How to Handle a Bad Review from an Internet Troll

Internet trolls are like this cave troll in Wellington, New Zealand: poised to drop a club on an unwary business owner at any moment.

Internet trolls are like this cave troll in Wellington, New Zealand: poised to drop a club on an unwary business owner at any moment.

There are two kinds of trolls on the Internet — and that’s if you discount the ones in the role-playing and Sci-Fi sites. As a marketer or small business owner, you’ll want to avoid feeding both breeds.The first species that threatens online marketers is the copyright troll. These are law firms who license the right to sue from copyright owners, and file thousands of copyright infringement lawsuits against bloggers, social media users, and commenters on all kinds of Internet sites who link to or reuse their content without advance written permission.

Organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation claim that the worst offenders make it easy for people to share their content online, by adding buttons for sharing it, and then go after the unwary users entrapped by the practice.The primary difference between a copyright troll and  a copyright holder who is enforcing a legitimate claim is that copyright trolls don’t create much of anything except legal fees. How do you avoid feeding these trolls and winding up on the receiving end of a lawsuit? Follow the basic rules outlined here.

Copyright trolls nearly always win, because there’s no real defense. Either you published it without permission, or you can produce a bill of sale, a written agreement with the copyright owner, or a copyright transfer document.

To avoid feeding the copyright trolls, never forget that there are just five kinds of content (photos, videos, articles, words, images) that you can legally publish on the Internet (or anywhere else):

  • Your original work.
  • Purchased work that grants you specific publication rights.
  • Works offered through a Creative Commons license.
  • Works the copyright owner gives you permission to use.
  • Works in the public domain.

A word to the wise: being the subject of an article or photograph doesn’t make it ok to copy and distribute the article, post it on your website, or reuse it in any way. This is true of any content subject to copyright, including but not limited to product reviews, analyst reports, and excerpts from  newspapers, books, websites, blogs or magazines.

Minimizing Troll Review Damage

The second species of troll to avoid in social and digital media is the grumpy consumer who has nothing better to do with his or her time than spend hours ranting and raving about real or imagined flaws in products, services, online content, and the world in general. There are websites that cater to the trolls, and post nothing but negative reviews, and then there are the legitimate customer feedback sites like Yelp.

For many small business owners, a negative review on a site like can be crippling. These sites are optimized for the search engines, and have a high rank because of their high traffic, and can show up at the top of search results for a business for months or even years unless pro-active steps are taken to move them down in the search ranking. The process of moving negative reviews to the third or fourth page of Google and Bing results has been dubbed “Googlewashing”, and it’s a slow, tedious process of building positive links on high traffic sites (like MyPRGenie) through content marketing, public relations, and social media marketing as well as traditional search engine optimization for a company’s own website.

If the person who posted the negative review is an unhappy customer, it’s generally faster to persuade them to remove the negative review (or at least edit it with the positive outcome). Unfortunately, the trolls just want to tell their tale of woe, and are seldom amenable to reason.

It’s not always easy to spot a troll.  Some of them masquerade as customers when they’re not, and some masquerade as apparently helpful “concerned consumers” who “just want to get it straightened out.” What they all have in common is that what they really want is attention — and, like a spoiled child, any attention will do.

A troll involved in a war of words where they fling insults around is just as happy as a normal person engaged in a civil discussion. In fact, the insulting language used by trolls is one of the ways to spot them.

Another is the fact that even if they start out posing as someone interested in a general topic, they’ll often begin introducing controversial or negative topics and trying to get other users to join in.

Handling unhappy customers is a great opportunity for any company — in fact, it’s one of the most positive outcomes of a social media campaign. If a person sharing their experience in a somewhat rational manner, you can pretty well conclude that you have a disappointed customer on your hands.This gives you the opportunity to step up, resolve the problem, and turn them into a fan.

The difference between a troll and a disappointed customer is that nothing you do will make a troll happy, while your attention and problem resolution skills will almost always satisfy a disappointed customer.

When a negative comment is posted about your company or brand, the best approach is to acknowledge and apologize for the negative experience — then offer to take the conversation offline for resolution.

A troll may or may not respond to a legitimate offer to discuss the issue via telephone or email. An unhappy customer will almost always accept such an invitation.

The best way to discourage a troll is to ignore it, and focus on reputation management and SEO tools to minimize the impact of the troll’s comments. Trolls feed on attention, so if one online community ignores them, they’ll move on to another one.

Another way is to keep your distance from a troll — everything is personal to a troll, so be impersonal and aloof if you must interact with one. Minimize private responses and personalization, and maximize public responses if you must interact with them. Keep responses in the second and third person: “We are sorry when any customer has a bad experience, and would welcome the chance to make it up to anyone. Our customer service manager can be reached at…”  Not, “I’m sorry that you had a bad experience…”

Above all, remain calm and civil. Trolls love it when others lose their cool. Don’t attack. Don’t get defensive. Both validate the troll’s need for attention and control.

Dealing with trolls is a fact of life for social and digital media marketing, and the best practices built around doing so are worthy of a book. No blog post can provide detailed information on how to deal with them, but here’s a final tip.  Be consistent in how you deal with the perpetually unhappy.  Set a policy, and stick with it, no matter what.

Most of all, stay alert so the troll can’t club you from behind! This means constantly monitoring social media, especially your own pages, and taking care to search regularly for your business name, product names, and the names of your senior employees, using different browsers and search engines. Of course, it also means taking care with your regular interactions with customers (happy and unhappy) and asking your satisfied customers to consider posting a positive review.

Here are some other articles from this blog that offer useful, practical tips on dealing with negative online reviews and other online customer service issues:

Photo credit:  Deb McAlister-Holland snapped this photo of a cave troll from Te Papa Tongarewa’s Lord of the Rings exhibit on a street in Wellington, New Zealand; the photo is used with permission but the cave troll is ©1997-2013 by WETA Workshops and Wingnut Productions.

2 comments for “How to Handle a Bad Review from an Internet Troll

  1. Tony Sanford
    July 24, 2013 at 11:06 am

    Hi, I found this information very useful because I use a lot of different inspirational quotes from different websites to help get important points accross to folks. But now I will be extra careful at what i use and where i get it from. Thanks for the heads up.

  2. Lila Isaac
    August 7, 2013 at 11:24 pm

    I blog frequently and I really thank you for your information.
    This great article has really peaked my interest. I’m going to take a note of your site and keep checking for new details about once per week. I opted in for your RSS feed too.

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