A robust reputation management program involves communication. You'll need to write blogs, participate on social media sites, comment on other blogs, write press releases and otherwise create content attached to your name. That's the sort of work that helps you to dominate the conversation, and grab back some search result real estate.
But your work could quickly unravel if you're attacked by online trolls and you choose to fight fire with fire.
Thankfully, there are smart troll-fighting techniques that can help you regain your composure and emerge from an attack with your reputation intact.
Here's what you need to know.
In internet parlance, a troll is typically defined as someone who enjoys using a computer in order to upset other people. In a recent study, more than 25 percent of Americans admit that they've engaged in this kind of behavior, which the researchers defined as "malicious online activity directed at somebody they didn't know."
Basically, these are people who just like to be upsetting. They enjoy the power that comes from offending someone else. They like the idea of being disruptive. They enjoy being nasty.
It's no wonder that a study of personality traits in trollers found that the activity was closely aligned with sadism. The researchers wrote that trolls feel "glee at the distress of others." They find the whole thing fun.
Finding a Troll
If you're under attack by a troll, you're dealing with someone who might:
- Use a pen name or sign in as "anonymous"
- Refer to you by a label, such as a political affiliation, a race or a gender
- Repeat your statements and twist the meaning
- Question your integrity as a person
- Employ personal insults
- Accuse you of becoming emotional
Trolls also tend to stick around, as long as others are responding. Where a person with a legitimate beef about something you've said might toss out a comment and then leave the site altogether, a troll will keep responding and responding, as long as others do so.
The internet is full of examples of celebrities who silence their online trolls with witty one-line comebacks (the singer Cheryl Fernandez-Versini has some of my favorites, as highlighted on the Mirror). But these aren't the techniques a common person can use.
Why? Because they're effective because the writers are celebrities. What they say makes news, and it get support from random bystanders. This isn't the sort of reaction you're likely to get if you respond to a troll.
Instead, it's much more likely that you'll get more attacks, if you respond to an attack. That's how trolling works. They write, then you write, then they write… and your reputation loses. You've sunk to their level, and you've probably said a few things you shouldn't say.
That's why my favorite response to a legitimate troll attack goes something like this.
When the first attack comes, I respond politely with a clarification or a rebuttal. I give the other person the opportunity to calm down, be reasonable or go away.
But if the next comment is yet another attack, my response is short and sweet: "Don't feed the trolls."
Every time another attack comes, I repeat this phrase.
By now, most people know what trolls are, and most people are aware of the fact that trolls can ruin civil discussions online. By pointing out that my conversation partner is a troll and that I refuse to engage, that's often enough to make the troll move on to a new target, and it keeps others who are watching the conversation from joining in.
Obviously, there are some trolls that can't be silenced with a simple one-line response. If your attacker knows you and has a deep-set need to ruin your reputation, for example, it might be harder for you to make that person stop talking about you and your faults.
In those cases, it might be best to get some outside help. As an article in The Guardian points out, site administrators can use a variety of tools to stop a troll, including deleting their user names and banning them from future comments. Administrators can also disable threads that are full of attacks. If you're on the receiving end of a terrible attack, asking for their help might be wise.
Similarly, if you're under attack everywhere you go, it might be smart to step away from certain sites for a time. A reputation management company (like ours) can help you to understand which sites tend to be troll-proof, and can advise you on how to respond when things do go wrong.
But, letting the trolls defeat you just shouldn't be an option. Your reputation depends on your participation, and that means trolls must not rule the internet. With a little planning, you can take control.