Rehabilitate Your Business Troll With These Simple Steps

Trolling for business is a terrible tactic.

No, I don’t mean the kind of trolling analogous to what a fisherman does from a boat or a jetty, slowly moving the bait through the water, in the hopes of landing his dream trout.

I’m referring to the kind of trolling that happens under bridges and in dark, damp pits and subterranean caverns; the kind of trolling that often ends abruptly with a chain mail-clad, pseudo-medieval protagonist shooting arrows at one’s head.

Those particular bygone days of yore may be purely imaginary, but the trolls of today are very real indeed. However, they aren’t out to whack you with a knobbly club in an effort to purloin your coin purse. They aren’t lying in wait to overcharge you bridge passage.

21st Century trolls feed on digital disharmony, discord, embarrassment, and public shame.

They want it.

They need it.

And they are always watching, waiting, lurking in the digital shadows.

Make one mistake, give them the tiniest “in,” and they will strike.

Trolls? Really?

Yes, trolls. Really.

Wikipedia.com has this to say about them:

In Internet slang, a troll (/ˈtroʊl/, /ˈtrɒl/) is a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory,[1] extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a newsgroup, forum,chat room, or blog) with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response[2] or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion,[3] often for their own amusement.

Yes, in the digital age the dark, damp pits and caves have been replaced with brightly lit chat rooms and social media forums, and the trolls can easily disguise their warty, disfigured faces behind a profile picture of their dog or cat or second cousin or favorite flower.

When I was growing up — and computers were a more-or-less permanent household fixture that sat stationary on the desk — the stereotypical internet troll was depicted as an awkward adolescent hiding out in his grandmother’s basement, injecting chat rooms with ineffectual gripe-speech at 2:30 in the morning.

Only a marginal improvement from a dark underground cavern; basically still the same principle.

The teenage basement-dwelling troll is an image that makes sense to us. It’s easy to imagine a socially underdeveloped proto-human falling into a pattern of online mischief in the absence of something better to do with his or her time.

We assumed— and hoped — that someday, when Nana just couldn’t stand the smell anymore, the teenage troll would be forced to leave his lair, adjust his eyes to sunlight, and learn to commune with real, flesh-and-blood humans.

We hoped that he would navigate this crucial transition from dysfunctional, heterogeneous cellular mass, into a fully-formed homo-sapiens, possessing both the skills and the desire to contribute meaningfully to civilized society.

That was then.

Unfortunately, many present-day trolls have evolved mechanisms by which they can actually retain many of their troll-like characteristics, while still functioning in the surface world (albeit in a significantly diminished capacity compared to normal humans). This is thanks, in large part, to technological advances in mobile communications.

The proliferation of smartphones and tablets has granted underdeveloped humans, still very much in troll-form, the freedom to leave the cave, walk in daylight, and sow the rank, rotting seeds of dissent from right in our midst.

And it’s getting harder to avoid them.

The Rise of The Business Troll

For those of us who maintain a social media presence as a part of our profession, the concept that, “Trolling is bad” is probably a no-brainer.

I won’t behave like an idiot online — in a personal or professional capacity — any more than I would walk into a restaurant with both middle fingers held high, shouting insults at total strangers. It accomplishes nothing, and it’s just nasty. Moreover, it will almost certainly lead to lead to bad things.

Unfortunately, there are still those among us who, though disguised as professional adults, never fully left Grandma’s basement — at least not mentally.

Here’s a recent example:

In my role as Investor Relations Director for a real estate investment firm, a major chunk of my time is spent reaching out to and communicating with people and groups who want to learn about making passive income by investing in real estate development.

Some weeks ago, while promoting our latest development opportunity to prospective investors, I did what I always do: I logged into the company Facebook account and posted a copy of the text that had already gone out to our email subscribers.

Here is what I wrote:

March 17 2016

As usual, my post contained a very brief synopsis of the project’s scope of work, the dollar amounts involved, the timeline, and a call to action, the gist of which was: “If you’re interested, or would like to know more, comment below or send us a private message.”

Pretty standard stuff; certainly not the kind of content that one expects will offend.

