For a long time, I’ve somewhat denied the ugly side of social media. Using social media has done a lot for me personally and professionally. Professionally I’ve made great contacts to people I never thought I’d meet, online or off. I’ve learned a lot from many of the experts and not so experts in my field and others that related to what I do. Personally I’ve made friends locally and further afield and again, I’ve learned a lot about life and many other things.
I saw social media as being an important part of an online marketing plan and one that I recommended to clients and just about everyone I met. Social media marketing for business became a product that I sold – implementation and training – as did many in the industry — some as experienced as me, some maybe more so and many less so. There is a negative undercurrent about the rise of the vast number of ‘social media experts’ and I would be one that was a bit critical of those with little experience (gave a talk last year ‘How (NOT) to be a social media expert’), but in time saw that like me most of these people are trying to share a skill that they found valuable to them; whether their intentions were to be helpful, build popularity or to make a living. We’ve all got to make a living, right?!
The rise of the ‘social media expert’ popped up out of a demand from people who want to learn how to use social media for their businesses. It may come naturally to some, but many others are looking for assistance, whether it be training, coaching or a good article on the topic. There are posts and posts, webinars, books, online courses, offline workshops, etc. by individuals, accredited institutions and government backed organisations. As so many people seem to be struggling with actually getting results from all the time put into using social media, I focus on putting together a plan so that you will use social media to get better results of your business.
In social media, as in most aspects of business, you’ve got to take the good with the bad – controlling the bad as much as possible. Many people are hesitant to get involved in social media because they feel exposed – exposed to criticism, personal attacks, etc. It does happen but not as often as you may fear, as long as your business is not doing anything that may merit an excessive amount of criticism and personal attacks. Like email spam, the more ‘popular’ you are (the more followers, posts, etc.) the more likely you are to get ‘an attack’. I advise my clients to weigh up the pros & cons of replying to negative posts. It’s good to reply if you can clear up a misconception, as is common place online without face to face communication. It’s best not to be emotional but interact to clear up the issue or misunderstand and move on. If the post is mean or an obvious attempt to start a heated debate it’s probably best to avoid an interaction.
The real point of this post is to expose myself as someone who doesn’t follow my own advice. When I get criticism or someone tries to pull me into a heated debate I get very emotional. Maybe it’s because it doesn’t happen too often. Maybe its because I’m a girl. Maybe because it’s against my naive feeling that if you ‘do the right thing’, everything will be alright and you avoid conflict. So maybe we can all learn from a recent experience:
I was asked to be a regular contributor for Search Engine Journal a few years ago. I was very honoured as I felt it was a great blog and well respected in my industry. I struggled to find time to write these posts with all the other work I had, but I worked hard to do quality articles when I could. Most of the topics I covered came from questions that I’d get asked over and over by clients and others I’d talk about online marketing with. One month I wrote How to Get Twitter Followers. It turned out to be the most popular article I’ve written. Search Engine Journal has a lot of subscribers. The posts are fed into a lot of other sites and tweeted to a good number of followers who then retweet like mad. Some people may not like that idea but it gets an article out to readers who are interested in the topic. Due to the popularity of SEJ and it’s good Google PageRank and my optimising of the article it comes up top or very high for a very popular phrase. I was so pleased when an online marketer in Mexico translated the article into Spanish for his blog.
To be completely immodest, the article isn’t just done well technically, but the content is good. It’s a topic that people want to read about. It contains information on why you need to balance quality and quantity. It contains information about ‘black hat’ techniques to avoid so you don’t get into trouble with your social media channels or just annoy people. In the 11 months since the post was published, on average I get one reply on Twitter each day thanking me for the article and saying how great it is. That makes me feel good. I love seeing where in the world the comment comes from and what type of business the person is in. Sometimes I retweet those because I want to share this with my ‘friends’ – share my joy, share my article and introduce them to this wonderful person that took his time to thank me. I retweet other people’s articles a lot so, though it is a little out of my own ‘humble’ comfort zone, I thought, “Why not share my own?”
Now the ugly part, suddenly one of my ‘friends’ decides to take issue with my article and sends a kind of RT with a negative comment, then another common ‘friend’ decides to retweet with his own comment. Why did this hit me so hard?
