How Brands Stay Classy in an Age of Internet Trolls

Every customer, whether they know it or not, owns his or her own media network. Through Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other social media channels, customers can post reviews, write commentary and use their ever-present smartphones to record interactions with companies and other people. All for the world to see. Some of these posts are positive and insightful, but unfortunately, others are not. The customers who choose to broadcast negative, inflammatory and hurtful messages (to brands and their employees) are known as Internet trolls.

We turn to Joshua March for some expert advice on how companies and their employees should be engaging on social media channels, especially when dealing with trolls who are often looking for attention at the expense of the brand. March is the founder and CEO of Conversocial, a company that helps its clients, including some of the world’s largest brands, successfully manage social interactions with customers.

This is the perfect follow-up to what happened earlier this month when Ann Coulter turned to Twitter to express — to her 1.6 million followers — her anger toward Delta Air Lines for the way it handled her seat assignment. Sites such as Twitter, Facebook, Yelp and other channels are public. When someone uses social media to make a statement, good, bad or indifferent, they have a voice. Sometimes that voice can be loud. And, it becomes amplified even more as others share and re-post. This is why it is paramount for brands to know how to communicate through social channels.

March focuses on the importance of staying classy, even when “trolls” try to disrupt the positive image of the brand. Here are five of his comments (in bold), followed by my take on them:

• Videos can be vicious: As mentioned, customers have a voice – and more. Each customer’s personal media network includes a virtual TV station. All a customer has to do to be heard is post a Facebook Live video, or a video on YouTube. And then the video can be shared on Twitter, Facebook, etc., for all the world to see. Every employee of your company must know and understand this. They must always act as though they are being recorded for prime-time TV. Because they might be.

• Little brother is always watching: Every time a customer walks into your store, visits your website, calls your company, etc., he or she will form an opinion, and quite possibly share it with the rest of the world. Once again, every employee has to know and understand this. We are “on stage” when we go to work, and we have to deliver our best performance. Act like someone is watching.

• All employees need social media training: Unfortunately, there are many examples of employees inadvertently tweeting something that isn’t representative of the company they work for. Train employees to know when or if it’s OK to respond and what they can say as a representative of the brand. Be sure they are aware of the impact of real-time video that customers may take and post. Remember this: when you’re at work, you have an audience.

• Understand corporate apologies: I’m all for supporting employees. I am 100 percent in favor of “firing” a customer when the customer insults or demoralizes an employee. However, corporate apologies have to show a level diplomacy. March says, “It’s a difficult balancing act. Companies must make sure they are reacting appropriately from the customer’s perspective (or potential customer reading about the situation) without upsetting the employee involved as well.”

• Leave the phone alone: This isn’t as much about the phone as it is the video camera in the phone. If an incident is taking place and a customer takes out his or her phone to record a video, let it go. There are plenty of damaging videos of employees trying to grab the phone from a customer. Employees on the front line need to recognize that their reaction is being recorded.

The Internet can make life transparent, especially in business. It’s easy to read reviews, find comments and research a company based on customer opinions of a company’s products as well as the customer service it provides. We love it when people post positive statements about us. We must hold ourselves to a standard and a level of service that would elicit such reviews. There’s an old expression that I love: “Dance like nobody’s watching.” And, when it comes to business I would add, “Behave like someone is.”

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