Don't Feed Those Social Media Complainers, Haters & Trolls

March 1, 2016

According to Social Media Today, “83 percent of B2B marketers invest in social media to increase brand exposure, 69 percent to increase web traffic, and 65 percent to gain market insights.” Those are pretty impressive numbers.

However, stepping out on the “social media ledge” can be treacherous sometimes, especially when negative comments from unhappy customers (or troublemakers) start appearing in your social media channels, feeds or online forums/blogs. But while such comments and criticism can appear on any social media platform, the vast majority are found on Facebook and Twitter.

Such individuals typically come in three types: Complainers, Haters and Trolls.

  • Complainers are customers, typically, who have had a bad experience and simply want their complaint resolved, period. If handled well, you won’t hear from a complainer a second time.
  • Haters are typically either insecure or arrogant individuals, who can be customers, but are looking for an audience to vent, criticize, offend…you name it.
  • Trolls are those who are looking to find fault, and enjoy doing so. Their type dates back to the late 1980s, and they are usually members of one or more online communities where they intentionally post offensive, divisive and controversial comments.

“The majority of negative comments we receive are from Complainers,” says C.J. Britton, Digital Marketing Manager at Royal Cup Coffee’s headquarters in Birmingham, AL. “We rarely encounter Trolls or Haters, and when we do it’s typically disgruntled employees who post on our Facebook page or in our Twitter feed.”

Rules of the (social) road

In responding to Complainers, Britton takes a “one and done” approach — one reply, using his brand’s voice (rather than an automated reply) that makes the individual feel as though their online voice has been heard. Then he moves on, not engaging any further.

Many companies and brands adopt a similar protocol, and have formal or informal rules that they follow in dealing with online naysayers. Such rules can include:

  • Responding to every negative post, comment or tweet. In his upcoming book, “Hug Your Haters,” due out March 1, 2016, social media author Jay Baer says it’s critical to “answer every complaint, in every channel, every time.” In a significant survey of consumers, Baer found that slightly less than half the time, critics expect a response from a company or brand. “The good news,” Baer says, “is that half the people don’t expect to hear back from you. The bad news is that those who do expect to hear back, expect to hear from you quickly.” Speed matters in social media probably more than in any other marketing channel.
  • Acknowledge mistakes and personalizing responses. Reply in a non-automated fashion, acknowledge an error or problem, use the customer’s name, and indicate how you will correct or fix the subject of the complaint. If you don’t have an immediate answer, just say so, but promise to reply when you do.
  • Never deleting a complaint. Deleting negative online comments should NEVER be done. Doing so invites further criticism, and can escalate negative dialogue and, sometimes, invite others to express similar complaints that may otherwise never have surfaced. With Haters and Trolls, move the conversation offline. Engaging in negative dialogue on a public platform like Facebook or Twitter never pays. You want to avoid “mob mentality,” which allows others to join in the virtual slugfest…only making it worse. Take it offline to a private and internal feedback system, such as a customer feedback landing page (simply embed the URL to that landing page in your response). At Royal Cup, C.J. Britton analyzes the severity of every complaint: “I want to avoid a running thread that’s negative, so I either quickly resolve it online or move it offline.”
  • Not using competitors’ online misfortune to your own advantage. Taken another way, don’t poach your competitors’ customers unless you expect to have the same done to you. And certainly, if you suspect that a competitor is behind someone who’s anonymously trolling your channels, then use the “one and done” approach. No need wasting your time engaging in online dialogue with a competitive troll. 
  • Finally, experts agree that a lack of response is a response. No response sends the message: “I don’t care about you very much.”

Have a plan!

Public complaints don’t actually hurt your business. In fact, they are an opportunity for you to self-correct and fix what may be broken in your relationships with customers. And in doing so, you let ALL of your company’s online followers see that you’re willing to act on customer feedback.

That is why a critical first step in creating a plan (or guidelines) to address online criticism begins with establishing a reliable form of social “listening” and monitoring of your company or brand on social media channels. Google Alerts are a very simple and cost-free way to do so, but there are other tools, such as Mention, Social Mention, Hootsuite/TweetDeck and Buffer.

Your social media policy should clearly indicate who is responsible for responding to online criticism, how soon they should respond, what type of response is warranted given the nature of the criticism, and if/when to follow up.

Keep in mind that your employees will typically be engaging on all of your social media platforms — at home, at work, on their mobile devices — and there’s little you can do to prevent it. So make it clear that they’re not to engage in responding to criticism unless it’s their job to do so.

Assign the responsibility to someone who does not have a short fuse and will not take online criticism personally. Your guidelines should also clearly state that one person is in charge, with a back-up person designated to jump in when necessary.

Most importantly, know when to escalate an issue that emerges online to operational areas in the company that can better address them, as well as your customer service professionals. Some call it an “escalation plan,” but regardless, your treatment of fiercely unhappy customers or “crazies” should be escalated.

Enjoy the…benefits?

While Haters and Trolls can be problematic, online criticism isn’t all bad news. In fact, it offers some unexpected benefits.

When those who are truly loyal to your company or your brand encounter the work of those who aren’t, they will often rise up against them in defense of your quality, your service and your good name. In some ways, they could be considered your online brand champions. Thanking them and rewarding them in an offline and direct fashion will ensure their continued loyalty.

Without a doubt, addressing online complaints and criticism the right way can enhance overall brand loyalty and customer retention. When you answer somebody, you have a chance to change his or her mind. Royal Cup’s Britton says, “If the criticism has to do with one of our products, I apologize and tell them I’m sending a replacement product for them to consider. That generally elicits a positive reply.”

Every time you answer a customer complaint, it bolsters your image vis-a-vis customer advocacy. It takes a bad situation and makes it better. And when you actually interact with negative customers, you learn things about how your business is perceived that can lead to making your business better.

Erin Pepper, Director of Guest Relations for restaurant chain Le Pain Quotidien, has been quoted as saying that she strives to triple the number of complaints they receive each year in order to learn how she can improve the food, ambience and service in their 200 locations worldwide.

And while we never think this way, a sudden burst of criticism, followed by responses from your social media team and support from your brand champions, can have a positive effect on SEO because, let’s face it, your company or brand name is highly visible online. Ironic, right?

In the end, managing Complainers, Haters and Trolls is not the problem, but ignoring them is.

About the Author

John Healy

John Healy is Co-Founder of The Vending Marketer -- -- a digital marketing agency that exclusively serves vending, OCS, micro market and other refreshment services businesses. He is also CEO of Healy Consulting & Communications Inc., a traditional, digital and social media marketing firm that strives to ensure its clients’ relevance while fueling their growth and success. His affiliation with the industry dates back to 2009 through his image campaign work for NAMA. Reach him at [email protected]


John Healy

John Healy

Nov. 24, 2015
John Healy is Co-Founder of The Vending Marketer -- -- a digital marketing agency that exclusively serves vending, OCS, micro market and other refreshment...