- These were people I had actually met and are fairly local to me. In all these years very few of my local online marketing community have supported my posts with retweets, while I’ve had great support by others in the industry outside this ‘circle’ — and now this? I think some of this stemmed from that fact that I joked with the first person that he had just reached 40,000 posts – I love celebrating something like that myself – and now see that he didn’t take it as a joke and marked me as someone obsessed with numbers.
- Each has a large following so a negative comment could go a long way.
- I thought that the comment was unfair and taken out of the context of the article — making it seem that I was saying that numbers are important. The article starts off saying you need to balance quality and quantity and shows how to get relevant followers as opposed to just building numbers “…you need to balance out your activities to get numbers versus activities aimed at gaining specific followers in your target market…”
- One of the comments focused on the ‘black hat techniques’ while it’s clear in my article that these are things to watch out for and not to do: “You will come across these methods as you go along and it’s important that you know how to spot techniques that may bring you more trouble than benefits.”
- The microscope I held on others was being pointed at me.
- My upbringing trained me that ‘pride goeth before a fall’. I had retweeted something good about me, so of course something bad was going to happen!
- I was sick and tired – literally and figuratively. I had kids in and out of school for what seemed like months of juggling work and family; and that day I pulled a muscle in my back and was in severe pain, but as I was very busy had to prop myself up and get work done. Yes, poor me, I know.
I decided that after saying ‘Did you actually read the article?” and they persisted, that there was no point in continuing with the debate. As this wasn’t a debate. It was an attack. I felt that my article speaks for itself and I am still proud of it and still get thank yous and retweets every day and know that it’s helping people – the kind of people I really want to reach on Twitter.
And then I cried and I replied that I cried. The replies back were 1) asking if I was serious and 2) more abuse to the effect that I was using crying as a cheap technique in the debate and why was I so bothered as it was just a comment. Nice. It helped that a few other people that I respect sent direct messages and even rang in support and helped me see more clearly that I shouldn’t take this personally.
The funny thing is that I don’t think about my numbers that much. As someone who is a ‘tweeter for hire’ – live tweeting for events and for clients, etc. – the numbers are important, but I’ve been lucky to organically get okay numbers. They aren’t as massive as some that do a lot of speaking, training groups and get high profile press coverage. I get followers because of those SEJ articles and because there are a lot of people in my industry that search and find people like me. I also get followers because I interact and reach out and help others in a positive way.
In my first couple of years using social media, I’d be one of those taking the high road and commenting on how others use social media — and online marketing in general. I wouldn’t be quite so direct and nasty — and I’d make sure that I was accurate. If I found later that I was wrong I’d go back and correct my statement and apologise if needed. In the past few months a few events have made me less judgemental of others:
- A serious incident happened with a client that generated a lot of press and comments online. Many of the comments were false. It was painful to see because I knew that if the client had to close down because of it many good people would lose their jobs. I thought I always made sure I didn’t spread rumours in social media, or would state that it was something that wasn’t verified (probably not good enough, really) but would steer away from anything that could cost jobs or cause other similar harm.
- I am no longer actively seeking social media clients, so there’s less competition to think about and more support I can give without worrying about the impact on selling my business.
- I’ve come to terms with the fact that I shouldn’t be picking and choosing who to be compassionate with and even masked snide comments can be hurtful to someone’s feelings and possibly to their career.
- In getting criticism that is unfair I see how I have unfairly judged others. You only see a small part of a person’s activities and you can’t see completely into their lives, so it’s not fair to judge on a small amount of information. AND, you always have the option to not read that persons’ posts. If they are so in your face you can filter/block them if it’s really needed.
No single user or group of users OWNS the internet or most social media channels. Besides each channels’ own terms and conditions, it’s up to you to decide what techniques and strategies you want to use, just as it is you that will benefit or lose out from the actions you choose to take. I am passionate about social media and like to post without worrying about negative comments that may come. If I let that effect my posts I won’t enjoy it that much and don’t think I’ll be as helpful to others as much — and that is important to me.
So I must admit that there’s an ugly side to Social Media, as there is an ugly side to all parts of life – business and personal. As important as knowing how to handle taking it, is knowing if you really want to be the sort of person that ‘dishes it out’?