Social Media in CPG – Prepare for Trolls!

We often discuss the value of social media as a mechanism to connect brands with customers and prospects. The two-way communication enabled by platforms such as Facebook and Twitter allows firms to connect with audiences in completely unprecedented ways, and on a much larger scale than previously possible. The insights that companies gather from social media can be valuable in product development, marketing, and sales.

On the other hand, we have also heard a lot about internet trolls lately. Both Target and Doritos have received a hilarious helping hand from a Facebook user named Mike Melgaard, who seems to have made it his personal mission to beat online trolls at their own game.

Nutella Contest

This weekend, I saw a sponsored post on Facebook urging me to enter a contest to become the “Chief Nutella Ambassador.” I avoid keeping Nutella in my house at all costs, primarily because I don’t want to have to purchase a new, larger wardrobe. However, I was intrigued by the idea of the contest, and clicked on the ad to learn more. As it turns out, the first comment on the page reminded me about my Nutella-related health concerns. Then, I noticed many more health-conscious consumers posting their thoughts about the contest.

Nutella KillsCalories

After scrolling through several more pages of comments, a few patterns emerged. There were the grammar enthusiasts.

grammarProof Reader

Next, those who didn’t like the idea of the contest wanted their voices to be heard.

contest

Then, the Nutella haters. (Might I suggest you spend time on another page?)

hate nutella

Finally, the general haters, who can be sure to find obscure errors.

math troll

Accordingly, companies and managers must think of trolls as they plan their social media strategies.  Certain types of posts may be particularly prone to trolling, such as:

  1. Posts that contain errors. At the very least, all posts should be checked for spelling, grammar, and factual errors. Without this step, it is very difficult for anyone (trolls or otherwise) to take your posts seriously.
  2. Posts promoting a controversial product. In the case of Nutella, social media managers most likely knew to expect trolls to pounce on the subject of health and wellness. This can also be true for products that may have poor reputations for functionality, appearance, or safety.
  3. Sponsored posts. By paying Facebook to show your company’s post as a “Sponsored” post in users’ newsfeeds, you are sharing branded content with users who have not explicitly “opted-in” to receive messages from your firm. These users may feel frustrated that they are seeing advertisements for products that they have not demonstrated any interest in, so trolling may be a natural reaction for some.

While the first item on this list is a no-brainer, the second and third types of posts are often inevitable. Brands must weigh the pros and cons of social media activity to ensure all factors are considered before implementing or changing a social strategy.

All negativity aside, at the time I saw the Nutella post, it had accumulated over four thousand “likes.” To me, this means that four thousand people liked the post enough to publicly declare their appreciation of Nutella. I feel that a “like” on a friend’s post is almost meaningless, but a “like” on a brand page is a powerful statement. To accumulate thousands of “likes” on a single post is a feat in itself, and to consistently do so is even more impressive.

So, which is a more powerful statement about a brand: a large number of likes or a few negative comments on a post? Does trolling detract from the impact of a brand’s message? At the end of the day, do the trolls even matter?

8 comments

  1. Excellent post Erin. I would have to say that it depends on the brand and how the brand interacts with positive or negative feedback. Donald Trump (as a brand) for example, is the king of twisting negativity to his favor; it’s almost as though he’s seeking it. I would have to say that for the most part brands owe their success to positive feedback. Trolling could hurt a brands message but it might help to put a brand on the spotlight depending upon the popularity of the post and the integrity of the one posting. If a troll made a negative arbitrary post about Ferrari, I suspect that the post wouldn’t be taken seriously due to the integrity of the established brand. I’m assuming people would at the very least chime in for good fun, which would indirectly increase awareness for Ferrari. So at the end of the day I would say it does and doesn’t matter, it all depends on the brand in question and the post.

  2. The good news is that Target, Doritos, and Nutella will be fine. Trolls be trolls, but I think it has little to no impact on brands in the long run. That being said, as I’m working on a social media strategy for a startup, I am definitely second guessing myself on what content may attract trolls. And, on top of that, how to then respond to or handle the trolls.

    Thanks for the points I should be considering!!

  3. This is great post, Erin! I, too, do try to keep Nutella out of my pantry, but somehow every now and again, a sneaky jar manages to magically appear there… But all jokes aside, you raise a great topic here. I think that trolls have become a sort of “occupational hazard” for lack of a better word. If you’re a brand and you’re out in the public on social media, by definition you will ruffle some feathers with people who oppose your brand or product. As long as there are enough people you manage to engage, your brand is fine. And I’d say that in some twisted way trolls can work in your favor: a) you must impact their lives somehow deeply enough that they can’t help but spend the mental and physical energy to bother to post on your page; and b) if you get really good ones (I loved your categorization, btw!) they can draw a lot of attention to your brand that people otherwise would not have noticed. I myself, for example, didn’t even know about the rainbow Doritos until I started hearing about the Dorito troll. I’d say the best bet is for any brand to hire a clever, witty person to take the wind out from under the worst trolls wings (and that can’t generally not be too difficult, since I’m sure they weren’t named trolls for nothing).
    Thanks for this entertaining blog post!

  4. I like the angle that you took in order to analyze social media “trolls”. To answer your question, I don’t think trolls matter that much because, ultimately, I feel like they are just people who are seeking attention and “likes” for a witty comment on a company’s post. Following the “any press is good press” mantra, trolls are actually helping the company get their advertisement views and impressions. Therefore, I don’t think trolling itself detract’s from an image because no company is going to win all consumers over. The only thing that I could see detracting from the brand is if people troll a grammar issue, which is the company’s fault in the first place. I think brands are just trying to get their name out there and attract attention, therefore, caring a lot more about likes than petty comments.

  5. In a weird way I feel like trolls and haters bring a sense of depth and reality to the web. I know I’m not alone when I say that I spend more time in the comments of some articles and [especially] Reddit posts, but there’s a reason for that. While some people are completely serious and just making fools of themselves online and others are just doing it for the ‘lulz,’ the internet wouldn’t be as fun and lively otherwise. On major public Facebook posts like something shared by Nutella or Doritos, having commenters get into worthless battles is only beneficial for the brand. A friend of any of those commenters is just increasingly more likely to have that brand’s post appear on their newsfeed now.

  6. Hi Erin, thanks for your post! I think many impactful campaigns and posts are bound to be somewhat controversial. It is impossible to keep the trolls away so as managers we can prepare for all different types of reactions so as not to let the few downers impact what could be otherwise great campaigns. Trolls will always be trolls but I do think that grammar/typing mistakes are unacceptable, particularly given the number of eyeballs that posts for well-known brands get.

  7. Nice post. Agreed that “trolls” are problematic, particularly for brands. Might just be the “cost of doing business” in an interactive social media world. Blandness might help deter them but that’s not what you want either

  8. Interesting piece, Erin. I’m of the opinion that trolling hardly ever actually negatively impacts a brand, unless the company itself is a party to the trolling by posting something insensitive or stupid (Why I Stayed, etc). Otherwise, people who like your brand won’t be affected by the trolling, and may in fact engage more to defend the brand on social media.

    It’s not quite “there’s no such thing as bad press,” but it’s close. I’m not sure that many people take random trolling like the Nutella example you gave that seriously.

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