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Community Trolls: Types, Motivations, and Solutions

by Dan Sullivan  |  
July 28, 2014

When you build a brand community, you attract attention from more than just your fans. The powerful voice and extended reach that consumers gain on social platforms can amplify both brand advocacy and brand criticism—warranted and unwarranted.

"How-to" tips on managing community trolls are relatively prevalent, but many of the espoused tactics backfire in real-world settings because they're too broad and not deep enough. They're materially tips for dealing with negative comments and sentiment, but the don't really help with understanding and managing trolls as people.

Understanding causation—the underlying motivation of different troll types—and the impact trolls seek to have on other people, is essential to understanding how to best proceed.

I'm going to discuss three primary troll types: scorned fans, soapboxers, and scandalmongers. And to ground the discussion in the real world, I'll use some recent activity from Chobani and Porsche as examples of do's and don'ts of effective troll management.

One consistent theme we'll emphasize is the value of brand defenders, which are advocates who can often directly negate trolls in ways that the brand itself cannot. Such authentic advocates can't be pulled out of thin air, however; they need to be recognized and cultivated beforehand.

Trolls Abound: Lessons From the Real World

In a negative spiral of publicity, category leader Chobani Yogurt was facing increased backlash regarding genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the feed for the dairy cattle that provided milk for the company's yogurt. That backlash was compounded by its breakup with Whole Foods that was subsequently attributed to the negative GMO buzz.

The breakup then not only emboldened Chobani's critics but also drove negative attention to the brand from customers, simultaneously positioning the Chobani social communities as friendly camping grounds for GMO protesters.

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Dan Sullivan is the founder and CEO of Crowdly, an advocate marketing platform that connects large brands to an owned channel of their best, authentic customer advocates at scale.

Twitter: @danielmsullivan

LinkedIn: Daniel Sullivan

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  • by Tam Frager Mon Jul 28, 2014 via web

    Since when is a customer with a legitimate concern a troll (the first type listed in this article)? I think that any company looking at these customers in this way, rather than looking at them as customers they can respond to and help, is going to have company-culture problems. They method of responding is spot on, but language is important, and calling them trolls will lead people in the company to think of them in a negative light.

    The other two types, though, I agree those are trolls.

  • by Stacy Jackson Tue Jul 29, 2014 via web

    I agree with Tam's comment. If you look at anyone with a legitimate concern/complaint as a troll, they will turn into a bigger problem because you have chosen to view them as problems instead of opportunities to improve.

  • by suzyspring Wed Jul 30, 2014 via web

    In my point of view for any company customers is all they need. We can't expect all are loyal customers. So not only in above three cases but in all, the company should understand the motive and come up with a solution to stop negative impact. We can't call them us trolls which will affect the loyal customers. And I agree to second and third case which helps me to understand it better.

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