“I remember a time where Trolls were a fictitious monster from fairy tales, not arseholes on the internet looking for attention.” – Robert O’Sullivan*
If you’re 30-years-old or older, there’s a good chance you remember marketing before social media. Most pundits agree that social media came about around 1997, with the website Six Degrees, where you signed up, and others signed up, and the next thing you know, you have one huge network of friends.
In the good old days, before the internet, you worked to reach the masses, who would respond in one of two ways: they bought your product, or they didn’t. Back then, word of mouth was the vehicle for people to promote or critique your offerings, with one person telling another that your product was great, good or stunk.
One of my first social marketing efforts, an adult fidget device, drew unbelievable slurs.
All that has changed; the internet and social media have raised marketing, and the resulting public vetting of goods and services, to a new art form. Public criticism has evolved as the ability to “comment” and wax-critical has become easier to do. In the digital world, people have come to think their opinions are elevated to “expert” levels, regardless of true expertise. Worst of all, the internet has spawned a new breed of critic. Today, “Trolls” act as expert, judge and jury – all in one.
Over the past 35 years, I’ve had my share of homeruns and foul balls with product launches and new ideas, and I learned pretty quickly to not take things personally. Building up a layer of thick skin was part of being an entrepreneur. Becoming rhinoceros-like was perhaps more the order of the day. After all, it’s the product, not me, that the people are focused on. Let them vote with their wallets and then we can examine the results.
This all changed in the era of social media marketing. The rules changed. The control and humanity changed. The people were given a voice – a public one – and that voice had little or no censorship. Little or no self-control. Filters off! And why not spew it out? After all, negativity is far more common a human trait than is positivity.
Trolls claimed the 24K-plated Golden Bolt is only for the lousy rich. Why? It costs $95 and lasts forever.
With the advent of anything goes behavior, the gloves came off and the next thing you know, the Trolls became empowered. Suddenly, these wanna-be popular poseurs launched a free-for-all – no rules, no restrictions, and no decorum. Now, instead of just focusing on a product or service, these Trolls could take pot-shots at a person, their spouse, their kids, religion, politics, and anything else, often unrelated but entertaining to the self-important and vocal Troll.
And the language has gone off the rails. Now I am no prude. Anyone who knows me knows colorful language is part of the package, but not in writing and not in public portals. And certainly not to reduce a product or person to zero in the interest of my own ego. The comments have been unbelievable. Bizarre. Gross. And mostly, stupid. It’s interesting how easy it is to analyze the person making the comment after reading a social media comment!
With anonymity, invisibility, and no rules, a disinhibition effect forms – where anything and everything goes. This is the world of the spineless, the bullies, and the uneducated who feel the need – and the right – to post things they might never dare say to someone’s face.
And why? Because the more inflammatory the remarks, the greater the chance you’ll bite and sink to their level. When we conduct business in a space with no bounds, we need to brace ourselves that the arseholes, as Mr. O’Sullivan mentioned, are boundless. There is a school of thought that Trolls are ruining the internet, worming their way into every corner and every aspect of life. Even mommy blogs that share ideas on childrearing aren’t safe from these ghouls. So, who are these people? In a word, haters. They’re the nasty people living under the dark, obscure bridge of life.
Maybe it’s not so stupid after all. Sundance just ordered a mess-o-bolts for their festival.
According to psychologists, Internet Trolls are narcissists, psychopaths, and sadists. And now that I know this, I actually feel better. Because no sane person with a real job, living a real life, in a real world, could or would invest the amount of time Trolls seem to spend hating the world and so many things in it.
Somehow, during childhood, their parents forgot to share that Thumperian Principal from Bambi, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.” It makes you wonder if people who lack complete civility in one setting can flip a switch and have it in another? Hmm.
Of course, I am not advocating the avoidance of critique or non-positive comments. I just don’t buy the idea that outrageous slurs and attacks on products and the rest is productive to anyone. Tough criticism is fine. Rudeness coupled with stupidity is not.
Upon closer inspection of what makes a Troll tick, a recent study found that they have an unrealistic concept of success; so high one can never achieve it. Anyone who tries to be successful falls woefully short of the Troll’s standards. Marketing in this brave new world of social media requires a few things: thick skin, self-discipline to not respond, and most importantly, don’t take them seriously. Getting into a pissing match with an idiot is simply a waste of piss.
* Robert O’Sullivan is the author of Climate Change and Forests: Emerging Policy and Market Opportunities