“Engage!” – and why trolls and flamers matter

Well, April Fool’s Day was another birthday – and thanks to my wonderful wife and brother, a chance to catch up on some new books I’ve wanted to read.

First up: “Engage! The Complete Guide for Brands and Businesses to Build, Culivate and Measure Success in the New Web,” by Brian Solis.

I love a book where there’s not only graphics, but the kerning (space between lines) is tight, as if he has so much to share, he can’t afford to waste a page on too much white space.

In the world where books feel sort of … old (have you ever sorted books, on any topic, by publisher date at Amazon? Books are being sold that don’t publish until 2011! Makes you realize how ‘old’ many books can be, compared to the Net)- it feels like you’re getting your money’s worth with densely packed pages.

It’s already, just a few pages in, resonating and reinforcing and making the points I try to make a lot.

Consider the headaches, hassles and potential legal woes of negative comments on our Website – or anywhere, for that matter. It seems abuse of anonymity is a constant, and sometimes feels that the bitter negativity overwhelms logical, thoughtful, rational discussion.

But let me type in just a bit from the section: “Conversations Happen With or Without You”:

“Even without your participation, negative commentary already exists. In most cases, you just aren’t encountering it. … ”

“Assuredly, every negative discussion is an opportunity to learn and also to participate in a way that may shift the discussion in a positive direction. If there’s nothing else that we accomplish by paritcipating, we at least acquire the ability to contribute toward a positive public perception.”

“The conversations that don’t kill you only make you stronger. And those negative threats that escalate in social networks will only accelerate without the involvement of inherent stakeholders.”

Bingo. Some, perhaps most of these nasty comments have been said about you, your product, service or brand forever. Big difference is, now you get to hear them, and weigh in on them.

The trick, of course, is not to let the nasties get to you, or make you feel like they are any larger than the small percentage they represent. But they are valuable feedback, if one can get beyond the emotional, defensive reaction. As I’ve said here before, Jim DeChant, our former GM, taught me a valuable lesson: Even the biggest jerk can have a point worth hearing and pondering.

It’s a test of patience and restraint not to fire back with guns blazing – this I know. But the important point is to realize for every flamer, troll – or fan, for that matter – there are hundreds, if not thousands who are not at those extremes, but are watching your conversation – perhaps very closely. You can never nail down the number who will be impressed by your willingness to wade in and offer your personal perspective. But they are out there, and likely more vital than the ones you are responding to.

Some might consider you wasting your time, or worse, for challenging the misperceptions or even lies being bandied about in an online forum. But I believe many more will give you more kudos for making your case, explaining why and how you do things and why.

Another paragraph: “Social media is about speaking with, not ‘at’ people. This means engaging in a way that works in a conversational medium, that is, serving the best interest of both parties, while not demaning any actions or insulting the intelligence of anyone involved.”

Agreed. And remember, the old “Well he started it!” matters as much now as it did in second grade.

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