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Unleashing the trolls: Unpacking the wild world of online comments

May 6, 2023 | Inman

If you don’t have something nice to say, go ahead and say it anyway


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If you don’t have something nice to say, go ahead and say it anyway, says California real estate broker Troy Palmquist.

There’s been a lot of lively back and forth in Inman recently, especially with some recent articles on door-knocking. It’s fun to see people putting their opinions out there and taking positions, even when (or especially when) they sometimes disagree.

Some of the disagreement is substantive, based on people’s personal experiences and taking into account the fact that other folks’ mileage may vary. Some of the disagreement, though, is straight-up trolling.

In a recent article by Jessi Healey, she offers information and advice on how to deal with online trolls — those people who always seem to have something to say in the comments section or on social media. In her article, Healey provides rule No. 1: Don’t feed the trolls.

The reality is that it can be hard to ignore folks who are purposefully trying to instigate an argument. I think we need to address the comment carnage that can happen when the trolls unleash — and how to tell the difference between a troll and something else.

Do you know a troll?

There are definitely people who make it a habit to get into the comments on every story. Often, you can scroll down and see regular names of frequent commenters. Here on Inman, many individual writers have folks who regularly comment on their stories, either because they always agree or because they always disagree.

Check out the Facebook or Instagram for Inman News sometime and read the comments on posts. A lot of the comments you’ll see are from people who do not even have a subscription and are clearly only responding to the headline or blurb in the post.

So I ask the question: Should you or should you not comment if you haven’t read the whole article? Does an uninformed comment equate to trolling or just bad social media etiquette? Also, should an author or content creator comment in response and turn that initial comment into a dialog?

Why do people comment in the first place?

A lot of people who comment on everything are doing it so that they can get their name out there. They’re hoping that someone will message them or click on their profile and start to follow them.

That impulse drives a couple of different types of engagement:

  • Those who try to say something shocking or argumentative so that they can drive more of a reaction and, thus, more engagement.
  • Those who put up a couple of emojis just to get their handle in the comments.

As a creator, it’s important to home in* on the folks who are actually wanting to have a conversation with you. I’ve gotten into remarkably interesting conversations by engaging with meaningful comments on my stories, no matter whether they were positive or negative.

Totally ignoring or, worse yet, shutting down comments that aren’t 100 percent favorable does you and your audience a disservice. While we’ve all heard the saying, “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything,” I don’t think that’s necessarily true.

Sometimes a negative comment is part of a larger discussion that makes everybody better informed. Sometimes, of course, it’s a troll. You need to know the difference if you’re going to create content, whether it’s a blog, podcast, video or just social media content.

Comments are part of the editorial process and having thick skin is necessary. If you’re a creator, work to engage with your audience and to differentiate rude or abusive comments from comments that just take a different position from your own.

As Healey wrote:

A legitimate complaint or negative feedback isn’t a troll. Though seeing negative comments about your business may be upsetting, they happen occasionally. A troll will either have no merit to their actions, or they will take a minor issue and take it to the extreme.

3 ways to make comments better

If you’re a creator or a real estate professional who’s active on social media, here are three ways you can improve the online discourse:

  1. Don’t just post on your own channels, but comment on posts, Stories and other content from your friends, colleagues, brokers, mentors and entrepreneurs you work with regularly. Set the tone for the conversation by providing a meaningful and positive insight in your comment. You’ll not only improve their feed; you’ll also improve your relationship with them.
  2. If you’re getting a lot of trollish attention, block and, if appropriate, report those accounts. There’s no reason to let vulgar or abusive comments stand, and one troll can poison the well for your other friends, fans and followers.
  3. Stay calm, cool and collected when you interact with negative comments. Remember, if the commenter is just expressing an opinion that’s different from your own, they’re offering you an opportunity to display your expertise and even your negotiating skill. They’re also giving you the opportunity to show that you know how to stay calm under pressure — something that’s sure to win you points with potential clients.

Trolls are no fun, but writing off everyone you don’t vibe with online is a mistake. Take the time to figure out the difference and work to create positive interactions whenever you can.

*And for the trolls who are sure that “home in” should be “hone in,” here’s an explainer.

Troy Palmquist is the founder and broker of DOORA Properties in Southern California. Follow him on Instagram or connect with him on LinkedIn.

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