So why do serial complainers lose credibility on and offline?
We all know these people, the kvetch or worse, the troll, the person that always brings a storm cloud whenever they discuss an issue.
Publicly everyone listens, privately they get dismissed on the back channel as a hater or worse. Eventually, people stop listening all together.
The title alone is the answer, specifically, repeat complaining.
In social communities the consistent malcontent becomes the equivalent of the boy who cried wolf. In fact, if the malcontent goes so far as to hurt others, they breed a form of reciprocity that no one really wants to see, vengeance.
A German study from the Institute for the Study of Labor shows that negative acts create a similar responsive reciprocity, a willingness to harm those who previously acted against the surveyed individual.
Sometimes this takes the form of shunning and a cold shoulder, other times direct responses, specifically, negative commenting, blog posts or outright hostile acts.
But the larger effect on readership and community cannot be underestimated. Consider how negativity impacts political campaigns. It actually demobilizes constituencies, causing them to turn away from the polls.
A parallel to online communities can be drawn. While consistent negativity may rally people with the same ideology (think clique), it actually turns away those who are more casual readers, those who are less zealous.
An interesting theory. As a a gambling man, I’d put money that if studied, the theory holds water.
Writers and community managers that want to foster long-term interest need to weigh their words.
It’s not that we should turn away from tough discussions. Believe in a cause or a fight? Then by all means pick up the mantle.
But pick your battles, too. Find ways to discuss the same issue in a more balanced manner.
If every conversation focuses on the negative, if every debate is a criticism, if every communication taxes the general good will and equity you’ve built up, then expect to find yourself in a downward spiral.
What do you think? Does serial negativity hurt community and reader interest?