(or the Anatomy of an Online Engagement That Went Pear-Shaped)
I spend A LOT of my professional and personal time online. I tweet, Facebook, write blog posts and comment on blog posts. I love it… and for the majority of the time, I have a blast engaging, networking, exploring, collaborating, educating and being educated through online platforms. There’s a catch though. Sometimes you can find yourself engaging in discussions that have nothing to do with your online strategic outcomes. Sometimes in the online space, people take liberties they wouldn’t take if they were talking with you face to face (or even over the phone). This isn’t a new topic… many before me (and no doubt after me) will write about online etiquette… and readers of this blog are savvy, classy and most importantly respectful. So this isn’t a post about such etiquette. Rather, this post is about what happens when you are at the effect of an online trouble maker (also known as an online troll)… and the lessons I recently learned in dealing with just this situation. By way of background, an anonymous commenter on my Alito blog left what I interpreted as inflammatory comments. After due consideration, I decided to delete the comments.
That was mistake (and learning) number 1.
In this case, the commenter escalated his comments, asking why I invalidated the comments by deleting them. So I answered… and copied and pasted the original comments in full back into the blog.
That was possibly mistake (and learning) number 2.
In my answer, I also engaged with this anonymous commenter, attempting to answer his concerns/questions/challenges. Given his challenges were regarding my professional expertise, this was certainly mistake number 3. Because here I was having an argument, defending myself, with a faceless, nameless, anonymous commenter. I engaged because I value robust discussion… and given the commenter’s persistence and assertion that he was reading my blog as a potential client. This engagement was a mistake because it was very easy for me to get just as inflammatory in my responses with someone who was anonymous – after all, I couldn’t visualise the person who may have feelings or sensibilities. I was responding to these comments from a position of wanting to defend my reputation… not a clean intention of discussion. My further mistake was inviting further anonymous comments from this contributor. It meant the conversation has continued (with one other contributor adding their thoughts to the conversation) to more than 21 comments… 21 comments of argument, not discussion, about the original video post.
My takeaway learnings … that I wish to share:
- If you blog to raise your business profile – establish a code of conduct for your blog that commenters need to abide by. If they don’t, then there is a clear cause for deleting offending comments and not engaging. A Code of Conduct also gives you a clear guide for your own use when the stakes are high and judgement can be clouded.
- Regardless of your own desire to be professional and to deliver strong customer service, remember your own blog is just that – your own. As such, you choose who you engage with and how.
- Be less willing to fight. This commenter used my own phrases, like ‘robust conversation’ as bait to lure me into an online battle. The world of online opinion is just that – opinion. I don’t have to convince anyone of mine… and nor do I need to defend mine. I can just be OK with other people having, and even stating, different opinions… even on my own blog :-)
- Be clear on the purpose of your blog. Mine is to share my ideas, my opinions and ‘speak’ with those who are interested in what I have to say. Of course, it is also to build my profile and to encourage people who like my approach to engage my services. It is NOT to convince people who don’t like what I do that they should engage my services.
Read point 4 again. For me… this has been a MASSIVE turning point.
The purpose of my blog is not to convince people who don’t like what I do that they should engage my services.
My blog is about expressing me, my approach, and what I can do for my clients. That approach, my personality, will resonate with some. Great, I hope those people stick around.
It won’t resonate with others. That’s ok. There’s other blogs that will.
Please don’t invest any time visiting the Alito blog post in question… chance are, by the time you’re reading this, I will have removed all comments anyway… it has left a bad taste in my mouth that I don’t want contaminating the good stuff that I think my blog is. But I would love to hear your thoughts. What are your ‘rules of engagement’ in the online space? Particularly for your own blog? Do you insist commenters on your own blog reveal their name, for example? And how do you ‘withdraw’ from an engagement that goes ‘pear-shaped’?