That post became instantly visible to people who have already “liked” our company’s page. I then began the rather arduous task of sharing it in relevant groups.

There are literally thousands of groups available where real estate professionals can share their ideas, ads, projects, deals, and listings, as well as other real estate groups that are strictly social, where prospecting for business and generally “talking shop” are not allowed. I’m personally a member of dozens of real estate related groups on Facebook and LinkedIn that fall into both categories, and I connect with new groups — and occasionally launch my own — all the time.

Take a look at this: Opening up Facebook’s “share to group” option and typing in the letters “r-e” results in a huge list of real estate related groups; much longer than what fits in the window…

So, bing-bing-bing-bing-bing, I went down the group list, sharing my post to them one by one.

About an hour and a half passed, during which I went for a run, took a shower, and brewed some coffee.

I took out my phone and fired up the email application.

I was surprised — and a little confused — to find that my seemingly innocuous post had inspired some rather… confusing responses, coming from members of a group calling itself “Real Estate Happy Hour.”

NOTE: To protect the privacy of the individuals mentioned, names and some profile pictures have been altered and/or edited.

Hmmmmm… All caps.

Susan is clearly upset about something, and she wants to make sure her buddies know about it too…

I didn’t recognize any of the names she tagged, so I decided to visit the group page to try to get some answers.

I opened the Facebook app on my phone and pulled up the Real Estate Happy Hour group page.

Crap.

Real Estate Happy Hour group cover photo, March 17, 2016

My post violated at least two, possibly three of the group rules.

I scrolled down further. Yep, there it was, in the last paragraph of the group description:

“Welcome! Please help us add you to this vibrant group by making it clear on your Facebook page that you are a real estate or lending professional. We first check this info before allowing access to the group. If it is not obvious to us through your Facebook ABOUT SECTION on your page, you will not be admitted to this closed yet SUPER AWESOME FUN COOL Group! Please help us do the best job we can for you. Thank you!!!
A place for Real Estate professionals having fun, positive venting, sharing funny Real Estate related stories and plan some face to face Happy Hours!
This group is our alternative to other Real Estate groups that are well…. so “Serious”.
Please keep it fun, relax, reasonably clean and respectful. If you are easily offended, this may not be the group for you.
We are not a group to advertise your listings or open houses, to solicit business or promote your services. Doing so will cause your posts to be deleted and may cause you to be immediately removed from the group, possibly even without warning. If you wish to do any of these activities, please do so in other groups.”

This was a group in which business postings were not welcome. I must have clicked the wrong group name in the list when I was sharing out my original post.

Oops.

Well, it was an innocent mistake. I’m sure it’s not the first time this kind of thing has ever happened, and I’m sure if I explain it clearly, apologize, delete the offending post, and pledge to click more carefully in the future, people will understand.

After all, according to the first paragraph of the group description, this is a SUPER AWESOME FUN COOL Group!” Not to mention, the fact that real estate as an industry is, by nature, a “people business.”

If anyone will be understanding of a simple mistake, it will surely be them.

“Boop” went Facebook. Another person had just commented on my post.

Ummmm… no, Patrick, just clicked the wrong group name by mistake.

What an odd question!

Another wave hit about 7 minutes later.

“Boop.”

No insult intended, Mike, just an errant click.

Ahhhh, I see that Mike and Patrick are both group admins. I guess they will be the ones who can help me smooth this thing over…

“Boop.” Another reply:

Oh snap, Susan just “lol’d” our investment opportunity!

My heart rate increased.

Clearly I have made this embarrassing error in the presence of some seriously heavy hitters. Personally, I’m not someone who scoffs at the prospect of making an additional $500-$800 each month. Our repeat investors seem to feel the same way; they usually jump on these pretty quickly.

But it seems that, compared to Susan and her friends, we are mere guppies in a tremendous sea filled with great white mega-sharks.

Gulp.

Susan probably doesn’t even pick up the phone for fewer than four zeros. I bet $500-$800 per month isn’t even her whole latte budget.

Impressive…and a little intimidating.

“Boop.”

You know Eli, to be honest I can’t even remember which admin added me to the group. I think it has been at least a year — maybe longer — since I joined, and …come to think of it, this little faux pas may actually be the first time I’ve ever posted in this group.

