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May 15, 2008

Trolls or Upset Customers? Do You Know the Difference

By Li Evans

Fairytaletroll Shining a bright light on a troll isn't always the wisest thing to do (especially when they are certifiably crazy, or have had issues in the past).  You have to be careful because sometimes they will steal your goat, or steal your baby (as those old fairy tales would tell us) or they will flame you in a community or even write nasty blog posts about you, your product or service.  Trolls do that because they have a limited scope of view, most only see the world through their own tunnel vision of how they demand the world to work. 

Then you have customers, customers who are vocal, and customers who are passionate.  These customers aren't certifiable, they are normal everyday people who've been wronged in some way or some form by your company, your employees or maybe your product or service.  At times, their passion can be mistaken for something that's "troll like", but if you take the time to look, you'll definitely see the difference 

How do you tell the difference between the Troll and the Upset Customer?  I've been asked this by many clients stepping into this new online world that includes social media and search marketing.  With fears of negative comments, blog posts or being flamed in a community, understanding the difference between a passionate (but upset) customer and a troll can mean a huge difference in time spent on resources to defend accusations and opportunities to turn a focused detractor into a passionate advocate.

Here's a few tips to tell the difference:

  • Look at their past conversations in the community.  Does the person seem to contribute in a conversation?  Have they asked sensible questions in the past, and have the participated in a manner that shows there's the ability for a normal conversation?  If so, you likely just have a passionate customer on your hands.


  • Are their past conversations on the community are consistently accusatory of other members of the community?  Are their past conversations seemingly self centered, or focused just on one thing?  If someone disagrees with their point of views and they claim "hurt" right away?  This is really "Troll Like" actions, so be forewarned, you're most likely dealing with a troll.


  • Take a look at the person's blog.  Do they constantly seem to invoke drama?  Do they announce that they are leaving their blog, and then few hours or days later they announce their triumphant return and apologize for the drama?  Do they flame others and then take down the posts?  Do they lambaste people in their comments who disagree with them?   You are most likely dealing with a troll in this case.


  • If you look at the blog and it seems like the blog is engaging in great conversation.  Informative posts, interesting opinions and great conversation in the comments, this is when you'll want to stand up and take notice if they are writing a post about you that isn't so nice.  You've got a passionate customer on your hands.  Take the time to notice they've taken the time to write about their experience and engage this person in professional manner to help resolve the situation.  You could turn that angry customer into a passionate brand evangelist.


  • Look around the communities to see if this person who's speaking "ill" of you does the same things on each community.  Are they constantly crying "foul".  Do they have inappropriate conversations on professional marketing channels?  Do they stir up drama wherever they go on the social media sites?  Do they seem like attention hounds on the sites?  If you can answer yes, then you've likely got a Troll on your hands.  They feed on the attention of inappropriate comments on Twitter can get them, or the constant change of relationship status on Facebook garners them.  Don't waste your time on feeding the Troll.


  • If the person engages in normal conversations on the various social networks and communities, leaves normal comments, or updates at what seems like a normal rate on Facebook and then all of a sudden now starts chatting up how bad their experience was with your brand, you might want to pay attention to this person.  This is a passionate customer and you've got an opportunity to fix the wrong.

Trolls are time and resource wasters, really you should just leave them under the dark bridges where they live.  Knowing how to spot them can not only help your bottom line, but can also allow you to spend more time focused on helping those customers who've truly been wronged by an experience with your brand, product or service.  Customer Evangelists are what every company wishes for, all you have to do is listen for the opportunity to create one!

* Illustration Credit (Troll under bridge):  Mitchell Cotie

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Comments

Li - Thanks for explaining why you shouldn't have knee jerk reactions to things said about you online and need to do a little research on the commenter before deciding how to deal with them.
How do you recommend handling the trolls?
Great stuff! Mary

Thanks for the comment Mary :)

If they truly are a troll, I wouldn't waste time on them, unless of course they become violent, or they are becoming slanderous. Should that happen, then speak to legal counsel on how to proceed.

Honestly giving trolls any amount of attention just feeds the fire.

Audiences are pretty smart, people can identify when certain people just aren't "right", or whether they are crazy, or using their profiles/blogs/community for the wrong reasons. They can spot a troll a mile away. :)

What an incredible blog! I really needed this. I sometimes get caught by trolls. Engaging trolls, IMHO, validates their opinion and that can come back to haunt you in the long run. I'm trying to be more careful in picking my battles and this blog is very helpful! Thank you!

Instead of looking at a persons blog you could as well enter their real name, their E-Mail address, their username, their icq-number, etc. in Google and look how they behave in other communities.

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