or “How to communicate with difficult users”
Trolls are nasty little things that live in the internet. Once upon a time, before I started working as a CM, I even was a troll myself. And oh how I enjoyed it!
I worte it a long time ago and used it at work to train other CMs as well as volunteers in that special forum moderation job, most found it helpful so I decided to finally publish it, as intended, on my blog.
We all know topics like “Telling the Truth about XYZ” or “How our Game is destroyed” etc. Most of them are difficult to handle, written by intelligent people that know well how language works and who will find other users following their words, even though what they write may not include any truth at all.
This is a small guide about how to communicate with difficult users and how to work with them. A user like this may be a burden at the beginning, but if you’re working with and not against them, they will become important members of your community that give constructive feedback and suggestions.
Many things written down here will seem to be obvious, still one often forgets to act according to these communication rules and tools.
What is a troll?
A troll isn’t the person that spam’s the forum. A troll isn’t the person that is insulting others. A troll isn’t the person that is continuously telling everybody how bad the game is.
Here are the typical signs that you have to deal with a troll:
1. The person you’re dealing with does respect all of our forum rules
- Still you always look out if you can find something to ban him or her
2. The person you’re dealing with is more intelligent than the average user
- Never underestimate a troll, though they are for sure not all advocates, IT or marketing experts, as they would like the other users to believe
3. The person you’re dealing with is a leader
- If he isn’t, you don’t have to care about him
4. The person you’re dealing with dislikes to open discussions, he or she is more into creating very long postings in other users discussion threads and/or is writing feedback
5. The person you’re dealing with is tracking what the Community Management Team does
Not all of these signs have to apply, but for the most trolls at least four of them do.
There are several types of trolls that can be found.
1. Mr. Knows-it-all Troll
The Mr. Knows-it-all Troll is one of the most common troll types. This troll likes to correct everything you or other users are saying. They are experienced in law, IT business and marketing and have at least five university degrees. At least that’s what she says. Most time you have good chances of turning them by referring to anything constructive that they say in the way “As XXX pointed out in her/his posting: [QUOTE] it is obvious that…” or similar. Still you have to make sure that they feel uncomfortable whenever they break the rules.
2. Pointless Vulgarity Troll
This kind of troll is writing without any obvious reason in a pointless vulgarity tone. He does most time not survive you very long time and is not the type of troll that can be turned into a constructive user. Point, click and shoot – delete is the only thing you can do against him. These are often alts of other Troll types.
3. The Mindfuck Troll
The typical Mindfuck Troll likes to play with other people thoughts, feelings and opinions. He does not stick to a topic directly, but includes various subtopics. Often he does that in a way which appears to be random although it isn’t if you take a closer look. A very common way of argumentation for Mindfuck Trolls is to use an analogy, mostly morally questionable ones, such as (against Griefing) “Well let us compare this situation to the real life: Imagine there is some food and it’s only delivered every 8hrs. There are two options to share it: to everyone who’s hungry and in deep need of it or to those few who are used to get food every day, whenever they feel like it. Neither the first nor the second group will die or get sick because of your decision. Who should get the food?”
These kinds of trolls are most time extremely eloquent and one of the most dangerous. Fortunately they are rare as well. Strictly keep to “The Rules” if you wish to communicate with them.
4. The Topic Troll
The Topic Troll has a very well hidden cave and lives there until a topic comes up that he’s interested in. Whenever this happens, he is running into it like a bull into a red rag. One of the most addictive topics seems to be “internet security”. You can often turn these Trolls if you communicate with them as “specialists” in regard to their topic. E.g. you can tell other users to ask XXX for his opinion in regard to one topic, like “Hey YYY, I know that XXX is very experienced with that topic, I often saw him helping others in the community along with his knowledge, maybe you can ask him, what the best firewall for your system settings is.” The Troll will feel flattered and will start to support you whenever his topic occurs.
5. The Granny Troll
The Granny Troll has a lifelong experience in the MMO scene (or whatever product you’re managing a community for). She was working for any gaming company that had promising titles and played any MMO since the closed beta. Her sentences often start with “Back in the beta” or “Two years ago”. The Granny was always there and has seen everything. Her opinion is based on playing since xx.xx.xxxx. Most Granny Trolls can be convinced to work for you if you trust them and give them “special tasks”. You could, for example, ask a Granny to write a guide or to be more often in the “new players” section, where her experience is needed.
6. The Dictator Troll
The Dictator Troll is famous in the community – and he has fans. He’s mostly a mix of Mr. Knows-it-all and our unloved Mindfuck Troll. He’s leading hordes of minions that consist of Pointless Vulgarity Trolls and Topic Trolls. His evil plan is to take over the forum by making everyone follow him or leave the discussions he’s in. They are masters of rhetorical balance acts, manipulating others and influencing the community mood. If you can win them for your side, you’ll have the best weapon against others of their kind. They even can make good volunteer moderators.
The Rules – Don’t feed the trolls
Not feeding the trolls is complicated. Our normal tools, such as warnings or bans won’t work on them. Plus they “eat” everything. You have to be careful and cleverer as the troll. Be honest with yourself – if you can’t do it, let someone else in your team do it.
