Disagreements Can Be Disagreeable, But Your So-Called Enemy May Be Your Biggest Business Ally

An image of a bridge, under which appears a sign that reads, "No Trolls"

Deterring abuse is good. Deterring disagreement is not. And the key for businesses is learning to understand that the latter does not equal the former when you don't like what's being said.

Yesterday, Twitter posted a blog titled, "Policy and product updates aimed at combating abuse." The posts discusses new and enhanced violations of Twitter's terms of service.

Basically all of it common sense: don't threaten people, either directly or indirectly; and don't be abusive. Unfortunately, common sense is not all that common.

The challenge will come from overzealous people claiming abuse for things that aren't abusive. Disagreements can be disagreeable, but a difference in perspective, opinion, or experience does not lay the foundation for abuse. And businesses need to ensure they don't miss out on some amazing information and opportunities by being misappropriating that term.

There are some horrible people and statements made on social media. Bullying is rampant and there are keyboard cowboys a-plenty emboldened either by anonymity or absence of face-to-face interaction who will say things that have no place in our society. "Ism"s exist and should be dealt with -- and harshly.

This is not about that type of abuse. The real, insidious, evil abuse of people that's out there. From piling on, to shaming, to flat out anti-social "ism" behaviour -- Twitter's efforts need to be lauded and supported.

But not misappropriated.

Some in the business world -- especially those in positions that aren't directly involved in the day-to-day social media operation -- are often quick to try to find ways to shut down discussion, delete negative posts, and avoid interaction. The idea of claiming abuse for negative commentary can be intoxicating to businesses who don't see why negative comments have a place on a corporate site. Fortunately, there are checks and balances in the Twitter system that will help to prevent unfounded claims. But there's still exists the tendency to block, ignore, or delete negative or unflattering comments on one's corporate-owned social networks. 

We've talked about horribly misnamed 'trolls' in the past (often: people who don't agree with me); we've discussed setting ground rules for interaction on blogs and social networks. The issue for me is that at the root of most statements, there is a truth -- ignoring it only undermines your business-growth efforts by obscuring a potentially rich vein of information and opinion.

Now, I'd like to share five simple rules about getting the most out of your social interactions -- and none of them include deleting:

Just Because You Don't Like What They Say, It Doesn't Mean They're Wrong

For some people, criticism is hard to take. For some people, they've grown up where criticism was not seen as constructive. Praise is easy to take, but hard to grow from; criticism, especially when it's constructive, gives you an opportunity to evaluate your efforts, add new perspectives, and forge a stronger end result.

If someone disagrees with you, that doesn't make them a quote-unquote hater. None of us are absolutely right all the time; nor do we have all-knowing perspective. Maybe there's something to that criticism and by simply ignoring anyone who dares to criticize your business, your product, or your efforts you're missing an opportunity to grow.

Just Because You Don't Like How They Say It, It Doesn't Mean They Wrong

You want your customers -- and potential customers -- to be passionate about your product. Sometimes that passion manifests itself as love; sometimes it manifests itself as anger. So while it's easy to accept the bouquets (and even easier to restrict your circle to those who are willing to send those bouquets), it's much harder to deal with the bricks thrown your way.

But just because someone says something in a way that you don't appreciate -- whether it's swearing, aggressive tones, mind-numbing repetition (the dead horse syndrome) -- it's dangerous to overlook the root of that negative expression.

Somehow, someway, you've not met their expectation in such a way that they're angry about it. It means they value you -- either as a trusted information source, a thought leader, an influencer, or a producer of a valued product -- and you've not lived up to that value. Instead of ignoring the delivery of the message, make sure you dig down and see what the source of the conflict is.

And remember, the worst reaction isn't love or hate -- it's indifference. Passion means they care; indifference means you've given them nothing to care about.

Just Because Some of What They Say is Wrong, It Doesn't Mean Everything They Say is Wrong

One of the greatest tools in the ad hominem attack playbook. You see, if they make a factual mistake about one little thing here, then everything else must be wrong too.

That's not respectful of people's time, interests, and background. Just because you've developed a knowledge that may be a mile deep on a certain topic, you can't expect your customers to have that same awareness. After all, it's likely your expertise is only an inch wide, metaphorically speaking.

You can, politely, correct factual errors. But be careful not to throw the entirety of the statement out because one part isn't 100 per cent (and, worse, don't ignore it all because of a spelling error or a misused word).

Forgive the little transgressions and focus on the substance. You'll get more out of it.

Your Customers Don't Care About You; They Care About Them. It's Not About You

Negative comments don't reflect you; they reflect the commenter's experience. They may be mad about an experience they've had using your product or in your establishment, but what they're emoting is how they feel about it.

So suck it up, don't be offended, and try to understand that -- though, again, it may not be properly expressed -- you're dealing with a personal experience and emotion.

By addressing the need that's been undermined, you can resolve the problem. And that person who cared enough to post can become your biggest advocate if their needs -- THEIR NEEDS -- are met.

Blocking Only Puts Up a Barrier that Prevents YOU from Seeing Other Perspectives

It's easy to think we're right when all we see and hear is reflections of our own thoughts and beliefs. Sometimes, in a project or with a product, we get caught up in what we think works. It can be exciting, it can be self-validating.

But it may not actually work for the person for whom it's intended.

If you've blocked dissenting voices, you're not going to hear potentially valid criticisms. And that's going to undermine your customer relations, product innovation, and business best practices efforts long-term. If you don't hear what's wrong, how can you make it right?

Disagreements can be disagreeable, but someone finding fault with your product, service, or statements is not necessarily the enemy. In fact, if your goal is to better your product, service, or offering then these people can very quickly be your biggest ally!

But only if you let yourself hear what they're really trying to say.

Questions Answered

How do I deal with trolls?

Should I block people from Twitter?

Should I delete negative posts?



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