The Accidental Troll

The ability to create and live through an online persona has been a blessing to some people – a chance to invent oneself anew. Others have used the opportunity to indulge the worst aspects of their personality from behind the perceived safety of anonymity. Your business has an online persona too – how closely does this resemble the real person or people who make up your organisation?

We’re all aware of the internet troll, though the term has departed from its original meaning. Troll has become a noun rather than a verb. Initially to troll was an action, derived from trawl. Instead of dragging a net to catch the most fish, internet users would write a post designed to elicit the largest response. It was, essentially, a game.

The more inflammatory the post, the more people would be drawn in. A post that could set two sides of an already established, contentious issue against one another in online argument has the potential to snowball and draw an ever larger number of people in. Thus trolling became synonymous with posting controversial, even reprehensible opinions.

You might be looking to raise your profile and attract online followers but you’re probably not looking to sow discord and trigger outrage, so how does this relate to your business? They key is the disconnect between the person and the front they put on. The term troll is now applied to those initiating the posts, rather than their actions. Anyone posting offensive material, whether as a device to provoke or as targeted abuse, is now labelled ‘a troll’ – the unifying factor is the fact they hide behind anonymity or a created persona.

Whatever their motivation, the trolls are unlikely to ever post the content that they do under their real name. When ‘troll hunters’ unmask these individuals they are often revealed to be somewhat unlikely offenders – the sort of people who would never dream of saying out loud the things they happily type. Whether they are posting things they do not really believe using the barrier of a screen or using that barrier to write the things they do think but would never admit in real life, it is the barrier which enables them.

Your business has an online presence and the same barrier which gives safety to trolls can serve to mislead your clients. Many will find you (or vet you) online. However you have chosen to present yourself and your business online will set their expectations. If, when you meet, the carbon based life-form sat across from them doesn’t match up to what they had been led to believe online they will be confused or even suspicious.

Just as the trolls seed of discord can grow, so can the seed of doubt planted by inconsistencies with your online business. If the services you’re offering at your meeting are not quite the same as those listed on your website, not only does one alarm bell go off – a whole string of alarms is triggered: ‘If he’s not been entirely accurate about services, can we trust him on costs, timescales, the ability to deliver..?’

If any disconnect between your online and real self is deliberately constructed, it will likely be found out. It is more likely that divergence is accidental and due to out of date or neglected websites and social media channels; or perhaps through an online over eagerness to put every new idea up in public view without considering the realities of how you would deliver them. In any case, consistency is key – consistency across the real and online world and between your various media outlets and social media. The internet allows you to cast a wide net, but ensure that your customers are able to recognise the fisherman.

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