Your mother always told you, “If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” If only the Internet had listened to your mom. Today, those with nothing nice to say are very busy on the Internet. We call them trolls(basically, online troublemakers).

And while the benefits of maintaining a social media presence are numerous and well documented, there is a potential downside: What happens if you find your Facebook, Yelp or Twitter page assailed by a troll?

The Internet has granted everybody a voice, and as such, the exposure social media grants can be a double-edged sword. While you get to share in all of your successes, anybody who feels wronged by your business will have a platform to voice their concerns as well. In some cases, this can be a healthy process for feedback. Sometimes people are just out to start a fuss. So how do you tell the difference, and what do you do if you find someone trying to rouse rabble on your social media pages?

  1. Don’t respond to everyone.

The first and most important thing you need to understand is that not every comment or negative review merits a response. You can’t please everybody, and you can’t control certain circumstances. Even the most successful businesses have critics, and that is never going to change.

Your business is your pride and joy, but try not to take discouraging remarks too personally. 

And remember that in some cases, social media is a legitimate avenue for feedback. These posts, reviews and comments are coming directly from your customers’ mouths, and the more sensible criticisms can be gleaned for advice toward improvement.

  1. Stay focused.

While you are logged in, stay focused. You may have the power to change the world, but your business’s FourSquare page is not the place to start a movement. Nor is it the place to express or engage in personal or political beliefs. You are here to represent your business and keep your customers informed. Don’t let an unhappy spammer draw you into something unrelated.

If you do directly interact with a critic or troll, make sure you stay professional. This is your business, and the Internet is a very public place, so put your best foot forward. Gordon Ramsay may be famous for humiliating people, but you are not Gordon Ramsay. Remember to use correct spelling, and don’t engage in sensitive or potentially offensive topics.

  1. Try to move the conversation.

Do your best to move the conversation to a more private place. Request that the customer send you an email so you can converse directly about their grievance. This allows you to add a personal touch to your customer service and directly address any issues without airing any dirty laundry. It could also prevent personal information from being shared by either party, which could be important depending on the nature of your business.

  1. Sometimes you have to deal with a troll.

Of course, some people are downright mean for little reason. It is best that these people be ignored if at all possible. Avoid an argument or debate in a public forum, especially if it is over something trivial like the price of a cup of coffee.

If you find someone actively “trolling” your page and harassing you or your customers, the best thing you can do is to block them and apologize for the inconvenience to your other viewers. Serious threats to you or your business should be treated the same way you would treat in-person threats: Report them immediately.
Keep in mind that there is such a thing as bad PR, and that affects your livelihood. So, knowing how to tell a rotten egg from a legitimate complaint is important, as is knowing when to ignore these complaints and how to best handle them. And the upsides of social media marketing will likely outweigh the downside of dealing with a few pesky troll

About the Author

Erik Wong is a small business/tech consultant for GoDaddy and a freelance pop-culture writer. He has written a regular column for a current events blog, and his commentary has been featured on Connect with Erik on Google+. The world’s largest domain name registrar and Web hosting provider, GoDaddy gives small business owners the tools to name their idea, build a beautiful online presence, attract customers and manage their business. To get more tips for your small business—including articles, videos and webinars—check out the GoDaddy Training Hub.

How to Deal with Social Media Trolls