Social Media Response to Trolls – When is it Okay for Brands to Bully the Bullies?

Sydney Pearsall

by Sydney Pearsall

Senior Digital Analyst

Social media marketing is important, if not essential, for many brands. Companies use social media to push new content and grow a loyal community. Many times, brands have marketers (like us) manage their social media, and therefore Client responsiveness is on us. We have to be fully immersed in the brand so we know what kind of resolutions are best depending on the customer’s question, comment or concern.

With social media, the goal is to increase the brand’s following; however, that’s not always the result. Negative responses will come, and typically brands go through a process of de-escalating the customer/user.

But is the customer actually always right? Is there another, more fun way to educate customers? Many brands have begun to respond in a not-so-traditional way—trolling. Typically, trolls are people who just find anything negative about companies and blast it all over social media for fun. Brands have dealt with them long enough and started to respond in defense of their brands.

After a consumer attempted to troll Wendy’s on Twitter by claiming that its beef is frozen, the response was to educate, but in a less-than-conservative way. Wendy’s knows its beef isn’t frozen; in fact, it’s a point of pride. So, when someone was adamantly trying to question this, Wendy’s decided to troll back. Other users loved it and turned it into an entire social media roast session a few days later. SUCCESS. The customer was wrong this time.

Sometimes brands even troll other brands. After United Airlines made headlines because of its clothing restrictions for pass riders, Delta Airlines decided it was the perfect time to win over customers and throw shade at a rival. “Flying Delta means comfort. (That means you can wear your leggings. 😉)” This not only made social media users react in laughter, but also brought attention to one of Delta’s main values—comfort.

Even politicians and celebrities aren’t safe from being trolled by brands. Take Kanye West for example. Brands including Pizza Hut, Nike and Whataburger took one of his many Twitter rants as an opportunity to troll him about his claims of being $53 million in debt. Everyone, even brands, loves to bully a bully.

Aggressive responses on social media won’t work for every brand, but here are some things at play that made these scenarios successful.

  1. There’s no customer to lose. Trolling social media users often aren’t customers, so trying to convince them of the efficacy of your branding is pointless. This isn’t a consumer complaining about a bad experience, but just someone bashing the brand as a whole. If the complaint is valid, this can in fact be the optimal time to try to win customers over from a competitor through differentiation.
  2. The brands used factual humor. Ever heard the saying “there’s truth in every joke”? Well, when trolling social media managers “clap back,” they make sure their jokes are fact-based. Though this is an unconventional means to share company history and values, the brand has to stay protected. Trolls should always remember their origins—under the bridge.
  3. On social media platforms, users are encouraged to vent, complain, celebrate or share every moment of their lives throughout the day. Twitter moves rather quickly to anyone not used to it; it’s become the home of trolls, a place they thrive in fact, because of the ease of posting content. There is rarely a day of dormant trolls on Twitter; this also means there are thousands more Twitter users ready for the trolls to get shut down. When a big brand accomplishes this, it’s bound to spread like wildfire. Add in the ability to create threads and retweet those threads to share with followers, and now they’re etched in Twitter history.
  4. Impeccable follow-up is key. Users that find the responses humorous begin to respond, warranting more trolling from the brand. And it’s even better when the brands oblige. These roasting sessions not only make social media light up with glee, but also make the rest of the world mention the brand’s ability to take a stance on social media. Honestly, they’re a great way to turn negative comments into positive brand awareness.

Fair warning, this approach works best with established brands, like Gordon Ramsay, who has roasted users’ meals on Twitter. Ramsay is a pretty critical person overall, so this just increases his brand awareness. If trying to troll social media users before your brand is established, you can do much more harm than good. Users often personify brands as their friends. As such, you’re much more likely to let your friends crack jokes on you than a stranger; don’t be that stranger who turns potential customers into enemies. Therefore, please consult your social media manager or Agency to gain some clarity about whether this tactic is best for your brand. If you’re just launching on social, be very careful in undertaking the bully-back strategy. Also, ensure no actual customer complaints are getting lost in the shuffle. Remember the initial goal of your social media platforms while keeping Twitter trolls under the bridge.

Social media can be challenging, particularly when you’re trying to tame the trolls. If you’re trying to determine the best social strategy for your brand, we’re here to help.

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