So you may want to tread lightly Eli. If you can’t remember, it might’ve been you.

“Boop.”

Well… maybe Shane, but that really depends on who you ask. Amish Farmers have already been up for four or five hours by now.

“Boop.”

Aaaaahhhhh…okay.

Not sure there is anything I can do to help you there, Pam… perhaps a gentle lotion of some kind? Alternate heat and cold? A muscle relaxer?

Now I feel bad.

Note to self: Research anti-twitch cream online. Send link to Pam.

“Boop.”

Susan “Dolla-Dolla-Bill-Y’all” doesn’t seem very sympathetic to Pam’s situation. Not my place to judge it though. Susan operates at an elite level, and the view probably looks very different from the top.

Hmmmm… She also“lol”s a LOT.

I bet when you reach Susan’s level, you stop worrying about posting complete sentences that are substantive, coherent, or relevant.

Susan is so freakin’ cool.

Note to self: Use more vintage internet shorthand in social media posts.

“Boop.”

I’m not following, Mike.

Is this…. wait, is this a response to Eli’s question, “who let this one in?” Guess that means you’re off the hook, Eli.

Who is You-Know-Who? Sounds mysterious. Is there a story here?

Is You-Know-Who a disgraced former group admin who was ejected for causing some scandal? Does it involve intrigue? Deceit? Mystery? Abandoned carnivals? Meddling kids? Dangling participles? Mixed metaphors? Wardrobe malfunctions?

Or did You-Know-Who simply decide one day that he/she had better things to do than herding trolls on Facebook?

“Boop.”

Oooookay now Doug, now I’m sensing just a teensy bit of sarcasm here.

Come on now.

Doug.

Doug-a-reeno.

Doug-a-roni.

You jokester you.

You big ol’ kidder.

We all know you weren’t thinking on the way to the office.

As the comments continued to roll in, part of me couldn’t believe that these people (except Susan; she’s obviously incredible) were posing as fully developed adult human beings.

Really? This is how you’ve chosen to start your day?

I was starting to enjoy the absurdity of the whole thing so much that I had forgotten all about explaining and apologizing for my mistake.

And that’s when the final “boop” rang out, cutting loud and clear through the still morning air.

“BOOP”

(boop)-(boop)-(boop)-(boop)…*

*(echo added for dramatic effect)

Oh, I have enjoyed it Mike.

Soooooooooo much.

The torrent of comic abuse had ended, and my window for correcting my mistake had closed. Mike had banished me from the group forever. In truth, I don’t think I got the full five minutes he promised, but I doubt it would have made much of a difference if he had.

I was exiled.

On the one hand, I totally get it.

My post clearly violated the group’s Number One Rule banning posts that promote business — I won’t contest that. It introduced content that was well outside of the group’s intended purpose. And — though I wouldn’t have guessed this would be the case — it apparently offended some group members very deeply.

To them, I’m the troll.

…A sobering thought…

A Time To Heal

(Cue the sad piano)

I can’t reverse the damage that I’ve done, no matter how innocent the mistake may have been.

Regardless of how I try to atone for my sins against these people, those group members who were broken so badly can never be made whole again.

I can’t help Susan “Stacks-on-Stacks-on-Stacks” un-lol all those lols.

I can’t un-irritate Patrick.

I can’t un-confuse Eli.

I can’t un-annoy Doug.

I can’t turn back time to prevent Pam’s ass from twitching.

But the person for whom I feel the most sorrow is Mike, who will suffer the after-effects of that “extra large dose of stupid” for the rest of his life.

No doctor in the world can cure him.

It will afflict him for the rest of his life.

And I will have to live with the fact that it was me who administered the dose — accidental though it was — when I so thoughtlessly trampled over the group members’ most basic of human rights:

The right to a distraction-free social media experience.

But Seriously…

As absurdly funny and surreal as this bizarre chain of events turned out to be, the underlying facts are a little disturbing; in particular, the identities of the trolls themselves:

Profile pictures altered to protect privacy. Trolls are people too.

