic was Wendy’s fresh, never-frozen pwnage that the humiliated “Thuggy D” ran for the hills, as the internet erupted with cheers for the brand’s cheeky social media account.
It felt so good to see a troll cut down to size. That same part of us that cheers every time Ralphie knocks the snot out of the schoolyard bully in A Christmas Story came to life as we watched that little girl with red ponytails stick up for herself.
But, as with all things internet, Wendy’s glory quickly faded. A bit vainglorious after pulling off this epic grilling—along with a smattering of skirmishes with other would-be trolls—the team responded the very next day to a Twitter request for memes in a way that stopped the internet in its tracks. They responded with a picture of Pepe the Frog dressed up as Wendy.
Apparently, Wendy’s missed the memo that Pepe was officially declared a hate symbol by the Anti-Defamation League last September. In a panic, they tried to delete the tweet, but it it was too late. The damage was already done. Wendy quickly found herself on the business-end of the world’s collective digital rage.
Now make no mistake; Wendy’s isn’t going anywhere. This extreme oversight didn’t break the brand in two, and I sincerely doubt a significant number of Wendy's customers defected to Carl's Jr due to the Pepe the Frog gaff. They’ve been around long enough to overcome this kind of a misstep. Wendy will survive.
But the question you should be asking yourself is: would you?
Building Your Anti-Troll Strategy
Wendy’s social media team had a strategy. When it came to online community management and social media engagement, they made a choice. They chose their personality. Even before they engaged @NHride directly, they decided they were going to be known as a fast-quipping, no-crap-taking brand.
And it really worked for them… until it didn’t.
As a community manager, you need to make a similar decision. What is your social media personality? What will your community stand for? What will it stand against? Who will you be when it comes to protecting the ideals your community values most?
There’s nothing stopping you from being the fast-acting, fast-quipping smart guy or gal who always puts the trolls in their place. Want to take your cues from Wendy? That’s fine. It is your community, after all.
But prepare yourself for all the pitfalls you may encounter as that identity works its way through the style and substance of interactions within your community. Don’t be surprised when that community fails to attract, welcome, and retain as many new members as it once did.
Check Your Heart
At the bottom of it all, the issue is pride.
What do you care more about? Being right? Defending your honor? Showing everyone how clever you are? Or maintaining a community that engages and preserves new members? While that first basket of motives may further your personal agenda, you need to ask yourself whether it serves the values and agenda of your community.
So, in that noble quest to defeat the trolls, perhaps there’s another route. Instead of letting them hijack your community, creating an environment in which insult and mockery flow freely, perhaps you should take the high road and refuse to lower yourself, and your community, to their level.
In other words, don’t let the trolls win.