One second spent on the positive development of our businesses is more effective than one hour spent slagging off our colleagues in public ...
Many of us use a number of social media platforms to engage with the international community of fellow copy-editors and proofreaders. Sometimes we might disagree with each other, which leads to discussion and differences of opinion. All good so far. There's nothing wrong with differences of opinion – it's healthy when other voices show us different ways of looking at things.
Sometimes, though, things can take a nastier turn whereby a person uses social media platforms to try to hurt us. And it's not just that being attacked online is hurtful. There's the additional fear that the aggressor's attacks will damage our reputations. So is it true and how should we defend ourselves?
While I was researching my marketing book, I came across this super article that was written back in 2012 by marketing and small-business commentator Ty Kiisel (@tykiisel). It may not be hot off the press but it’s still relevant to any editorial business owner who engages on social media. You can read it here in full: 4 Tips to Manage Your Online Reputation (published on Forbes, 20 November 2012).
A few points really stood out for me in Kiisel’s article:
Stepping back before hitting back ...
It’s probable that, at one time or another, every one of us has felt that we’ve been treated unfairly, even monstrously, on a social media platform such as Twitter or Facebook. Certainly I’ve been involved in LinkedIn discussions where I’ve wanted to call out someone on their appalling behaviour because I was convinced that if I’d been communicating with them face to face they’d have found some manners. We're not talking about a difference of opinion in these cases. We're talking about people being rude, sarcastic and spiteful.
If you’ve ever been tempted to engage in an online war with someone who’s publicly attacked you, been rude to you, or tried to harm or undermine your professional reputation, then take a few minutes to step back and think about the best response before you hit back. Note that in Kiisel's view the attacker's vicious behaviour is more likely to damage her own business reputation than yours.
Social media engagement is about communication and sharing. When we try to sell ourselves up by knocking others down – by publicly highlighting their apparent weaknesses or mistakes –we make ourselves appear unprofessional and untrustworthy. Given that many customers won’t buy from people or organizations that appear unprofessional or untrustworthy, it’s not a great game plan. It's more likely to turn into a PR disaster zone.
So if you’re being attacked, think of it in Kiisel’s terms:
Online aggressors are boring ...
When I was a kid there was a TV series on the BBC called Why Don’t You? The theme-tune lyric went something on the lines of “... whyyyyy don’t youuuu just switch off your television set and go and do something less boring instead”. That’s what we need to do with social media attackers – just switch them off and go and do something else less boring. Attackers are extremely hurtful, unprofessional, untrustworthy and all the rest of it. But they’re bores, too. They're the most boring bores in the kingdom of boredom [yawn].
When we join in their war and feed their aggression, it quickly becomes boring for the others in our community who are witnessing the fight. If we hit back in public, and it goes on too long, there's a risk that the aggressor won't be the only kid on the block who's making everyone else's eyelids droop. Given the volume of "stuff" that we have to trawl through online, and the limited time we have to do it, we're all interested in getting the best bits and ignoring the rubbish. Switching off the online aggressor means we avoid becoming part of the junk.
How aggressors miss a trick ...
Not only are aggressors boring; they're desperate and creatively limited. They're not using their networking time to its best advantage. I'll share a little example. A lot of the articles on this blog are written late at night so that my blogging doesn't interfere in my family time. I'm a proofreader but I'm also a human being. When I'm tired I make the odd mistake. And, anyway, we all know that perfect self-editing is virtually impossible. That's why we all do the jobs we do. Last week I wrote something late at night and posted it live. I made a typo. It's not that my literacy is poor. It's just that I'm human. Anyway, someone in the international editorial community with whom I'd previously been unconnected sent me a private email to alert me to the typo. I thanked him profusely, amended the error, and then sought out this person on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook so that I could connect with him.
He could have used the opportunity to humiliate me and undermine my reputation in the public arena. He could have left a sarcastic comment on my blog about my howler or posted something on LinkedIn: "Hey, look at that Louise Harnby. Credibility alert or what?!!! She calls herself a proofreader but she makes mistakes on her blog. What's that all about?!" But he didn't. He treated me with respect and recognized my human fallibility. He's the kind of person I want to connect with, share business ideas with, learn from, and engage with. He took 30 seconds of his time to tap me, gently and privately, on the shoulder rather than publicly punching me in the face. His delicate handling of my error led to us connecting. Now my network is bigger and richer. I hope that he feels his is, too. And the typo is gone. It's a win–win.
When the opposite happens, though, there's only one loser: the aggressor. One second spent on the positive development of our businesses is more effective than one hour spent slagging off our colleagues in public.
Turning the aggressor off ...
Perhaps some of you have experienced that really annoying thing children do when they're not interested in what you're saying. They don't even bother to pretend. They just walk away like you're not there; like your voice has failed to make any sound; like your words have no worth or meaning. Like you have no control over them. Without even saying anything they just shut you down. Hmmm ... there's a lesson there.
So the next time someone hurts you online, ignore them. Don’t give them your precious time and your precious space by entering into an unwinnable argument. Instead, just remove them from your online life – unfriend and unfollow them on Facebook; unfollow and block them on Twitter; unlink them on LinkedIn; set up your spam filter so that it junks them when they hit your inbox. Act like they're not there. There are too many fabulous people to connect with, learn from, talk to, engage with, even disagree with, to make energy spent on your online attacker a worthwhile experience.
Let's finish with a quotation attributed to George Bernard Shaw (hat tip to my colleague Beth Hamer for alerting me to this gem): "I learned long ago never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it."
Here's to online engagement without the mud!
Here are a few other interesting articles about the psychology of, and ways to deal with, online bullying, aggression and trolling in the business world.
About Louise Harnby
Louise Harnby is a professional proofreader and the curator of The Proofreader's Parlour. She is the author of Business Planning for Editorial Freelancers and Marketing Your Editing and Proofreading Business. Visit her business website at Louise Harnby | Proofreader, follow her on Twitter at @LouiseHarnby, or find her on LinkedIn.
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I am an Advanced Professional Member of the UK's national editorial society. Visit the SfEP website for more information.
All text on this blog, The Proofreader's Parlour, and on the other pages of this website (unless indicated otherwise) is in copyright © 2011–17 Louise Harnby. Please do not copy or reproduce any of the content, in whole or part, in any form, unless you ask first.