I’ve spoken before about being threatened with a social media attack and how very scary such a threat can be. Today I’d like to talk about something equally as stressful: receiving seriously distasteful criticism from someone, whether it be a colleague, competitor, unhappy customer or anyone else. I’m not just talking about negative criticism here. I’m talking about those comments that borderline between negative and unacceptable. The grey area that weighs on our strength of self and is difficult to know what actions to take: to reply or not to reply; to delete or not to delete.
I found myself in just this situation when I posted a blog post with a typo in it last week. (a stupid mistake, I know!) This typo seemed to have majorly offended a certain individual, let’s call him Peter Smith, who felt the necessity to write (and rewrite and then write some more) the following comment to me on Linkedin:
“[…] It’s shoddy work like yours that devalues the quality offered by the rest of us. No doubt, you don’t charge a great deal either, but find that you have a group of clients who will put up with your woeful lack of attention to detail. They will then complain that they can get it done cheaper when someone who actually bothers to proof-read, gives them a quote that reflects the quality of their work.
As for the number of articles you write? As a magazine journalist I used to write around four or five articles a day (do the math), and my butt would get well and truly kicked out of the office if I produced such badly punctuated and spelled work as yours.
Maybe you should grab a copy of Webster’s for bedtime reading.”
Now though there is no actual truth pertaining to anything about me professionally within this comment, and although quite rude and unnecessary, this comment does not fall into the category of “unacceptable”. It was his personal opinion and his right to free speech. So what should you do when you find yourself or your brand attacked in such a classless way online, for the world to see?
The first thing to realize is that the Peter Smiths of the world are the types of people who are relentlessly negative and aim to discredit and belittle others because it makes themselves feel good. Another thing about these types of people is that they enjoy this type of online bullying so much that they will, with pleasure, waste countless hours taking jabs at you.
So what should you do, how should you deal with these types of people?
The best way is to:
Step 1: Look them up. Find out who they are and what they do. Perhaps they’re decent people having a bad day and whatever you did was just the straw that broke the camel’s back. But then again, perhaps not. If you’re unsure, attempt to apologize or take the approach of “aiming to build a relationship” and do what you feel is right in the name of that strategy. However, if it’s a true Peter Smith, this will only come back and bite you (note: the comment above came after my attempt at apologizing for my lame typo).
Step 2: If step 1 is the case, walk away and don’t let it get to you. Like I said, these types of people, or rather trolls, are relentless and they are NOT worth your time or energy. If you feel the need, you may delete the comment(s) and then move on. But note: with the amount of time on their hands, these types of trolls will go looking for the comment, realize that it was deleted and have even more to say (again, this was the case with my particular Peter Smith). If this happens, remember that they remain to not be worth your time or energy. Continue to walk away. Focus on the countless readers, fans, followers and clients that value what you provide them with. They are the only ones worth your time and energy.
Step 3: Learn your lesson. There’s a lesson to be learnt with each experience – positive and negative. Take some time to reflect and learn the lessons presented to you so as not to repeat them. The lesson for me in this particular case was not to write and publish blog posts with tired eyes and under time restraints. The repercussions of something as small as a lame typo are not worth it!
So when you find yourself caught within this grey zone of negativity, remember the characteristics of the Peter Smiths of the world, remember your own company or organization’s true values and don’t feel the need to have the last word because you won’t and it risks hurting your own reputation.
UPDATE: Tom Liacas, of socialdisruptions.com (a blog that I thoroughly enjoy, by the way!), sent me the following comment after reading this post, and I thought “what a great idea!” and wanted to share it with all of you. Tom wrote:
“Managing debates on controversial issues, our CMs have faced legions of trolls over the last 2 years… One tactic that we found effective for deterring truly offensive or aggressive material was to keep an online gallery of screenshots featuring banned comments and posts blurring out the authors’ profiles. When people accused us of censorship, which trolls invariably did, we would invite them to view the gallery to show what kind of stuff was dropped from the page. Trolls are shamed when their vitriol is framed and held up for others to see.”
So the moral of the story: get creative rather than succumb to their uncalled for negativity!
Author of Crisis Ready: Building an Invincible Brand in an Uncertain World, Melissa Agnes is a leading authority on crisis preparedness, reputation management, and brand protection. Agnes is a coveted keynote speaker, commentator, and advisor to some of today’s leading organizations faced with the greatest risks. Learn more about Melissa and her work here.