(NOTE: this is not an all-inclusive representation of the trolls who participated in the conversation on March 17th, 2016; the trolls whose posts were excessively vulgar, profane, or otherwise offensive — or just not that entertaining — have been omitted).

We’re not talking about basement-dwelling teenagers here, I mean, look at the photos!

They’re wearing neckties. They’re holding babies. They have facial hair.

They all appear to be adults, well over 18 years of age, and their profiles represent them as experienced real estate professionals.

So how does a single errant social media post cause a group of professionals to suddenly turn into the naughty kids at the back of the bus?

I know what Mike and the gang would say: They’d respond with something like:

“This is a ‘Real Estate Happy Hour’ group!

This group is for posting pictures of kittens sitting at the closing table, and for memes about the many, many, many ways that Zillow sucks.

This group is here for the thousands of real estate professionals who need an alternative outlet to screaming the F-word into a trashcan at the end of every day.

We say what we want to, when we want to, to whoever we want to say it to!

If you’re going to get all butt-hurt, leave the group, sucka’!”

…and those are all valid points. The Real Estate Happy Hour group is for socializing and for being entertained. No argument there.

But then we must consider the question:

Does a troll simply stop being a troll when the workday begins?

Is it possible for a person to limit their spite-spewing, judgement-waving, shame-throwing to only their personal time?

And, more importantly, when your social media profile is packed with posts and pictures from your professional life, does that even matter?

It certainly doesn’t seem like the trolls involved in this case made much of an effort to draw a line between their personal and work-related social media personas.

Mike’s profile picture is a “BOO-yah” selfie taken in the parking lot outside (presumably) his place of work.

Mike’s profile picture as of March 17th, 2016 — The beard is real.

Doug is posed affectionately in his office with what appear to be two happy clients. You can’t tell, but there are huge smiles on those faces.

Doug’s profile picture as of March 17th, 2016

In Eli’s profile picture, he is about to hit the streets to post doorknob hangers around the neighborhood, advertising his services as a realtor. He is accompanied by his administrative assistant and a plucky young intern.

Eli’s profile picture as of March 17th, 2016

Until recently, Susan’s profile picture was an interior shot* of her real estate brokerage which prominently features the name of her brokerage.

*Fun Fact: This photo is believed to have been taken by Susan “Ka$h MoNEy” herself, during a rare interlude in her daily routine: after counting and stacking her $20’s, but before counting and stacking her $100's.

Susan’s profile picture as of March 17th, 2016 — Not pictured: mad stacks.

NOTE: Shortly after the events of March 17th, 2016 Susan changed her profile picture, opting for a more personal feel. I think it’s a good look.

Susan’s updated profile picture. — Not pictured: flaming piles of cash, just because she can.

Do we see any real semblance of work-life separation here?

Can we believe that the impulses that inspire such ugliness in groups like ‘Real Estate Happy Hour’ are somehow magically bottled up as soon as it’s time put the pen down on the Dharma and Greg fan fiction and get to work?

Personally, I’m inclined to agree with the age-old proverb:

“You can take the troll out ’the basement, but you can’t take the basement out ’the troll.”

If you’re a broker, do you want trolls representing your brand? Do you want them posting in groups packed with other industry professionals, “You’re a moron,” right next to a high-res image of your office storefront?

If you’re a homebuyer or seller, do you want a troll representing your interests in what is probably the highest dollar-value sale you will ever transact?

Are you okay with seeing your realtor’s post, “You make my ass twitch,” sitting right next to a post about the home you’ve hired her to sell? Right next to a photo of your front porch, bearing your home address?

If you’re serious about being taken seriously, the serious answer must be an emphatic “NO!”

The trolls will exclaim:

“Oh, but we posted those things in a personal, non-work group that has ‘Happy Hour’ in the title! That means we can say whatever we want to each other!”

Rubbish.

We all know that nothing in social media remains confined to its origins for long, even if it does start out in a “closed” group. That little “share” button is all it takes for your post to hop the digital fence, drop trou, and streak in naked splendor across the entire internet, for all to see.

And when your profile description, cover photo, and profile picture prominently feature your workplace and/or job title, you can expect exactly zero degrees of personal-professional separation.