Here is an overview of the rules you’ll need to follow when answering a troll.
- Take the time you need
- Be polite
- Don’t defend
- Don’t accuse
- Ask questions
Don’t worry if you have to recheck the rules and their explanations from time to time. After answering trolls for a while you’ll get used to it.
1. Take the time you need
Answering to a troll and turn him or her into a constructive user is a long process so you’ll need time for it. You can estimate approximately 30-45 minutes per answer. And by giving that time the assumption is, that you’ve already learned to handle troll threads.
Taking the time you need does also mean, you should avoid distraction during this timeframe. Mistakes in an answer to a troll will only lead to more difficulties with that user – and his or her followers.
2. Be polite
And that does mean be as polite as you possibly can be. It may be hard to answer to a rude thread in a polite way, but it is something that pays out. Though there is no need to answer to rude parts in the trolls posting (see also rule 3), you still need to answer it at all. Being polite is a solution for you – it’s not for the user. Comity is your shield as well as your weapon. As an Arabian proverb is teaching us “Humans stumble more often over their tongues than their feet.” It will not harm you to say e.g. “Thanks for your feedback, I really appreciate that a member of our community gives us his/her opinion to make our game even better”. If you say “Thanks” although there would be normally nothing to thank for, you signalize generosity. Still you need to make sure not to be overbearing. You’re talking to a person that might know the game better, might be more experienced with software or hardware development or that even might be more exercised in using language as a tool or weapon.
And yes, that’s what rule 2 is about: language is a tool, use it!
3. Don’t defend
Don’t defend yourself nor your team or your product. Whenever you write things like “I totally see you’re point here, but please understand that…” you make yourself vulnerable and show the trolls where to attack.
Troll postings often contain irony, sarcasm, metaphors or well hidden insults (You know it’s an insult, but you can’t point at it directly). That is because the troll is comparing without stating his point of reference. Don’t react to such insults directly. Just let it fell and be unheard and unnoticed.
Let’s compare that with a game: if attacked, dodging is much more effective as defending, because whenever you defend, you’ll lose hit points or your shield is taking damage – or both.
4. Don’t accuse
Accusing the person you’re writing with to have (or haven’t) done certain things does not lead to anything. The easiest way of avoiding accuses is to say “I” instead of “you”.
Every single “From my point of view…” or “What I understood and like to answer is….” is way better as “You’re saying that…” or actually telling the user “You’re flaming here, stop!”. When you’re describing what you understood and how you see this particular part of their feedback, you avoid that they feel offended because you misunderstood something. In addition you’re speaking only for yourself in that case and therefore no generalizations are done from your side.
4.1. An example can be a mirror
Moreover you should make use of examples. Examples are good for explanations but keeping you at the safe side. The troll can figure out for himself what was wrong and what correct about their attitude. Still you need to make sure to use a good example. Otherwise you’ll find yourself very fast in a discussion with use of your example, which is very bad for your product.
Sometimes people in the forums (most time no trolls) will tell you that what you do is censorship.
- Answer politely what censorship means
- State what you do when moderating
- Work with an example such as a talk show. A talk show would be good because:
- It’s a form of moderation, too
- There are various people with different opinions
- You can’t say everything in a talk show
Sometimes a talk show needs to be edited after recording, because things were said, that weren’t according to law, were of a very vulgar tone or even hurt the company that is hosting the talk show.
The main goal in a talk show is to find a compromise or to make participants understand each other’s point of view and especially to be objective.
4.1.1. Don’t give bad examples
Giving examples is often leading to giving examples how it shouldn’t be. Make sure that you never do that. Examples will stay in the head, no matter if they were given to show what is wrong.
So just write down the “Do’s” not the “Don’ts”.
4.2. Stick to the facts!
Even though trolls might use emotions for their arguments that is nothing you should do. Therefore avoid examples that include emotions such as “Imagine a mother lost her child…” or moral discussions such as “There are always two sides of a coin, let’s take the example of euthanasia…”.
Make sure that you and everybody participating in the discussion sticks to the facts and is constructive. You can even phrase this out, e.g. “In order to make sure, that we will have a good discussion that will provide us with lots of important feedback, please be factual and constructive.”
5. Ask questions
If you don’t understand something that was written – ask. Even if you understood everything perfectly fine – ask. When you’re asking “Did I get you right here?” you will signalize interest in the user’s opinion, you will make him feel comfortable discussing with you and last but not least you will give them the opportunity to make slight changes in what they wrote without losing their face.
Famous last words
In order to change somebody’s mind you need to give them the chance to do so. Nobody likes to be forced into one direction and that is why it is complicated to handle such users. They are pushing you into your normal job indicated habit of warn, ban and edit but what you should actually do with them is make them constructive members of your community.
Always keep in mind that you talk to a person that would like to have your respect, same as you would like to have theirs. Don’t act as you wouldn’t be on a par with them. Closing a thread or banning a user should always be the last thing you do, when nothing else is working.
Of course all of these tips will work on normal users, colleagues and even with your boss as well. They don’t guarantee you success, but a discussion with a result instead of a fight.