Attack of The Trolls: What to Do With Negativity Online

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The Internet, in many ways, is an untamable frontier. That’s pretty cool, most of the time — it contributes to open exchanges of information and ideas on a scale that was unprecedented just a few years ago. The downside is that openness can leave organizations open to a lot of negativity online. Whether that negativity comes in the form of legitimate concerns and complaints or as an influx of trolls (people on the Internet who act out solely to make people angry and/or attract attention), nonprofits need to be ready to respond to negativity online. Here’s what to do.

First, figure out what you’re working with

Is the person raising a ruckus only a troll, or are they making a valid complaint? Knowing what kind of negativity you’re dealing with will make a huge difference in how you respond. There are two options:

1. Deal with it

If you’re dealing with real complaints, concerns, or otherwise negative input, this should be your default. Real input from upset or concerned people is scary, but it’s also an opportunity to turn someone’s negative experience into a positive one. It makes them feel understood and validated, and it makes you look good (especially if it’s somewhere public, like on social media).

First, respond quickly and do what is immediately necessary. Apologize for how they feel, what they’ve experienced, and any part you’ve had in their negative experience. Ask questions about how you can remedy the situation, or (nicely!) explain what happened and why it happened. Always try to fix the problem. The key here is to be kind and friendly, even if you don’t feel that you’ve done anything wrong. Every complaint is going to be made public somehow, whether it’s on Facebook or around the person’s dinner table that night. Play nice.

After you apologize, try to move the conversation out of the public eye, particularly if it’s on social media. Talking to the person via e-mail or on the phone is a good way to make them feel like you’re paying attention to their needs and opinions, and it also helps prevent them from airing their dirty laundry on a public forum. If you publicly offer to call, e-mail, or direct message them, it also makes you look good to other people who are watching the drama unfold. When you’ve moved the conversation into a more private setting, you can more directly address their concerns and emotions.

You can also:

2. Ignore it

This should be your last resort with legitimate complaints and should almost never be your course of action when it comes to real negative feedback. When all your options for dealing with it are exhausted, you can apologize for their feelings, apologize for not being able to work with them to come to a good solution, and leave it at that. Deleting their input from social channels should almost never be done — it’ll just make you look bad.

Ignoring or deleting posts is a good option if the negative person is a troll. If they’re using abusive language, attacking other posters, spamming your page, or otherwise being unmanageable, deleting their posts is a feasible option. You may also want to consider blocking them or, in extreme cases, reporting them for their behavior. In cases like these, remember the old Internet saying — “Don’t feed the trolls!” If someone is being deliberately antagonistic for no good reason, don’t try to reason with them. Give them one warning about their behavior and, if the behavior doesn’t stop, put an end to it. Neither you nor your other fans should be subjected to it.

Negativity online can be intimidating. But, if you handle it well, it can be an amazing opportunity for your nonprofit. Keep these tips in mind, and remember — don’t feed the trolls!

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