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What John Oliver's Trolls Can Teach Us About Community

“For once in your lives, focus your indiscriminate rage in a useful direction. Seize your moment, my lovely trolls!” – John Oliver

The FCC has received more than 45,000 comments on net neutrality proposals since May 15th, largely due to the effort of Last Week Tonight host John Oliver’s 13 minute rant on his June 1st episode. Oliver rallied the internet’s active contingency of trolls to fight back with the most effective ammunition they could muster — their action. Here’s what we can learn from Oliver’s organized army.

Understand the Source

In the event that your brand is the subject of an attack from a troll or group of trolls, take the time to understand the source before reacting. Context and history can be crucial here, as many times, a complaint or rumor can be thwarted with simple facts. Try to respond within 12 hours, but take a moment to research the source first. Do you know the history of your Facebook fans? Are you familiar with their last 5 comments to brands on Twitter? Are they active on review sites? All of these paint a better picture of who these trolls are and what they’re out to get. Understanding what motivates them means you understand what can neutralize them and ultimately make them either disappear or advocate for your brand in the future.

Bring in the Ringleader

The leader of the trolls in the case against the FCC is John Oliver. If the FCC were a brand, and you were in charge of its reputation, you’d have the following options:

  1. Reach out to Oliver, explain your rationale in a way that appeals to him and ask him to retract his statement publicly.

  2. Side with him and admit the error of even considering the proposal in the first place, and then involve him in the formulation of your apology and win over his support moving forward.

  3. Expose Comcast, Verizon and the other major media companies for their corrupt behavior and become and advocate for the Net Neutrality cause yourself.

  4. Bury your head in the sand like an ostrich and lose your last shred of credibility and trust with consumers.

Use Their Power For Good

A passionate group of haters will always need something to hate on. Give it to them, elsewhere. Internet trolls are a captive audience that will jump at the opportunity to take action, even if it means temporarily aligning with the “enemy” (in this case, Oliver). Finding a way to redirect their seemingly blind anger towards a common goal like Oliver did is a great use of their passion, but his bigger accomplishment was turning them into advocates for the cause. Let’s say a brand is wrongly being held underwater for its use of a specific ingredient. Educating the trolls spreading that rumor allows that brand to not only stop the attacks, but to help give those trolls the tools to fight for it as advocates. The goal here is not to combat, but to educate and eventually advocate.

While I don’t anticipate the FCC will be reaching out to win Oliver over anytime soon, there are lessons in branding from this exhibit of troll strength and power. There’s a passionate army out there; learning how to use them in your favor means respecting them enough to understand the difference between neutralizing their remarks and using them in your brand’s favor. Smart brands will keep their fans close and your trolls closer. John Oliver shows us what can be accomplished when they work together.

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