Slights and Chalkboards

Image by rebekaburgess

A colleague has been struggling with some negative talk on the back channel and asked me how I deal with it. When someone slights me, I use that resentment to drive me further, finish hard projects, go the extra mile, and get up when I fail.

This is the famous chalkboard moment. Sports teams often use slights and trash talk to go out and hand it to the opposition.

Michael Jordan admitted a similar fueling approach when he was inducted into the Hall of Fame. Jordan was criticized (justly), probably because he said he did it to prove all of his critics wrong. He also revealed several resentments toward players that were in attendance.

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What Kind of Bystander Are You Going to Be?


The following is a guest post by my former colleague Andrea Weckerle, the founder of CiviliNation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to fighting online hostility and character assassination. Her book Civility in the Digital Age: How Companies and People Can Triumph over Haters, Trolls, Bullies, and Other Jerks was released in February.

Every single day we see example after example of online attacks against individuals and organizations. It’s as though people have forgotten, or possible never even learned, the art of disagreeing with another’s position or point of view without devolving into personal or reputational attacks against the other side as a means of expressing their displeasure.

What’s interesting is that when we think about online attacks, we often focus exclusively on who the people or companies in dispute are. Identifying the public-facing attacker and the visible target or victim is relatively easy, whereas we tend to overlook the behind-the-scenes or hidden disputants who are represented by the visible ones.

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Amazon on Negative Comments: Disregard 5%

Dana (My sister)
Image by Spi-V

In its Holiday Marketing Best Practices Guide, Amazon coaches online merchants to disregard negative comments until they reach a ratio of 5% of all comments:

“Most sellers will eventually receive some negative feedback. When it happens to you, put it in perspective: a 0-2% negative feedback rate is great! If your negative feedback rate is greater than 5%, review your business practices to correct any operational problems that might affect a buyer’s experience.”

Amazon has had its fair share of customer service issues over the years. But I agree with the online retailer’s guidance in principle, and use a similar barometer in coaching clients about negative commenting.
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The Fallacy of a Strong Defense

“The lady doth protest too much, me thinks.” Hamlet, Act III, scene II

Defensive Dice
Image by M Hillier

When you engage in questionable acts, sometimes you or your organization have to set the facts straight to protect brand reputation. Many individuals and some brands tend to want to over-defend themselves. Instead of removing the tarnish, strong defenses can do the opposite, keeping an issue alive, and in most cases suggest a complicit nature in the brands’ actions.

Questionable is defined as when the community starts publicly doubting your approach or acts. Note this is the public’s perception, not when you think you are right.

A recent example is the White House protest of Standard & Poor’s well broadcasted credit rating downgrade. The Obama Administration looked powerless, and again at fault for not successfully leading the country into a better and less contentious resolution of the debt ceiling. The sudden and ensuing Justice Department investigation into Standard & Poor’s 2008 mortgage actions also looks like a smeer job (Why not all three credit agencies?).

The right thing to do would have been to follow standard reputation management protocols, and issue the White House’s differing opinions with the $2 trillion error clearly pointed out, and leave it at that. The White House would have been well served to simply acknowledge the political issues at play. While Obama has publicized the political divide in recent weeks, it has been in a negative attacking manner. The overarching series of reactions have in turn validated Standard & Poor’s criticsm.

Defending Personal Reputation

Cullen Burnett, 14, of Culpeper (left) and Master Deputy Chad McKnight, (right) practice defensive tactics. Sgt. Owen Bullard, who leads a team of school resource officers for the Sheriff’s Office, looks on (center).
Image by Culpepper County Sheriff’s Office

While brands make this mistake, more often it is the terrain of individuals who take personal issue with criticism. We see this everyday in the blogosphere, but because well known bloggers are prone to drama when criticized, let’s use some celebrity examples.

Mel Gibson is the classic example of the questionable person who over defends himself. His angry tirades on public TV and in embarrassing off-air recordings don’t counter the behavior in his alcohol related arrests (and incidents of fascism), rather they signal complicity and confirm characterizations!

Instead say you’re sorry, change, make some amends and let it go. Or simply acknowledge the mistake and move on. Or disagree about characterizations in a public statement, and move on. Any of these would be better than the strong retaliations Gibson has made. He is now unbookable by most accounts in Hollywood.

Conversely, when Michelle Bachman was dubbed the Queen of Rage in a cover story on Newsweek, she completely ignored the story. Many Tea Party loyalists came to her defense, and Bachman sidestepped character issues by simply refusing to acknowledge the criticism, in turn making it look like an attack. It is doubtful that the Newsweek cover changed many people’s minds about Bachman (but it may have sold a few magazines).

The Newsweek article is analogous to a troll. Most critics are not trolls, rather they have strong differing beliefs, and as such they should not be ignored even if they will never agree with you. Just as President Obama has to acknowledge Tea Party criticism, it is wise to address issues raised by the opposition.

