What's a brand to do when nothing dissuades trolls?

Lessons from the Harambe saga.

Due to morbid curiosity, I occasionally find myself checking the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden’s Twitter page just to see if it is still being cyberbullied over the death of Harambe the gorilla. And, yes, one year after the gorilla was shot and killed by zookeepers after a boy fell into his enclosure, internet trolls continue their attacks.

Social media stalkers liken just about every post to the death of Harambe. Take a recent tweet from the zoo: "Celebrating the #ZooGarden! 30yrs ago, ‘Cincinnati Zoological Garden’ changed to ‘Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden.’"

One response: "@CincinnatiZoo Harambe was an avid gardener. He had the greenest thumb of all #ripharambe"; another wrote: "@CincinnatiZoo you changed ‘Harambe’ to ‘Dead Harambe.’"

The zoo tried to make this go away last August, when it stepped away from Twitter for two months — an overreaction that would breed negative consequences, experts told PRWeek at the time.

When the zoo returned to Twitter, the harassment continued and it never stopped.

Now it looks as if the zoo — and whatever poor soul who handles its social media accounts — is just ignoring it.

The scary part: This could happen to anyone. It’s hard to keep up with trolls in their many forms, from random users to the president.

And they can come out of nowhere. In March, Facebook user Bradley Reid Byrd wrote in a post to Cracker Barrel, "Why did you fire my wife?" His question has since become a meme. Every Cracker Barrel post is met with questions about "Brad’s wife," and
#JusticeForBradsWife has been created. Cracker Barrel has been silent on the issue.

Brands should deal with cyberbullies on a case-by-case basis. Sometimes responding can help, while other times it can make it much worse.

Brands might consider bringing in advocates to essentially troll the trolls right back. Social media managers can also get in touch preemptively with teams at Twitter and Facebook who can help them devise a strategy for handling troublemakers.

One thing is for sure: Every company should have a blueprint for responding to trolls to ensure it doesn’t become the next Cincinnati Zoo.

Diana Bradley is a senior reporter at PRWeek.

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