Managing Online Trolls, Haters and Critics

November 9, 2014 Content Marketing, Social Influence 4 comments

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Social media is a double-edged sword.

Put to good use, it can be a salve for humanity’s woes. Social media allows us to share helpful content, seed ideas, connect with long-lost friends, and form communities around specific interests, relationships and affinities. It also lowers the communication barriers for small businesses, solo-preneurs and freelance talents, allowing them to reach their markets at a fraction of the cost.

Unfortunately, social media isn’t always “sugar, spice and everything nice”. Anybody who creates and publishes public content on a blog, YouTube channel, Facebook page or Twitter account know that it comes with the inherent risks of being flamed or criticised.

Often, the more opinionated you are, the more likely you are to attract both supporting and dissenting views. Sometimes, negative comments can be so vicious that they completely ruin your day/week/month!

How then should we respond to online haters?

Thanks to a recent podcast by Michael Stelzner, featuring Marcus Sheridan of The Sales Lion, I learned a thing or two about dealing with folks who don’t see eye-to-eye with you on the social web. Go listen to it by clicking on this link.

Let’s Get Social – a Negative Viral Sensation

The back story behind the podcast came from an entertainment segment at Social Media Marketing World 2014 organised by Michael’s company Social Media Examiner. Michael’s event director Phil Mershon then created an original jingle called “Let’s Get Social” which was sung by Mary McCoy from Continuum Marketing Services in an impromptu performance (see below).

[youtube id=”itvvFfeLh84″ mode=”normal” autoplay=”no” maxwidth=”600″]

While the song  was designed to be hilarious, it rubbed many people off in the wrong way, becoming hugely negatively viral. Much of it was due to a negative article on viral portal Gawker.

As of this writing, the video garnered over 597,000 views (which seems healthy). Unfortunately, the bulk of its comments were negative and it scored 2,361 “thumbs down” against 1,039 “thumbs up”. Admittedly, the cheesy sounding song wasn’t anywhere near Grammy award material. However, it was meant to be a tongue-in-cheek ditty for the live audience at the event as opposed to an audition for American Idol.

Despite the overwhelming human urge to gather online allies to “crush thy enemy”, Michael took the high road and did nothing. By doing so, he allowed the issue to run its course and for the storm to die down. If you look at the comments on YouTube, you would have noticed that most were fairly long ago.

Abundance versus Scarcity

Marcus shared that there are two kinds of people: those with an abundance mentality and those with a scarcity mentality.

Abundance thinkers believe that there is more than enough pie for everyone. They choose to celebrate the successes of others and offer constructive and affirmative feedback.

Scarcity thinkers constitute those who are perpetually unhappy with the world. Jealous of the success of others, they’d much rather lay the blame on others.

Unfortunately, those with a scarcity mindset form the majority. Thus, you will find that there are often more folks with an axe to grind online than purveyors of positivity.

To cultivate a productive and fruitful online presence, it is better for us to nurture the former than to defend ourselves against the latter. As Gandhi himself has said, “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind”. Revenge seldom augur well for the perpetrators.

Trolls, Haters and Critics

Sharing further on the topic, Marcus described three categories of digital dissidents.

1) Trolls

Swarming around social networks, trolls can often be found hovering around the digital estate of influencers. Preoccupied with getting their point across, provoking others or tearing them down, they have an amazing amount of time, energy and perseverance. Often, they appear to take sadistic pleasure in making life miserable for anybody who doesn’t see eye to eye with them.

Online trolls and flamers prowl social media platforms. Searching for targets to aim and maim, their sole purpose is to draw attention to themselves.

2) Haters

Unlike the first, haters usually harbour a vested interest in your digital downfall. Haters can be your competitors or other enemies who are green with envy at your success.

While trolls can be managed by not feeding them, haters can be more dangerous. Malicious haters could start a “hate campaign” against you and your business, often getting their followers and fans into the act.

3) Critics

Finally, critics are those with something genuine to offer you. While their feedback could be stinging or negative, these folks are usually mindful of how you feel. In other words, they “hate the sin, but love the sinner”.

Unlike the first two, critics could be worth listening to.

How To Deal With Online Doubters

There are several ways to manage negative feedback online. While this could vary from individual to individual, there are several key principles worth noting:

1) Tooth for Tooth

Otherwise known as a “hate offensive”, purveyors of this approach would rally his or her troops, sound out allies, and wage an all out online war against the online “enemy”. As in conventional warfare, doing so requires you to have sufficient “firepower” in your arsenal – personal reach, fans/followers, and influencers whom you can call favours from.

Such campaigns could work against haters, but must be done bearing in mind the possible costs and fallout from the exercise.

2) Ban, Delete and Ignore

This more draconian approach is favoured by Derek Halpern of Social Triggers who made a YouTube video describing what he would do. I believe that this probably works best for trolls who repeatedly spam your platforms and make it unusable for others.

Go view it below and see if you agree with this.

[youtube id=”sq9-Sur9Oh0″ mode=”normal” autoplay=”no” maxwidth=”600″]

3) Engage Issue Publicly

Unlike the first and second approach, this requires you to address the specific issues online. Michael likens this to a teacher publicly reprimanding a misbehaving student. By doing so, the rest of the class will hopefully also toe the line. Having said that, this requires that you have sufficient goodwill online to successfully quell a negative comment, and may work better against critics rather than trolls or haters.

4) Take the Issue Offline

Personally speaking, this is my preferred modus operandi. As a first step, you should engage the person privately via email so that you can clarify the discontent on a person-to-person basis.

If the person is highly aggrieved (and important to you), a face-to-face meeting should be suggested. Often, the most antagonistic folks online may be very different when you meet them in the flesh.

5) Do Nothing

Last but certainly not least, you can also “zen” out and do nothing. Sometimes, not responding can be the best solution as you let the issue die a natural death. Michael’s example from Social Media World Marketing World 2014 is a good case in point.

How Would You React To Haters?

It is heartening for me to see how Michael Stelzner was able to turn a disastrous episode into a positive lesson for all of us. It must take courage and fortitude to do so, and I take my hat off to him. Unfortunately, not many of us have the humility and wherewithal to publicly talk about mistakes and even share how others can learn from them.

How would you respond to a negative attack online? Would you retaliate with all your might, or do the “Gandhi”? I’d be keen to hear your thoughts.

By Walter
Founder of Cooler Insights, I am a geek marketer with almost 24 years of senior management experience in marketing, public relations and strategic planning. Since becoming an entrepreneur 5 years ago, my team and I have helped 58 companies and over 2,200 trainees in digital marketing, focusing on content, social media and brand storytelling.


  1. What I have done before was the classic name n shame, including the troll’s IP address, and poking fun at the troll’s lack of coherence over various postings. Gave the troll 5mins of fame and she never came back again.

    Sometimes being nice all the time has its disadvantages. Knowing when to put a foot down and state that I don’t tolerate bullying or trolling works best for me. 🙂

  2. Thanks for the article , Walter. I feel that while you can possibly reason with critics and even have a healthy discussion, it’s not the approach trolls or haters would appreciate. I’d usually tolerate the comments and hope that the reasonable readers would step in and troll-stomp. I would like to believe that as our society matures, social community graced, self-regulation and policing would equalise the sentiment.

    1. Derrick, indeed what you have said is true. Like you, I also hope that our society would venture towards greater self-policing and regulation. This is a more positive way forward.

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