Just like engagement with a negative commenter, state the facts, and if you believe you are in the right, simply let your statement and actions represent you. In marketing a brand, an overtly strong defense can signal complicity. Address questions, be right, be confident, and move on.

What do you think of strong defenses in questionable matters?

Attack of the Fried Chicken Freaks


Sitting on a panel about public failure this past week, the conversation revolved around negative comments and how to handle them online (Image by After five years on the internet as an opinionated blogger, I’ve learned a thing or two about negative attacks, comments and behavior from online communities. Heck, I’ve even been lambasted by friends for pointing out that fried chicken causes obesity, which in turn has been scientifically linked to breast cancer.

So what do you do when the fried chicken freaks attack in defense of their beloved fattening dish? This was laughable so I will use it as an example. Often, I don’t find the more malicious attacks to be humorous, though. And I will discuss those in a general fashion.

There are aspects of online confrontations that require reputation management, but there’s also an element of personal survival, too. It’s important to remember you’re the only one who has to live with yourself, and validation through others or the popular crowd does not necessarily equate to living in one’s skin.

Discussing Negative Criticism

It’s important to engage your critics directly. In fact, in my opinion, this is why BP’s social media during the Deep Horizon crisis has failed (see NPR story). You can’t run away from public criticism by simply delivering messages. When the fried chicken thing hit two weeks ago, I discussed this with my critic Jason Falls, and then his many fans, on Twitter.

When you find a conclusion — either agreed upon or in this case disagreement — end the conversation amiably. Meaning, don’t get into heated debates. I was not going to sway Jason and his friends, and the conversation was not worth a real throw-down discussion. So I took my licks and was quiet.

Public Attacks

Unfortunately, people will say things to you online that they would never say to your face. When someone attacks me online either publicly or on one of my social media properties and it revolves around an issue, I publicly address it. Usually, the person’s rhetorical tone drops.

If the rhetoric continues, I call out the personal attack. There’s no need to get personal, so bring it back to the issue. If the nastiness ensues, I consider the person a troll (even for one bad day) and disengage. If it’s on my social media properties, I give them a final warning, and then if it continues, they are escorted to the virtual door.

In the case of the nasty pot shot, particularly those that occur in the third person, I usually ignore them. In my opinion, that’s trollish behavior, and reflects on their character.


Sunset Silhouette Waikiki Beach

Our culture and its events breed egos and gossip like water encourages bacteria. Sometimes gossip comes back to you, and it’s mean-spirited, cruel and frankly, just flat out wrong. When a vicious untrue rumor hits, unless it has become public, turn the other cheek.

Ultimately, on a personal level it’s none of your business, and has much more to do with the gossiper’s character than you. It’s important to tell your source your perception of the facts, thank them for making you aware of the rumor, but also to ask them not to bring it up again. Why should you suffer at the hands of someone else’s tongue?

Factual Rumors

There’s gossip and then there are rumors based in fact. If the rumor is even somewhat true, well then, I suggest owning the factual wrong — either privately or publicly — as a reputation management precursor. But not only that, don’t just say you’re sorry, correct the wrong, address it so you can honestly say that it won’t happen again.

An effective apology means something. An empty one doesn’t. I remember in one case of really poor behavior, someone acknowledged general wrong doing, but said they saw no value in looking at the past. The outcome was not positive.


Anyone who tells you this stuff doesn’t hurt is lying, in my opinion. It hurts a lot sometimes. Sometimes there’s so much negativity, or it hits me in just the right place, I want to die inside. I want to fight back (two a-holes don’t make a situation better), or worse, I just want to tear down my online profiles and never come back. I feel beaten down.

But I’ve learned that none of these reactions help the situation. The internet just accelerates normal brick and mortar life, and no matter what, I will encounter the same situations again later on.

What’s important is having compassion for one’s self, and doing what’s necessary to privately heal. Then come back. In the interim, remain professional and as even-keeled as possible, and if there’s nothing to add positively to the situation, quiet silence is an appropriate reaction.

In the end, people are beautiful. When we navigate these difficulties and continue to bring compassion to bear online and in our real lives, the end result is a better world. In life you fall down and get scars. But you do get back up and the pain fades quickly. So smile and be grateful for all of the positive things in your life. The sun still shines.

The El Show Episode #2: Trolls and More!

Warning: There’s significant profanity in this podcast.

Richard Laermer and I hosted our second show today. The El Show (follow us on Twitter) was a wee bit outrageous today, focusing on:


  1. Loren Feldman and his Puppets
  2. Michael Arrington and his Libel Suit
  3. Amanda Chapel – Hottie bombalody troll
  4. Us as Trolls

Mass markets without newspapers

Scoble’s mass unfollowing

Socializing content – It doesn’t mean anything.  Now it means get slimed! Nothing social about it

GI Joe

Download and/or listen to the El Show today.