Spitfire Strategies

Three Communication Lessons From One Brilliant Troll

Sometimes the best way to take down Internet trolls (i.e., mean commenters online) is to join them. Facebook user (and perhaps Target’s best fan), Mike Melgaard did just that after Target announced it would eliminate “boys” and “girls” signs from its toys and bedding departments. Target received heavy backlash for its move, including several angry comments on its Facebook page, from users who apparently disagreed with Target’s decision to make their stores more gender neutral. Melgaard created a Facebook account which he named “Ask ForHelp” with the Target bullseye as the profile photo, giving the impression that he was a customer service representative. He then hilariously responded to and mocked about 50 angry posts criticizing Target before the account was removed.

Among the best include this one mocking a Facebook commenter with a Confederate flag profile photo:

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The story quickly spread across the Internet and Melgaard became perhaps the meanest but greatest troll in the history of trolls. AdWeek collected a few of the funniest responses (best read somewhere you can LOL very loudly), but we thought the bonanza warranted a write up of the excellent communication lessons we can learn from this brilliant troll.

  1. Let go of control. I’m sure when Target first learned there was a Facebook user pretending to be a Target customer service representative and harassing angry responders; they had a moment of panic. However, they assessed the situation – a harmless Facebook user standing up for gender equality and saying everything we were all thinking – embraced it, and even had some fun with it.
  2. Let your opponents’ outlandish and ignorant statements speak for themselves and allow your supporters to respond on your behalf. Think about all the times you’ve heard politicians say what they really think and watched it backfire immediately. Sometimes just repeating back what you’re hearing can be the best response. Your supporters can be your best defenders which is why it’s important to keep them continually engaged with your social channels.target-troll-21a
  3. Find innovative ways to thank your supporters, even if you can’t publicly. Target’s response to Melgaard’s trolling was genuine and hilarious (see below). For nonprofits who can’t associate themselves with certain groups because of legal or political reasons, there are ways you can show appreciation, even if not overtly. If not by a phone call, get creative and be sure to thank your supporters to let them know you appreciate their support.

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Lastly, it’s important to note that organizations should think seriously before actually doing what Melgaard did, even on a less extreme level. If you find your organization in this position, it’s best to weigh the consequences of responding with fanatical users and consider what might ensue. Monitor the situation and see if escalates before responding. Lastly, use our Digital S.M.A.R.T.S. guide on “Creating a Social Media Policy” to make sure you have a sound policy in place to address negative comments.

Power to the trolls!

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- Roland Stringfellow, Director of Ministerial Outreach, Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies

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