The art of trolling

Sometimes you can say more with humor than with a polished speech or marketing spot.

Why it matters: Consumer brands, public figures and even state governments and federal agencies have embraced the riskiest communication tool of them all … trolling.

  • But, like any form of communication, the message must be authentic, innovative, informative — and sometimes self-deprecating — to truly stick.

Be smart: Online trolling dates to the start of the internet the term was first used to describe annoying posts that would flood discussion boards and hijack the conversation.

  • In the 2000s, trolling became more intentional and mainstream through the use of memes and social media, and by 2012, “Brand Twitter” became a thing as Taco Bell and Old Spiceprominently duked it out.
  • Now, it’s common practice for social media accounts to troll their competitors, public figures and even the general public.

Yes, but: There’s a fine line between clever and cringey. To walk that line you must be authentic, says communication strategist Lis Smith.

  • Smith, author of the new book, “Any Given Tuesday: A Political Love Story,” says consumers can smell phoniness. However, social media — if used in an original, engaging way — can be an effective tool for breaking through the fractured media landscape.
  • “To be successful online, you don’t need to understand every one of the latest memes or the lingo of Gen Z,” Smith told Axios. “You just have to be smart, authentic and be willing to have a little bit of fun with it. That’s what people respond to.”
  • For example, unlike Elon Musk, “it would be extremely off-brand for Bill Gates to be s**t-posting on Twitter.”

The bottom line: Trolling is risky, but if done right, it can be an effective communication tool to humanize your brand and differentiate yourself from competitors.

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