You’ve all witnessed it: the troll. The person who makes comments on social media to get a rise out of people; the person who misinterprets what was said in a post and then attacks the original poster, the person who name-calls.
Not only do trolls upset people, they also soil their own reputation, and sometimes ruin their own lives.
Of course, none of us want to be viewed as a troll, especially if we’re trying to build an online image for our brand.
But have you ever stopped to think that although you’re not a real troll, your actions online may still be viewed as unprofessional and unbecoming (and sometimes people will view that as trolling)? And that this may be severely hurting your businesses and connections online?
It doesn’t take much for messages to be misinterpreted online. Without the guidance of body language and eye contact, it’s sometimes difficult to know if a message is friendly or not. Here’s an example:
A very short sentence. In an online message, this can be viewed as very aggressive; yet, in an in-person conversation, it could be lighthearted and an invitation for a lively but friendly discussion. It all depends on how it’s said—but when it’s typed, it’s always typed without intonation or clues to the meaning between the lines.
When you’re interacting with others online, you should always assume your words might be misinterpreted, and write accordingly. Here are some tips to help you stay professional in online interactions.
1. Always address the comment, not the person.
This goes for any interaction in life; not just online professional ones. If you have an issue with someone, it’s always best to address the issue, not the someone. Here’s an example.
A while ago, I purchased ad space on Facebook. One of the commenters simply put a picture with a red button that said “fraud” on it. This post was about the website you’re currently reading.
I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why someone would think this website was a fraud, and truth be told, I was a little hurt someone would call a project I’d been working on for months a “fraud.” I could have called out this person for being a troll, but instead, I decided to figure out the motivation behind his comment.
I wrote a very kind response, saying I was curious to know why he thought the post was a fraud. The post was about a website for writers who choose to write in multiple niches, and a blog with helpful information would be published. I wrote that if he had any specific questions, he could feel free to reach out at any time.
His response to this was post a gif. The gif was of a man dressed in a “cat in the hat” costume and holding a garden hoe. The “cat” was saying the word “hoe.” For those not familiar with the term, this is another word for “whore.”
With that, I deleted both of his comments and banned the person from my page, because it was obvious this person simply wanted to troll and not engage in an intelligent conversation.
I could have responded angrily to this person’s rude and hurtful attitude; however, I prefer to maintain my professionalism.
2. Know your audience.
Some people will argue that swearing is not professional. I beg to differ. This is entirely dependent on what your profession is—and the audience. If you’re a blogger, your audience wants to know who you really are. If you swear in real life, then yes, swear on your blog, too, if that’ll go over OK with your audience. It all depends on who you’re trying to reach.
Personally, I swear sparingly and when I feel the need to do it. It just so happens that I prefer not to do it in writing, and if I ever do, I usually censor it a bit. But that’s because I know I have several readers who prefer not to read those words. So to stay true to myself while respecting my readers, if I ever feel the need to say sh**, that’s the way I write it.
There’s definitely room for debate on swearing versus not swearing in your writing, but the point is that knowing your audience will tell you if it’s OK or not.
3. Talk to people online as if they were standing in front of you… in a crowd. And the crowd is against you.
For some reason, some people forget that there are real people on the other side of a keyboard. For some reason, some people write things on social media that they’d never say to someone’s face.
Here’s the deal: if you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face, don’t write it down.
If you would say it to someone’s face, but you wouldn’t say it if there was a whole crowd that would take that person’s side, don’t write it down.
And if you would say it to someone’s face regardless, consider the consequences for the other person as well as for your own professional life.
4. Always consider the consequences.
Sometimes it’s tempting to respond to trolls in kind. Sometimes it’s tempting to spew hate towards someone who’s negative about you. But you should always consider the consequences of your actions.
If you write a string of mean comments or name-call someone online, it’s there for the world to see. Forever. Those hateful comments will surely come back to bite you in the butt one day.
5. Be in Control of Your Own Emotions
This one is hard, but we all need to learn to stop taking things so personally. Sometimes people will make mean comments about you online. That doesn’t mean it’s true or that you should acknowledge it. If you choose to acknowledge it, ensure you’ve taken time to process it first, and that you write a kind response (yes, even if the person was a total jerk).
Be in control of your reactions and remember to take the time to respond instead of react. Remember that you are not defined by what others think of you; you are defined by the good you do in the world and the legacy you leave behind. Make sure that legacy isn’t a string of heated come-backs on social media.