The trolls are coming, the trolls are coming - and, if they haven't already, they are about to take your social media, turn it back on you and blast you to high heaven.
Think of them as the Storm Troopers who hunt out easy prey and raze Jakku in the Star Wars epic The Force Awakens. Or the hulking Orcs who obliterate everything in their path in Lord of the Rings. Or the Dementors who suck the life and soul from the good hearted in Harry Potter.
You get the picture. They're nasty.
But it need not be apocalyptic. You can repel them, or in the least mitigate damage by observing five basic tips.
Troll: One who posts a deliberately provocative message to a newsgroup or message board with the intention of causing maximum disruption and argument.
I had a call from a business owner who had suffered a sadly all-too-familiar Attack of the Trolls. I can't reveal details because of business confidentiality, but essentially this entrepreneur had publicly aired a controversial view. Within hours, his comments were shared across social media, the issue became viral and he copped a barrage of criticism.
Traditional media, including radio shock jocks and newspaper columnists pushing their own agendas, were beating down his door. Others, spurred by social media, were literally attacking his small business, vandalising his store. The business's Facebook feed was sabotaged. The man's voice mail was filled with expletive-ridden and, of course, anonymous abuse. And police told the young man they couldn't act on the death threats received. There were just too many.
In today's environment, not all publicity is good publicity.
In the long term, the fame/notoriety brought by national exposure can pay dividends. That said, coping with such a deluge of interest, let alone open warfare, is not for the faint of heart. "It's been really scary," the man told me, between deep breaths.
One thing is certain: whether you're running a small enterprise or a big corporation it pays to to be prepared.
Battling the Trolls is a double-edged sword. On one side is what can happen as I've described above. But, on the other side, social media can be used to build a defence and to neutralise unwarranted attacks.
How? Well, here's five tips to keep the Trolls at bay.
Storm Troopers, Orcs, Dementors or Trolls, don't let them destroy you and everything you've worked so hard to build.
May the Force be with you.
* Blog post: your FREE social media crash protection
Stuart Howie is a Canberra-based communications consultant. He has worked with organisations, private and public, in Australia and New Zealand, helping them to discover, shape and tell their stories. He is the author of The DIY Newsroom, which won Social Media Book of the Year at the Australian Business Book Awards. Stuart has worked in media, publishing and communications for more than 30 years as an executive, editor and strategist.