Geek looking at data


How Do We Avoid Trolling Trolls

Dec 15, 2014, 05:02 PM by Jack DePoe

Social media marketing can be pretty anti-social

The question arises after reading an interesting, albeit somewhat gloomy, blog by branding consultant Bruce Philp (and originally published in Canadian Business). Philp contends that trolls—abusive or obnoxious web users—“dominate most platforms” while “interested, engaged consumers are the only good reason to be [on social media]” in the first place. So basically, if you’re trying to build a social media community these days, you’re in a tough spot, as the big players are declining while platforms are getting overrun with negative users. It’s a grim prospect for companies looking to build their brand and engage via all channels in their marketing efforts. But as an interactive marketing executive, I still think it’s worth crossing the social media bridge to help build our company’s brand. With the right tools and the right insights, we can still engage the communities on the other side while avoiding the trolls underneath.

Philp makes several good points in his blog, including the “existential” threat posed by online hatemongers and cyberbullies. But I have to wonder: what did marketers expect was going to happen when companies opened up anonymous, two-way communication with the public? Those seeking the thrill of “trolling” from behind the anonymity of a keyboard are well known to social media veterans, who colonized the Internet’s first chat rooms, forums and social platforms. Trolls even have their own Wikipedia page where anyone can learn more about the phenomenon and find links to studies on the drivers behind this behaviour. But when trolls hit a product or company’s page, could it be partly because they feel entitled to interrupt and insert messages into that site, doing exactly what advertising and marketing execs have done to them their entire lives?

For decades, we marketers have been inserting our messages into people’s lives with great success. It is the norm that entertainment is sponsored, with our favourite TV shows interrupted by commercials, our movies preceded by advertisements and even our live sporting events paused for “TV time outs” to make room for commercials. We pay for the privilege of putting our message in front of audiences in exchange for them being entertained. And we’ve enjoyed a one-way street on that journey for a very long time, able to push our message to consumers through channels where their only response was to ignore us or turn us off. But now they can push back. Now, when we interrupt their newsfeed with our promoted content, they have the ability to throw in a comment expressing their ire on our page. If we promote our tweet into their feed, they can send an offensive comment back at us. And while some consumers are more receptive to advertising than others, it’s safe to say that constant interruptions can grate on even the most amiable.

As social marketing has grown into a huge industry, with monetized social media sites like Facebook leading the way, we’ve stopped conversing with consumers and started shouting at them again. And we weren’t in the conversation for very long to begin with. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Pinterest—all allow interruptive advertising and they all allow us to pay for the privilege of interrupting our target consumers. But once you are interrupting consumers, you aren’t being sociable; you are acting in an anti-social way. We are, in effect, trolling people with ads in the places where they want to share their thoughts, express themselves and see their friends and communities doing the same. So rather than become part of their communities by being “social,” we’ve returned to the model of the billboard, the TV commercial and the radio ad. We’re interrupting their entertainment, their personal time, with our advertising message.

And many online users are not fans of the whole “big brother” aspect of social media marketing. It’s not uncommon for people to feel creeped-out when Google serves up ads based on their browsing habits. And the practice of Dark Social sharing (#darksocial)—when people copy and paste content or links from a website into a private message—is a conundrum for marketers who want to track how their message is spread. This is where segmentation and customer profiling continue to be extremely valuable tools.

As the social channel matures and people settle into their niches, we as marketers will need to continue to innovate and find different ways to connect with our consumers in a more humane and personal way. But in order to stay on top of the trends in consumers’ diversified sharing and communication channels, we need more than the tracking provided by the platforms they are using. Recent polls suggest marketers are having trouble keeping up with today’s multichannel consumers. As people personalize the way they communicate and the way they use social media, delivering personalized messaging in a cost-effective way is ever more important.

Our PRIZM segmentation system helps bridge the personalization gap, allowing for targeting at a more granular level without necessarily going to full one-to-one marketing. When combined with large consumer surveys and data collected by companies on their customers’ behaviour, it allows for more personalized messaging that can tell us who likes ads, who prefers conversations and where to find them. We can get a better idea of what they might be “dark sharing” by looking at their offline tastes and values. That way, we don’t have to shout in order to have a conversation again. It’s a good starting point for increasing the value of your relationship with your customers and prospects—while avoiding turning them into trolls.

—Jack DePoe

Post your thoughts on building your brand—and avoiding trolls—in the comments section. Or contact me on Twitter @MarketerJack or LinkedIn.