Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
August 9, 2010 7:53 AM

When Not Responding Online Is The Right Response

The common online rhetoric is to respond to everything that is being said about your brand. That could be a mistake.

With new Social Media monitoring tools - or just some careful snooping around - it has never been easier to figure out who are the people with a legitimate concern and who are the quacks just trying to feed their own need for attention. And yes, there are even those whose only goal is to push their own agenda forward by drawing attention to themselves. There's a known saying amongst the Digerati: "don't feed the Trolls." The Wikipedia definition of "troll" is "someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community, such as an online discussion forum, chat room, or blog, with the primary intent of provoking other users into a desired emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion." The point being, you're never going to make someone like this happy or get any level of customer service rectified. Even when/if you respond to their needs with an equitable resolution, you'll soon be trapped in a, "give them an inch and they'll take you a mile," scenario where nothing you do will ever be enough (because their intent was never to get any form of resolution in the first place).

Simply don't respond.

That's going to sound very radical in a day and age where most new media pundits will tell you the opposite. This past week, someone commented in their Twitter feed about a brand and situation they were not happy with (translation: their personal cause/agenda was not highlighted and they felt like the company should pay more attention to their plight). When the company didn't respond, the known troll went after people who were mentioning the same brand in their tweets and asked for their opinion on the company's choice to not highlight their personal issue. Many of the people that this individual reached out to didn't engage or responded in a very succinct and finite way (the Social Media equivalent of crickets in the night). With nowhere to go, and no wind left in their sails, the troll continued to rally for their cause in their own Facebook and Twitter stream, but there was little-to-no traction. With that, the grandstanding became nothing more than the online version of someone wandering the downtown streets blurting absurdities at the top of their lungs until the cops come by and politely ask them to, "move on." 

People know when you have a genuine complaint. People know when you're simply pushing your own agenda.

A smart company is one that can respond with professionalism and resolution. A smart company is one that doesn't spend hours of time and resources trying to please the unappeasable. It's an important distinction, and now that we can see a semblance of maturity online when it comes to individual's and their digital legacies, it's easier to figure out the raisins from the nuts. At first, the ability to make this distinction will not be obvious, and brands (as we have seen) have been sucked into major back-and-forths that have never ended well. Ultimately, the troll is never satisfied and all the brand did was give that individual's actions a platform and some real credibility where none existed before.

It's a delicate balance.

Zappos is brilliantly kind to everyone. Others believe that "your call is important to us" means that you will soon be treated like garbage. Not everyone online is a troll. Not everyone online is out to get a brand in a "gotcha!" kind of way. In fact, the opposite is (mostly) true: Assume two percent of the population is evil. Assume a slightly larger percentage are trolls and take some level of pride in getting a brand to react to their irrational opinions. Beyond that, know why and how you're going to engage online, and when cornered by someone who will never be happy, change the venue: ask if you can give them a call on the phone to discuss or offer to bring them into your office for a meeting or a tour. More often than not they will scurry back to the comfort of their keyboard and the warm glow of their monitor.

A great question to ask yourself...

When thinking about these online shift disturbers, ask yourself: Who is this person? What do they do? Who works with them? Who are they connected to? What are the types of conversations that they have recently had? A bit of research goes a long way, and can easily highlight whether or not there is a semi-legitimate concern that needs to be addressed or if you're dealing with someone who is just looking for a one-sided fight.

Do you think it's acceptable not to respond to certain individuals online? Or are all gripes created equal? What's your take?

By Mitch Joel


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