If you have opted for embracing social networks to promote your product or brand identity and have managed to build up a small but growing community, it will be inevitable, at some point, your community will be invaded by a troll.
An Internet Troll is someone who will post a deliberately provocative message to a newsgroup or message board with the intention of causing maximum disruption and argument. The troll will continue to harangue and harass others, and often have nothing worthwhile to add to a certain conversation.
At times it may be hard to distinguish between a troll and someone who happens to disagree with your viewpoint, however, someone who merely disagrees with your viewpoint usually is able to maintain a respectful and reasonable manner. Trolls will often fall back to general insults, put-downs, name calling and even threats.
Trolls can be very disruptive to your other members, can intimidate certain members, and can also reflect badly on your brand. There is steps you can take to minimise their damage and deal with the troll effectively.
Never feed the troll: Do not rise to the troll and don’t give them further ammunition to carry on their trolling attempts. One of the best ways to manage a troll, is to ignore them completely, however at times if they are trolling members, you will have to intervene. In that case give positive feedback to those that are being trolled, while ignoring the troll as much as possible.
Keep it light and friendly: A troll likes to cause friction and arguments, one method to combat this, that I have personally found useful, is to keep it polite and friendly. If you insist on arguing with a troll, you are already losing the battle. By keeping it polite and friendly, ther is only so far the troll can go, before they disappear. A positive attitude then shows to other members that you are prepared to listen to criticisms and can handle the most negative of comments from trolls professionally and courtesy.
Do not ban trolls: Banning trolls is an easy solution, but one that can backfire very quickly, as well as building an atmosphere to the other members of censorship if they do not agree with your viewpoint. Banning a troll is a short term solution, as there is nothing stopping that troll from creating multiple accounts and trolling your community and members.
If you keep it friendly and allow the troll comments within your community, you are showing a level of transparency and are open to critisms, even though a troll is merely posting inflammatory content to try and get a rise from someone. Deal with trolls in an overly friendly manner, or completely ignore them, but never ban them. If you have an active community, your best hope is that some of your members will be allies, and will be ready to stand by your side in a troll dispute.
Trolls vs trolls: When someone is trolling your community, sometimes other trolls will appear on the scene and begin fighting amongst themselves. If this ever happens, do not get involved, allow them to fight it out amongst themselves. The advantage of a troll fight, apart from the humour to be gained from the situation, is that (a) the trolls are leaving your members and brand alone, and (b) they are making themselves obvious to your other members, who will also find their argument disdainful and will eventually marginalise the trolls themselves.
Only ever step in, if the trolling back and forth is going too far, to a point, where each troll is starting to use threatening language, racial slurs, etc.
Having a troll within your community can be frustrating, not only for you, but for your other members, but there is methods you can employ to deal with them effectively to minimise their damage. Most importantly, do not let them get under your skin, that is their main aim, to get a negative or overblown reaction from you. If you refuse to feed the troll, the troll will eventually go away and lurk elsewhere.
To read more on trolls and other belligerent types you may encounter, it is recommended you read the humourous Flame Warrior guide by Mike Reed: http://www.politicsforum.org/images/flame_warriors/