5 Kinds of Trolls Hiding Under Business Bridges

You could call this post the taxonomy of trolls. I thought there were fairy-tale creatures, ugly and mean, living under a bridge, interfering with innocent travelers. It turns out, though, they’re real. Just like in the three billy goats gruff fairy tale, they are hiding along the way, jumping out to cause trouble.

I like puns and I like the potential double meaning with trolls. First there’s the beast or character of the troll, like in the fairy tale. And then there’s the verb, trolling, which I think of from 50 years ago when my granddad took me fishing. We’d put the baited hook into the water and move the boat slowly, trolling for fish.

I’ve happened upon several kinds of trolls in business. Maybe you’ll recognize some of these. Better yet, maybe you can avoid them on your travels.

  1. Patent trolls. They buy up rights to otherwise useless or abandoned patents and hoard them until they can spring them on unsuspecting businesses. The mere threat of legal action is worth lots of money these days. Do you think it’s coincidence that the vast majority of patent troll lawsuits are filed in a single county in Texas? I don’t. I think that county has developed a symbiotic relationship with patent trolls. Encourage the trolls, get the revenue. The problem is that technology overwhelmed the government so much that the patent system couldn’t keep up with it. A lot of bad patents were issued. They become opportunities to quasi-extort money from innocent companies. These are double trolls: troll creatures (noun) who troll (verb) for opportunities.
  2. Idea trolls. Seth Godin posted Trolls last week, referring to people who “gain perverse pleasure in relentlessly tearing you and your ideas down.” It made me feel better to see that even he – because I so admire his work — gets attacked by trolls. He said:
    1. trolls will always be trolling
    2. critics rarely create
    3. they live in a tiny echo chamber, ignored by everyone except the trolled and the other trolls
    4. professionals (that’s you) get paid to ignore them. It’s part of your job.
  3. Politics-as-business trolls. I don’t mind political opinions, particularly not in blogs, but I do get annoyed by people whose approach is as a small business expert who has dipped their business expert brand into political mudslinging. The right-wingers who object to everything the government does as bad for small business, or the left-wingers who applaud everything the government does as good for small business. I hate the way they hide their politics in business terms.
  4. Social media trolls. Talk about explosive growth—how about the growth in social media trolls. These two are trolls as creatures, but they’re also trolling around, looking for opportunities. Like the people who use Twitter or Facebook as media for selling things to people they don’t know, who haven’t asked; now that we’ve interacted in Twitter, will you tell your company to buy my product? Not to mention the annoying recent development of people selling things by tweeting with my Twitter name “@timberry” with a Web address to go to. I hate to think what some unsuspecting person gets if they go to that link. And it’s not like they’ve interrupted my account or done it as me; they just put my name in the sentence. Bummer.
  5. Trade-show trolls. This is another double-troll situation because these trolls troll the trade shows catching the poor people behind the tables, staffing the booths, making them exposed and unable-to-escape victims of unwanted sales pitches. And the double-troll-trouble gets doubled again –- maybe that’s cubed – because the companies who pay for exhibition space become victims of trolls who didn’t pay for space but troll for sales victims anyhow. My particular favorite (not!) are the ones who want to sell competing goods or services.

(Photo credit: by John Bauer, via Wikipedia)


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  • Kirsten says:

    Seth’s comment that “critics rarely create” amuses me. Our country’s forefathers were critics. Aristotle wrote the Poetics, a typology of literary forms with many specific criticisms of contemporary works of art, in the 4th century BC. Moviegoers heed Ebert and Ropers’s criticism. Clive Barnes and George Steiner critiqued and guided the literary world. Without critics “the masses” might still believe the world was flat. And today every chatty blogger, tweep, and Facebooker is a self-propelled critic.

    Constructive criticism inspires creativity. Critical opinion leaders serve as key informers to consumers.

    Seth needs to get a thicker skin. IMHO, his insecurities probably stem from his being teased relentlessly by popular girls and football heroes during high school. Cry me a river.

    • Tim Berry says:

      Kirsten, thanks, that’s an interesting addition. I’m a fan of Seth Godin’s work, so much so that I wouldn’t have thought of it in that light. You make some good points, definitely adds to the discussion. Thanks, Tim.

  • Which Trolls Are Lurking Under Your Business Bridges? - Business Opportunities Weblog says:

    […] Just like in the fairy tale movies created by Disney, businesses also contain trolls that lurk under your bridges to other business adventures. These trolls can be seemingly harmless provided you don’t fall into their trap. However, if you slip and fall right into their hands, these trolls can prove to be quite detrimental to your business. So what types of trolls are we talking about here? Look below for the most common ones to avoid that I recently read about on Tim Berry’s Bplans.com. […]

  • Gini Dietrich says:

    Tim – THANK YOU for sharing this list! It’s unfortunate there are so many unhappy people out there who gain great pleasure from being trolls. I think social media is bringing more and more trolls to light – they suddenly have a voice and, you’re right, other trolls listen to them.

    This is also very important in the worlds of social media and communication. More and more people ask me all the time, “When do I respond? When do I ignore?” People don’t know how to be engaged, without baiting the trolls. A great discussion to be had around this topic. Thanks for bringing it to light.

  • Strategic Growth Advisors says:

    Insightful post, Tim. I guess this is an innovative way to describe a troll. This will give them something to think about.

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    […] Blog Week in Review — 10/29/09 5 Kinds of Trolls Hiding Under Business Bridges — Trolls aren’t just creepy creatures from fairy tales. As Tim Berry explains, they […]

  • The SmallBusiness.com Blog » links for 2009-10-28 says:

    […] 5 Kinds of Trolls Hiding Under Business Bridges | Tim Berry Just like in the three billy goats gruff fairy tale, there are business trolls hiding along the way, jumping out to cause trouble. (tags: management startup) […]

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