How to spot a troll and what to do about it

If you were born in the 80s like me, you undoubtedly owned a troll doll. And, if you’re cooler than me, you stopped owning troll dolls by the 90s.

Regardless of when, or if, you dressed up troll dolls in the latest fashion, you’ve probably encountered what’s known as an internet troll in your adult life.

In my experience, there are several types of trolls: customers who turned troll, bored trolls looking for a victim, and bandwagon trolls.

At the end of the day, trolls can be your worst nightmare especially if you’re a social media manager, handle crisis communication, or are a brand manager.

Every troll has an Achilles heel, you just need to find it.

Trolls want to be noticed. They want to reek havoc, catch you flat footed, and, most of all, they want to send you into an emotional death spiral. So, what’s the Achilles heel? Simply put, don’t feed the trolls.

But first, how do you spot a troll?

Sometimes it is obvious — Posting in all caps for no apparent reason, commenting on photos or posts from years ago, or spouting hateful remarks at seemingly lightning speed. Yes, these are the obvious trolls, but it’s not always easy to spot these little internet devils and the last thing you want is to mistake a disgruntled employee or customer for a troll.

As you’re out on the inter-webs spotting these maddening menaces, here are some characteristics to look for — whether they are outraged customers, bandwagon, or bored trolls.

  1. They seem to be glued to your social account, posting comments at warp speed
  2. They appeared “out of nowhere”
  3. They stir up topics from left field that trigger people’s emotions
  4. They are relentless
  5. They lob inflammatory statements into a group or social community — attacking individual people and quickly resort to name-calling
  6. They love to retweet and to post screen shots of previous communication they’ve had with you or your company
  7. They aren’t looking to have a dialogue. Trolls are underneath a one-way bridge and if you try to cross, they’ll eat you alive.
  8. They aren’t looking to offer or receive solutions. They just need to rant and bash.
  9. They are masters of hyperbolic statements
  10. They love the CAPS LOCK, poor grammar, and talking about themselves, e.g. tHIS IS ThE WORRRST EXPERIENCE IVE EVER HAD!

Not all trolls exhibit these ten characteristics. In fact, many will trick you into engaging before you realize they are a troll. We are taught to “respond to everything” to ensure good customer service and because that’s what we know to be social media best practices for a company. This is sound advice unless it’s a troll. The last thing you want to do is treat an angry customer with a legitimate complaint like an unwanted troll. You DO want to respond to these folks using crisis communication tips.

You’ve been duped by someone you thought was reasonable, now what?

You’ve already acknowledged the troll and you can’t decide whether to abruptly end the exchange. Some of this is a judgment call depending on 1) which platform and the speed at which posts cycle on newsfeeds, 2) whether the comments are public or in a private group or DM, 3) how quickly you can succinctly combat a troll’s claims with facts (this ensures you set the record straight with your more rational follower base).

Trolls are a fact of internet life. But, identifying them quickly and accurately will help you manage your company’s brand more effectively on social media.

Senior Strategist and Project Manager at Trinity University. I write about higher education, marketing, project management, and a few wild hair topics.