How to deal with negative comments

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Will Green

11. 08. 2016 | 4 min read

How to deal with negative comments

4 mins left

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‘Never read the comments’.

If you want a happier, more carefree life on the internet, it’s a good rule to follow. Just read whatever article you’re reading, digest the information and move on with your day.

Don’t be drawn downwards.

Internet comment sections are where the vitriolic, un-spellchecked BLOCK-CAPS WARRIORS live. And, most of the time, they’re best left there.

But this is a blog for a B2B content agency. The comments section here is safe and polite and constructive, surely?

Well, you’d be surprised.

If you’re a writer (which I am) and most of your work appears online (which it does), you have to be prepared for people to tell you you suck, wherever your writing appears.

And that isn’t nice. I write for my living and I write in my spare time. If someone says something I’ve written is bullshit and that I’m a moron for having written it, they’re not just criticizing one paragraph of one piece, they’re questioning my whole being.

So as a sensitive writer with my easily bruised ego, what do I do? Avoid the comments section altogether? Only read the nice ones saying ‘great post!!’? (Thanks, Mum) Or do I assume anyone being critical is an asshole who just doesn’t understand the searing brilliance of my insights?

All tempting. But I doubt any of these strategies will actually make me a better writer. And that definitely is something I want to be.

With that in mind, here’s my checklist for dealing with negative comments to try and make the best of them. They’re written in the second person, but really they’re notes-to-self to be referred back to next time it happens to me.

Take it as a compliment

The only thing worse than being talked about, as Oscar Wilde said, is not being talked about. If people are engaging with something you’ve written – even if it is negatively – at least you know people are reading it. Take a deep breath – and then give yourself a pat on the back. You’ve risen above the rank of ignored writer and writer only read by friends all the way to writer strangers feel the need to disagree with online. It’s a milestone. Genuinely. Good job.

Don’t fight fire with fire

Don’t get down in the gutter. It isn’t worth it. Sure, work out your perfect Dorothy Parker riposte in the shower, refine it in your head, even write it in a Word document if it makes you feel better. But don’t reply saying, ‘No, fuck you! Best case it makes you look petty and desperate. Worst case you’ll end up in a pointless thread of back and forth invective which will end up with someone being called Hitler. If you think that’s the way it’ll go, you’re best returning to point 1 and just moving on.

But even better…

Get over yourself – and see things their way

 This is tough. Really tough, sometimes. But it’s important to put your ego in check and ask – do they have a point? We had a case of this recently when one of Doug’s posts included a disparaging joke about Donald Trump which aroused the ire of a commenter calling himself Ronald Reagan. He didn’t think political jokes – particularly political jokes which assumed the entire audience were in political agreement – belonged in a B2B blog.

And rather than dismiss Ron and his worldview, Doug took it onboard. When you’re working somewhere like the Velocity office, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking there’s a shared socio-political and cultural worldview among our audience. That isn’t true – and what a dull world it would be if it were.

We don’t want to write bland omni-prose that could never offend anyone or express an opinion or cause controversy. But to do that, we need critical commenters to remind us to take our own heads out of our asses.

All of which means…

Give them the benefit of the doubt – and be nice

We’re not talking trolls here. Racist, sexist, homophobic hate-mongers make the internet an awful place to be, and there really is no point engaging with these cowards. Ignore them, block them, report them.

But for people who are criticising the content of your content, not your character, you should probably give them a hearing. It can be hard – people tend to be harsher and more brutal online than they ever would be face-to-face or even over email.

Which is why it’s important to remember, they’re probably not assholes out to crush you because of personal spitefulness. And it’s why a polite reply along the lines of ‘Sorry this piece didn’t work for you – I’ll take your point on board for next time’ is probably the most effective response you can give. The commenter will most likely not want you to think they’re a dick and reply with something conciliatory. Maybe you’ll make a friend. And at least you’ll give yourself the chance to learn something.

These are my thoughts on dealing with negative comments. Disagree? Leave me a comment. Asshole.

Published in:

  • b2b

  • B2B Content Marketing

  • B2B copywriting

  • b2b-marketing

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  1. Harendra Kapur

    August 15th, 2016

    I’m an asshole and I approve of this post.

  2. Vanessa

    August 16th, 2016

    I’ll be the asshole that says there’s a typo in this piece – it’s Ronald Reagan, not Raegan. *Insert angry trolling comment about getting some copy editors here*

    1. Adam Ketterer

      August 16th, 2016

      Good spot, Vanessa! Have updated. Will’s on holiday but I’m sure he’d take your feedback with grace and gratitude. I, on the other hand… *mutters something inaudible about spelling pedants.* Thanks!

    2. Will Green

      August 19th, 2016

      Ha, thanks Vanessa. This is exactly what I’m talking about! (And thanks Adam too for actually fixing my error…)

  3. Lionel Binnie

    M Source

    August 18th, 2016

    This was a fucking great post.

    1. Will Green

      August 19th, 2016

      Thank you very fucking much!

  4. Doug Kessler

    August 23rd, 2016

    We did get negative comments on the swear word in the headline, so this post generated fresh examples of its topic.

    On reflection, it probably does cross the line – especially if you don’t read the post (which people offended by the headline probably won’t do).

    In context, the headline makes more sense — but it probably crosses the line into crass.

    If that detracts from what I think is an excellent post, then we’re the losers. So it’s always a balance when you play with swearing.


  5. Adonis Clarkson

    Health Care Salaries Guide

    August 30th, 2016

    I think I just fell for you, Will! (honesty and broad-mindedness go a veeery long way, you sensitive writer, you!) Excellent journal entry. I love it! Yeah, rejection hurts when you empower it. And you empower it when you crawl to a small corner of your brain and start a pitty party by yourself. Criticism should be allowed in your head only when it comes from someone you highly admire, someone who’s aware and kind and brilliant, not from just any random frustrated jerk. Add this to your list:

    Ignore everything critical unless it comes from your role model!

    I’ll be stalking you!

    1. Will Green

      August 31st, 2016

      Wow, this is pretty fulsome praise! Really glad you enjoyed it. Hope my next post lives up to it!

  6. Nicole

    August 30th, 2016

    This was awesome. Good advice.

    1. Will Green

      August 31st, 2016

      Thanks Nicole, really glad you enjoyed the piece.

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