Published: 5 June 2014

Techs, thugs and %*&$ing trolls

Life presents us with various irritations and annoyances. Driving to work may involve risking your physical wellbeing by arguing with driver of a Ford Transit. Upon returning home you might find there are no beef and tomato Pot Noodles left in the cupboard, and then have to risk hovering your bloodied nose over the stove to cook something disappointingly healthy.

For social media professionals there is a far more vicious irritant than any of the above. In this instance, your broken face and disastrous cooking might well be bookends to a day spent with that wonderful online entity we know as ‘the troll’.

Ignoring my flippancy for a second – this is actually a very serious problem for a lot of charities. Your good name is associated with vital issues and it’s often utterly terrifying just how much damage trolls can do to your brand.

At the recent CharityComms event on protecting your reputation, I spoke to delegates about how understanding your enemy is a critical first move. I came across a large number of social media managers who found the experience of being targeted, both personally and professionally, emotionally exhausting.

I reassured them, as I now reassure you, it’s posited as a far scarier problem than it actually needs to be. We’ve been cowed by the complexity, the fear, the damnation of it all. How will we be seen if we do this, not that? What if we let them do this, and not do that? Who is watching this? Are they right?

The first thing to remember is you have the power. You are in control.

It’s all too easy to end up losing sleep over a gargantuan problem when it has no visible starting point. No one will blame you for that. But identifying the breed of troll you come across (more help on the slides) will help you break down the issue into more manageable chunks. By knowing your troll, you know your problem, and your confidence in being able to handle it should return.

The second major thing to remember is your community, at its best, is your greatest ambassador.

This is so important. Trolls are often intimidated by effective, happy and thriving communities – the strongest ones repel these attacks by default, without much interference from staff.  This is due to the immense ability of a strong community to isolate and immolate the troll (not literally, as that’d be a gross crime, and potentially rather messy). This means developing a high calibre community, fully engaged in your troll management strategy.

Alas I can’t show you exactly how I do it online: I’d be giving the game away to those pesky trolls!


Richard Andrews, Freelance consultant

Richard began a career in digital working for The Student Room Group, where he gained a reputation for troubleshooting community issues - particularly trolls. This has extended into further social media and diplomatic work for the RSPCA, Labour Party, Greenpeace, and Nokia. He is on a lifelong quest for the secrets of downloadable cake.