Wield a Comment Strategy to Combat Trolls

Case Study 3 min
Compare Facebook posts about Pride from different accounts with different outcomes due to a comment strategy.

During Pride month, both the USMC Parris Island and United States Air Force social media managers made Facebook posts showing support for the LGBTQIA+ communities. Both posts featured a soldier and the rainbow insignia commonly associated with the movement.

Both posts attracted positive and negative comments, but the way these comments were handled was very different. Take a look at how having a comment strategy can alter the way a post is received by your audience.

These two posts celebrating Pride Month were both shared on Facebook. On the left, USMC Parris Island. On the right, USAF. Photo by DINFOS PAVILION Team
Facebook Post, USMC Parris Island, June 22, 2020 "This year we celebrate the ten year anniversary of the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”. The Marine Corps takes pride in building strength in our diversity." U.S. Marine Corps graphic by Staff Sgt. Rebecca L. Floto

Facebook Post, US Air Force, June 12, 2020, “I celebrate Pride because when I finally came out as gay, I felt myself become complete. I am able to fully express myself in ways I would have never been able to before. However, I am more than just gay. I am goofy regular ‘ole guy and a whole bunch other things that sums me up!” – U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Keith Rowe, 86th Logistics Readiness Squadron traffic management journeyman

Ramstein Air Base, Germany | #PrideMonth"
These two posts celebrating Pride Month were both shared on Facebook. On the left, USMC Parris Island. On the right, USAF.
Photo by: DINFOS PAVILION Team
VIRIN: 201119-D-PA656-0001

A Pride Post With a Strategy

With a comment strategy in place, CWO Bobby Yarbrough maintains the narrative and beats back trolls. Photo by DINFOS PAVILION Team
Facebook user "So we have dark green, light green and crayola marines. got it. smh" Response from USMC Parris Island "We don't use dark green either. We simply refer to people by rank and last name. Pretty easy system. Respectfully, Chief Warrant Officer Bobby Yarbrough"
With a comment strategy in place, CWO Bobby Yarbrough maintains the narrative and beats back trolls.
Photo by: DINFOS PAVILION Team
VIRIN: 201119-D-PA656-0002

USMC Parris Island showed up with a pretty big weapon in their social media arsenal–CWO Bobby Yarbrough. Even though he posted under the official account avatar, Yarbrough was recognized by page followers as a smart and savvy social media manager who followed a comment strategy. Yarbrough was able to control the narrative and respond to the trolls using education peppered with biting wit. By attacking the post but not the poster, CWO Yarborough helped the discussion gain positive traction. For example, when a poster suggested that Don't Ask, Don't Tell "had worked just fine," CWO Yarbrough suggested that those who were kicked out of service would disagree. He was able to manage the comment threads, expose the biases, gain support for PRIDE and bring an audience who showed up to defend the post and the movement. As you can see from the comments, many page followers admitted to coming to the thread just to read the replies.

A Pride Post Without a Strategy

Without a comment strategy and active monitoring, brutal comments like this one went unanswered. Photo by DINFOS PAVILION Team
Facebook user "Call it what it is, deviant pride month."
Without a comment strategy and active monitoring, brutal comments like this one went unanswered.
Photo by: DINFOS PAVILION Team
VIRIN: 201119-D-PA656-0003

The Air Force, conversely, chose the "fire and forget" method for their Facebook Pride post, and the post quickly fell under siege. Negative comment after negative comment went unanswered. Worth noting is that the higher a page is in the military hierarchy, the more difficult it is to simply reply without a solid comment strategy. Make sure all posts and comments are based on policy and your commander's intent because that is how they will be interpreted. This typically isn't something a page below that level will have to worry about. However, with no one monitoring the page, or applying a comment strategy, trolls took over and the message quickly got buried under the rubble. Many of the comments were hateful gifs, which gave the post a negative impact for anyone who just browsed the page. The fact that no one was answering wasn't lost on those following. One poster drew brutal parallels to how they felt the USAF treated the LGBTQ community in general with his post; "Good to see the official Air Force page standing up for these airmen. Oh, wait, you're not. You're just using them as a publicity stunt with no actual top cover. Typical."

Lessons Learned

Social media is a battlefield where you're fighting for the hearts and minds of your followers. A strong comment strategy is your best weapon in that fight and the first few hours are critical to steering the conversation.

Continue to own the narrative even after you've made the post. Remember that most trolls don't want to be or expect to be challenged. Pushing back on false narratives and pointing out disinformation silences the trolls, educates the audience and brings in new followers.