They go by lots of names. Internet trolls. Social justice warriors. Virgins. It really depends on who you ask.

But one thing is for certain. They are out to get you. And that’s so, so good for your exposure — if you know how to poke the angry bears.

It’s a lesson I learned at the zoo as a little kid.

Know The Animals

 

At that zoo, there was all sorts of animals. Big ones. Small ones. Gentle ones. Angry ones.

In front of certain cages, there were signs: “Don’t feed these animals.”

In front of other cages, there were candy dispensers. You could put in a quarter and get a handful of food. These were the animals that you could feed.

Here in this beautiful world called the internet, we are lacking the clear direction over which animals to feed and which to not feed.

There is no clear formula. There’s no manual. There’s no magical treat dispensing machine that indicates who to feed.

So I figured I’d share with you a page out of MY playbook of when to feed the internet trolls.

Defending Your Integrity

I’m a big believer that our integrity shouldn’t have a price. And so when someone questions my integrity through a snarky comment on a piece I write, I call them out.

Take, for example, this piece I published – “Why You Need To Stop Wishing Your Customers A Happy Thanksgiving.”

The picture I used for the post showed a woman with tape over her mouth. Why?

A) It worked with the context of the piece.

B) Not sure when the last time was that you went through stock photography … but it’s difficult to find a picture of a talking turkey holding a laptop, so this had to do.

I was inundated with some spectacular comments and conversations. I’m never looking for everyone to agree with me – that would make for a boring trip to the zoo. I value feedback and different perspectives — it makes us all stronger.

Enter: The internet troll. Here’s the comment she left:

Why did you use a picture of a young women with tape over her mouth for this post? Do cute gagged girls represent the annoying industry vendors who wish you happy Thanksgiving? Does she represent any part of your business? I don’t think so. I think this is a sensationalist image used without any sensitivity toward the issue of violence against women and is completely offensive. Just because you are the Chuck Norris of Marketing doesn’t mean you should be as offensive as he. Fail.

I have a wife and a daughter. I have a large number of women who work with us. Most of my clients — many of whom left spectacular comments on the post as well — are female. And so in a case like this, I put my quarter in the machine and took out a handful of food to feed the angry troll. We went back and forth for a bit until I felt I had defended my integrity.

Here was part of my response:

“As a brand new father of a beautiful little girl…and as the husband of a beautiful wife…I’m offended that (insert troll name here) would accuse me of condoning violence against women and then hitting Twitter to make the same argument. I used the picture, (insert troll name here again), because it fit the piece – not because it had anything to do with condoning violence against women. So whenever you are done with your soapbox, I believe that we may all be able to move onto the pumpkin pie.”

The troll was well fed. It was time to move on.

Increasing Your Klout Score

Let’s be very honest here. When writing and distributing online, you want a high level of engagement — no matter what platform you’re on. And the way these things work on certain platforms such as LinkedIn and Facebook is that the more people who see the interactions, the better. Let’s say for example my business partner comments on a piece. When I respond to his comment and tag him in it, it shows up on his feed and my feed … increasing the number of people who see it. People love a little drama or controversy from time to time (hence the ratings for reality TV) — but people also love the opportunity to have a platform to have their voice heard and to be a part of a conversation.

Put your quarter in the machine, but don’t give them the entire handful of food. Be strategic about which trolls you are feeding — you want them to want more.

Take, for example, this piece – “An Open Letter To College Crybabies From A CEO.” More than half a million of views on it. Countless reblogs. An appearance on Fox and Friends. How did it all start? Simple. I responded to each and every internet troll. For every person I pissed off, hundreds more saw it. Bingo.

Helping Them Look Like A Troll

Then there was the piece I wrote called “How Facebook Killed Our Class Reunion.” I’m pretty sure there are lots of people who like to comment on articles without actually reading them. But my favorite came yesterday from a self-described copywriter at Disney.

Here’s part of what he said:

“This article is mess. Comp 101: Topic sentence, topic paragraph, body, conclusion. Not that hard.”

Spectacular. I didn’t have to feed this troll — but how could I NOT?

My response:

“I’m sure you’ll edit it now that I’m calling you to the carpet on it. But if you’re going to be the grammar police — I’d highly recommend checking your own grammar first. “This article is mess” would not be correct. And your second sentence also isn’t a complete sentence. “Not that hard” as you would say. Double fail on your part. But hey — at least you’re “that guy”.”

There were some other spectacular replies to his comment by others as well. Sadly he deleted it before I could screenshot those to share with you.

Know When To Hold Them and Know When To Fold Them

I know there are some of you right now thinking about what a big jerk I am. And that’s OK. You’ve got to have a pretty thick skin to be willing to share your secrets like this.

But I’ll also point out that you need to know when to hold them and know when to fold them.

— For the most part, I won’t feed the internet trolls that are swearing. I don’t need that BS on my feed (see what I did there?).

— I won’t feed the internet trolls that lack logic or common sense to the point where I want to smack my head into a wall. OK, maybe I’ll do it for a little while — but at some point, I fold.

— I won’t feed the internet trolls making personal attacks on people.

— I won’t feed the internet trolls who are trying to get you to contact them for a low-interest loan or work from home where you can make $547 a day like their aunt did.

— There’s only so much feeding I’ll do to people hiding behind anonymous screen names. Take a look at the comments, for example, in the “college crybaby” piece above. You’ll notice how I strategically responded to certain trolls just long enough to bait them into increasing the reach on the piece … then I called them out on hiding behind an anonymous name and bid them farewell. Think about it for example. If someone’s going to tell me that I’m an “old rich white man and they’re going to burn down my multiple houses, factories in China and my yacht” (which I have none of), then there’s only so much time I’m going to allocate towards a pissing match with them.

Let The World Respond For You

When I wrote “Enjoy Your Transgender Bathrooms. We Just Lost America.” I never could have imagined the millions of shares it would receive. I also didn’t anticipate the tens of thousands of comments on the original article, social shares and reblogs.

Because of how much viral traffic it received, I didn’t NEED to respond to comments. I let the world fight among itself. Sometimes it’s best to just present a thought-provoking article and let people interpret it as it may.

The bottom line? You’ll never make everyone happy. You’ll sometimes write the most neutral, non-offensive content possible and yet the trolls will still come out. Consider them to be gifts from the internet gods and let them distribute your content for you.