When to Defend Yourself and When to Walk Away


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One of the biggest questions most businesses have about social media is what you should do when someone posts something negative about you.

This could be a tweet, a Facebook status update, a mention in a LinkedIn group, a blog post, a video response to one of your YouTube videos – basically, anywhere where there’s a chance to post something, there’s the possibility of a negative mention.

So the question is – when do you respond, and when do you walk away? And can responding – even to something you feel you need to – cause more (potential) damage than not responding?

Sticks and Stones

It’s a simple fact of life – no-one is going to like everything you do. Even your most fanatical evangelists will get pissed off at something you do or say. There’s an old saying that if you don’t upset at least one person, you’re not doing it right (whatever “it” might be).

So when a negative comment is made about you, you then have a decision to make – do you respond, or ignore (based on relevance and approach of the negativity)? And if you do respond, what tone do you take?

It’s not an easy call – just ask Nestle’s PR team that was running their Facebook wall a little while back. By ignoring, you could be perceived as not caring, or taking criticism seriously enough.

Then again, by responding defensively, you could be seen in an even worse light by those that see your response. And if even the “experts” get it “wrong”, then it just goes to show how difficult it can be.

Criticizing Criticism – Adding to the Fire?

Take Jay Baer. Jay’s a guy I respect immensely, and is one of the smarter folks on the social media circuit. Jay’s just released his first book The Now Revolution (co-authored with Amber Naslund).

As part of the promotional outreach, Jay and Amber gave away a number of books to bloggers to review. Many have been positive, but one that popped up on my radar was the review posted by Jay Dolan over at The Anti-Social Media. Jay’s blog was named as one of the Top 10 Social Media Blogs of 2011, and has a very irreverent look at social media.

Jay’s review, entitled 8 Reasons You Don’t Need to Read The Now Revolution, was a mix of what he liked about the book and – as the title suggests – eight reasons he wasn’t a fan.

These included comparing the book to an overlong blog post collection; bad grammar; and questionable images for reference points. It’s partly satire and partly a serious overview of what Jay sees wrong with the book, in typical Jay Dolan fashion.

Both Jay Baer and Amber responded to Jay Dolan’s criticism via the post’s comments, but in different ways, and this is where it gets a little interesting for anyone wondering how those that consult on social media respond when criticized.

While Amber offers to discuss in more detail by email, Jay chooses to respond in the comments. Here are a couple of quotes below:

“On the grammar and writing side, I’ll only say that the praise for that component of the book has been universal, except here. You may be a particularly exacting judge of written communication, and evidently we’ve fallen short of your benchmark.

Given that there were parts of the book that you liked, and given that indeed the book is not intended for “social media people” but rather for business people, it seems a bit unfair to slap a “8 reasons you don’t need to read the now revolution” headline on this post. But, if you want to accentuate the negative to generate clicks, that’s a choice YOU made.”

As I say at the beginning of the post, I like and respect Jay Baer – but I wonder if the responses above were the best way to respond to the review?

Defense or Defensive?

As a few people in the comments of the post have picked up, Jay’s comment comes across as defensive overall (although he does temper that with points on where he agrees with the post). From the comments section:

  • Morgan: “…defending your work is like saying I made a mistake, now I must explain myself. His work will either speak for itself or it won’t.
  • Grayson: “If you have so many great reviews, why are you so concerned about one negative one? It is an opinion and there are many people who will read your book just to see if they agree. They will then decide for themselves.”
  • Bob LeDrew: “You guys had 224 pages to make your arguments. I don’t know that you need to make two separate replies to Jay D’s 1200 words of review. Let the book stand or fall on its merits and on the readers’ responses, sez me.”
  • Dean: “Is there a Chapter in the book on “when” to respond to a negative review from a blogger so as not to make a mountain out of a molehill? Seems you’ve just unnecessarily started a more visible spitting match and elevated his stature by lowering yours.”

Perhaps the reason a few of the comments have questioned Jay’s response is that if social media has taught us nothing else, the “wrong” response can soon get out of control.

I can understand Jay’s protection of his baby (I did the same thing a couple of years back with 12for12k), but the perceived defensiveness of his comment has perhaps put him in a less than flattering light. Which is the opposite of what Jay is, from what I’ve seen from my interactions with him.

Maybe Jay was having a bad day. I’ve had Jay respond to some questions on this blog and he’s always been personable (even when I’ve been a bit playful). The problem is, bad days can have an impact on a person or brand if it’s shared in public.

Feedback is a natural part of having something for public consumption. We all get it; we all deal with it differently on any given day. It’s not always easy to hold your tongue when something you care so deeply about is questioned.

Like I say, Jay’s a good guy, and maybe this was just a bad day reaction. But sometimes you need to just walk away when the question of defending yourself arises.

For businesses, it’s a hard line to manage. For consultants offering advice on how to walk that line, it’s probably even more important to make sure your line is how you’d advise clients.

What line would you have taken?

image: Mubina H
image: Jay Dolan

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown is partner at Bonsai Interactive Marketing, a full service agency offering integrated, social media and mobile marketing solutions. He is also founder of the 12for12k Challenge, a social media-led charity initiative connecting globally and helping locally.


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