Social media is brutally honest. It devours liars and frauds by the handful.

The Duplicitous are its Salade Nicoise.

The Disingenuous are its Boeuf Bourguignon.

The Dishonest are its chocolate fondant, and The Two-Faced are its vanilla ice cream.*

*Petty little trolls are its dark chocolate sprinkles

If you’re a troll lurking among us, you can take this to the bank:

…sooner or later…

You will be exposed!

It’s simply…

…a matter…

…of time.

Also, in the unlikely event that you were still unsure, let me be clear: I don’t view my ejection from this self-professed “SUPER AWESOME FUN COOL Group” as a huge loss.

Quite the opposite, in fact.

Indeed, the only thing I have “lost” is the company of Mike, Susan, Doug, Pam, Eli, Shane, and their buddies, which is actually a net gain in terms of the people I want to have in my professional circles.

But you know what, it’s also possible that I’m completely wrong, and they might all be perfectly lovely people. They made a snap judgment about me based on my careless mistake. Similarly, their collective nastiness in a 17 minute time frame is the only data I have with which to form my opinion of their character.

Me and everyone else who saw the conversation, that is.

And that of course is the rub.

The catch.

The icky-sticky bit.

That’s the real and lasting consequence of trolling when your online persona is tied in so closely with your profession:

Once you put it out there, with your face and your name — your whole professional identity behind it…

…there’s just no way to take it back.

Farewell, Real Estate Happy Hour. Though you were by no means “SUPER AWESOME” or “SUPER COOL,”

… you did oddly turn out to be “SUPER FUN.”

The Takeaway

I hope that, as you read through this tale, two things happened:

1). I hope you had a good chuckle

2). I hope I successfully conveyed the following:

  • Post with care and kindness, be just a little slower to judge, and show each other a weeeee bit more patience and understanding.
  • Most importantly, make the conscious choice to work exclusively with professionals who do the same, on and off the clock.

Do these simple things, and cyberspace will be a much lovelier place.

And — for the love of Gargamel — if your livelihood is connected in any way to your social media account,

…KEEP YOUR POSTS PROFESSIONAL!

Because nobody wants to work with a troll.

Redemption

Trolls, listen up:

Switch off your iPhone, tablet(s), and/or blackberry.

Set your out-of-office email reply and record a new voicemail greeting informing callers that you will be away from your desk indefinitely.

Hang up your jacket, tie, starched shirt and/or pantsuit.

Because it’s back to the basement with you — at least for now. You’re not ready for the outside world yet.

Your rehabilitation begins now.

Treat this time below ground seriously; this should be laser-focused “you-time,” during which you bombard your brain with positive inputs and activities.

  • Listen to “Happy” by Pharrell Williams, on repeat for several days.
  • Watch YouTube videos of people being nice to each other to learn kindness.
  • Balance a hotdog* on your nose to exercise patience and restraint.

*(Susan “Pacman Jones”: Your preference may be to balance a stack of cash instead. This is acceptable).

Then, when you think you’re ready, go revisit your favorite online real estate forum. Find the most blatantly ignorant comment you can. Read it, then totally ignore it. Close your browser and walk away.

Well done.

Now, practice, practice, practice.

Assume this posture of “non-engagement” for at least six hours each day for an entire week. Find and read posts that you feel are “stupid”* without responding to them.

*(Mike: Given the “extra large dose” you’ve already suffered, it may be necessary for you to find and read posts that contain an extra-extra-extra-extra-extra large dose of stupid for this exercise to be effective).

Eventually you will come to this realization:

“Yes! I can read something online that I disagree with — even dislike — without commenting or getting involved, because … it actually… has… NOTHING TO DO WITH ME!!!”

It will feel like a gold brick, wrapped in bacon, strapped to a lightning bolt has just struck your brain’s pleasure center, pulverizing the ever-lovin’ crap out of your crusty old negative attitude, and blasting your consciousness wide open.

And as you stagger up the stairs from Nana’s basement — this time for the last time — squinting in the sunlight, rehabilitated, new-and-improved, re-made

don’t you even think about thanking me.

The knowledge that there is one less vociferous troll out there prowling the web is all the thanks I require.

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