Storybook trolls may be mythical, cave-dwelling creatures, but Internet trolls are real. Their ugliness manifests in the form of online threats, cyber bullying and negative comments; their targeting and harassment know no bounds.

Online trolls are always fairly easy to spot as they stir things up or lash out for no apparent reason. In some cases, these trolls can be handled without drawing too much negative attention to the person or business the trolls have descended upon: just block them.

Regardless of source or reason, negative publicity online for a business is pretty inevitable these days. It’s shocking and warrants a quick reaction, but it’s so crucial to first understand the depth of the information before pulling the trigger too quickly on a rash response that could ultimately end up hurting your business more than the initial negative info.

Defense to adverse content will be much more effective with a planned response, and negative publicity can even lead to a positive outcome if handled properly.

After all, not everyone is a troll.

Create a Proactive Strategy

The most important thing a business can do to protect itself online from any type of negative information is to prepare for it to happen and have specific in-house policies and strategies in place for how to handle these situations. Being proactive is, without a question, the most helpful thing to do to ensure your business doesn’t get attacked, and should it ever, allow the attack to not have such a detrimental impact on business.

It’s not necessarily the content, but more how the issue gets handled that will truly reflect on your business. Always respond quickly, politely and honestly, and suggest resolving the issue in a private dialogue.

If it’s bad content based on an incorrect piece of information, the best way to handle this is to politely state that it’s incorrect, and supported your statement with evidence.

If it’s a mistake on the businesses’ end that caused the negative feedback, take ownership and responsibility of the mistake. If it’s an upset customer, one of the main sources of negative publicity online, offer to fix the mistake and refund the money, then address how the mistake will be prevented from happening in the future. You can turn this angry customer loyal by showing you care about resolving the situation and are committed to making sure it never happens again.

It’s very critical to train your staff and establish specific roles, responsibilities, and instructions for how to handle bad online publicity and respond to certain attacks – especially on social media since it’s so immediate. You are minimizing your businesses’ risk of online attacks if everyone is prepared to handle negative publicity scenarios through informed, conscious decisions.

Build A Strong Reputation

It is much easier to fight negative content if your reputation is already strong. Have a content team that regularly puts out articles on your behalf, establish and maintain social profiles and create local listings to rank for your business online.

The ideal scenario is for negative content to never reach the first page of Google, and even if there is a negative search result, it can be pushed down by creating your own positive content for the business and ensuring it ranks high enough on Google.

A great idea is to get involved with the community and engage your consumers to build brand recognition and create a sense of loyalty among customers. This is especially crucial for smaller, local businesses.

“We’ve got clients who do a lot of community service, and making sure that they’re being recognized for that throughout the community is a key priority, whether that’s coming in the form of a sponsorship or stories,” Uproar PR’s co-founder and partner Catriona Harris said in an article. “This way if a crisis is thrust upon them, their consumers have heard about the company before but in a positive light. They’ll be more forgiving than if they’ve never heard of them before.”

All Negative Content is Not Created Equally

What is the source of the negative content? On which platform can it be found?

A genuinely upset customer leaving an unfavorable review on Yelp requires extremely different action than a Twitter troll who keeps using your business handle in nasty tweets.

The most likely sources of online threats and negative comments against businesses usually come from people who have personally experienced negativity in some capacity, like upset customers, disgruntled employees, unethical competitors or personal enemies.

Bad product/service reviews seem devastating, but you can leverage negative reviews for a positive impact. Negative product or service reviews can show up on sites like Yelp and Tripadvisor that a lot of people count on to get more information before committing to business. but what once seemed like a blow to business could actually end up being beneficial for increasing consumer engagement and building trust with customers.

“Even if you do get negative feedback, you can turn it into a positive by engaging in a constructive way and showing that you’re a genuine business,” Shama Kabani, author of The Zen of Social Media Marketing and CEO of The Marketing Zen Group, said in a Forbes article.

She added: “People are not looking for perfection online. What they’re really looking for is humanity and a genuine response, so a negative review can be a great opportunity to respond in a positive and transparent manner. And that has a good impact on all your customers.”

Employment branding websites like Glassdoor and Indeed can also contain negative info, and these can be anonymous posts from disgruntled current or former employees, which could affect the types of people seeking employment or to conduct possible business. Scam and attack website like Ripoff Report and Pissed Consumer are also something to be aware of, as you want to make sure your business isn’t becoming attached with a fraud label.

Once you have a better understanding of who is attacking and which platform is being used, you can better monitor and handle the situation.

Monitor your business online

Monitoring software can be used to protect your online reputation by consistently checking all websites for negative mentions of your name online.

Social media monitoring keeps tabs on conversations happening about you or your business, and search engine alerts notify you whenever a search engine result pops up with your name or company, or an existing entry has changed. With software, you can track changes as they happen.

Should anything pop up, investigate the content, then proceed with a plan of attack.

Is the poster identified or can you contact the author to rectify the situation? Does the offending site have a process in place to help online defamation victims?

The key to handling negativity online is to be proactive and diligent in monitoring content. Recognize the source of the negative content should anything show up, and keep a level head using clear judgment. Don’t wait and let the negative comments fester online; address the issue immediately and always use positivity and honesty in the responses.

The most beneficial way to handle the reality of adverse content regarding your business online is to accept and embrace it, and handle with care.