CIOs: Techniques for Handling Social Media Negatives

Part 6 of our series, What CIOs Need to Know About Social Media.

A post on Mashable from a year and a half ago is still relevant to enterprise CIOs grappling with the impact of social media on the enterprise. In the post, Lon S. Cohen lists seven things CIOs should be considering. We’re taking a closer look at each of the item in Cohen’s framework. In this post, we continue our look at Cohen’s third item.

  • Web 2.0 Content and Presentation Standards
  • Review and Approval Processes
  • Managing Corporate Reputation
  • Versions and Update Controls
  • Impact On Operating Environment
  • Establishing Project Priority
  • Compliance

Dealing with Trolls

Trolls can wreck your community. And pretty much every community eventually has its trolls. Trolls exhibit negative, hostile, antisocial, and deliberately provocative behavior. They may have an axe to grind, or they may just be people who thrive on discord, on getting a rise out of people, and who may not really value the community. We say may not because there are some trolls who just can’t help themselves. They may actually be the most committed members of your community. They just have the type of personality that produces antisocial behavior.

Offline, the troll might be the person in your book club who never shuts up. Or the busybody that, while often productive, needs to poke her nose into everything. Or the guy who always offers off-the-wall solutions during meetings and insists on bringing them up repeatedly, long after the decision has been made.

Online, trolls are empowered. If there are no policies and procedures in place to check them, they can dominate every conversation and sidetrack every productive dialog.

Types of Trolls

The Communities Online site[1] categorizes trolls into four types, which we adapt below, adding our own fifth category:

  • Mischievous
    Mischievous trolls have a humorous intent. Often, they might be a regular community member playing a good-natured prank. They are not abusive and rarely create trouble. Generally there is no harm in responding to them. Some members may find mischievous trolls annoying, particularly if their presence leads to lengthy threads that distract the community from its true intent. Other members find that the troll’s humor and light-hearted antics provide the community with an opportunity to laugh together.
  • Mindless/Attention Seeking
    Mindless trolls have a tendency to post lengthy stories of questionable veracity, or commenting on every post with off-topic or provocative statements. Mindless trolls are generally harmless, although their activities can rise to the level of extreme annoyance. On rare occasion, the fictitious posts of a mindless troll may lead to insightful debate and discussion. There is generally no harm in you responding, but it is often best to simply ignore them. If response is necessary, let the community respond.
  • Malicious
    A malicious troll is blatantly abusive to the group and/or specific individuals within the group. One of their characteristics is that within a very short time of gaining access they begin targeting and harassing members. In some cases, the troll has a prior history with the group or someone within the group. In other scenarios, the troll is simply looking for a fresh meat market. As a community manager, respond to such trolls carefully. Generally, community members will step up and enforce community norms themselves.
  • Destructive
    Around 1999, destructive trolls began to appear in mail groups and online communities. The primary purpose of this type of troll is to completely destroy the group it has infiltrated. Destructive trolls may work on their own, or possibly in teams or gangs. As a community manager, you may need to directly confront this type of troll, and eventually may need to ban them. Be sure to enlist the support of the community to take any enforcement action. If the troll does actual damage to the community forums or software, feel free to immediately ban them, assuming you are supported in doing so by your published community policies.
  • Trollbots
    Sometimes a troll is not actually a person, but an automated program called a trollbot. Generally, these bots are not interactive, and usually just post canned text as comments to other posts. An example of a recent trollbot was the Ron Paul trollbot from the 2008 presidential campaign. Such bots are an annoyance, but if you run an open community — one that doesn’t require registration and approval — you will get visited by trollbots. Enlist the community in identifying their posts and feel free to delete them.

Our next post will go into more depth about General Approaches to Trolls.

For soup-to-nuts, strategy to execution processes, procedures and how-to advice, see our book, Be a Person: the Social Media Operating Manual for Enterprises. The book (itself part of a series for different audiences), is available in paper form at save $5 using Coupon Code 62YTRFCV

[1] Community Online’s Communities Online: Trolling and Harassment:

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