If You Can't Say Something Nice...

Say it on the Internet.

When using social media, it’s wise to not overreact to online comments.

 

The Internet is a funny place. And I don’t mean it’s always amusing. Rather, it can often be a mean place, an angry place and even a scary place, especially if you’re a company using social media to put your brand out there, right smack-dab in the middle of the digital madness.

But, like I said, the Internet is a funny place. And, sometimes, its looks can be deceiving. As a result, it’s wise to not always believe everything that you see online. After all, just because something is on the Internet, doesn’t automatically mean it’s the whole truth — especially when it comes to the comments found on social media.

Since 2005, I’ve lived a sizable part of my life online by blogging for some of the Internet’s biggest media outlets, including Yahoo!, the Chicago Tribune, CBSChicago.com and 670TheScore.com. Many of my posts — some about sports issues, others about different hot-button topics — have sparked lively debate and heated interactions in the comments forums below my posts.

People can regularly be rude, occasionally dishonest and often uninformed. Others, meanwhile, are smart and well-reasoned. But just because some — or even many — people may take a passionate stance online, it doesn’t mean that their stance applies to everyone.

Because, if I’ve learned nothing from my blogging experiences, I’ve learned this: There are two types of people in this world — those who read things on the Internet, and those who comment on things on the Internet. Don’t assume that they’re one and the same.

Recently in his “Social Media Marketing Blog” at scottmonty.com, Scott Monty, the global head of social media for Ford Motor Company, wrote: “Vitriolic. That’s the only word I can think of that effectively summarizes what I’ve seen online lately.”

As an example, Monty used the lead-up to the presidential election as an example of just how much vitriol people can spew back and forth on the Internet, writing: “Just what is it today that makes people think they can get away with being so downright abusive to fellow humans online?

“It used to be that people hid behind the anonymity that the Internet allowed. And when the likes of Facebook came along, mostly everyone who had an account needed to own up to who they were.”

That’s certainly true. But what Monty is missing is that many of the people who were angrily commenting anonymously are probably still the same people who are angrily commenting using Facebook accounts. They just like to angrily comment. Period.

Monty goes on to write, “… this behavior has become so insidious — so acceptable — that suddenly, some people don’t care who they offend or how antisocial it makes them look; they just seem to want to make themselves feel better by putting others down.”

And, yes, they do. But it isn’t so sudden at all. Such behavior has been going on via the Internet since shortly after the Internet was invented (no Al Gore jokes, please, wouldn’t want to spark a political debate). In my opinion, this behavior has far less to do with anonymity than it has to do with the detachment of the Web.

For whatever their reasons, many people say things to others online that they’d never say to them in person. But there’s an even larger segment that doesn’t say anything online. Like I said, people who read things online vs. those who comment on things online. They can be very different breeds.

With that in mind, my counsel is, no matter the response that you, your company or your competitors receive from something that’s been posted online, be cautious of putting too much stock in that response — bad or good. Think deeper about it. You may need to respond quickly to an issue online, but don’t ever respond rashly.

Because everything on the Internet should be taken with a grain of salt — which isn’t to say it shouldn’t also be taken seriously. However, while many people may be posting their thoughts about an issue on the Internet, also remember that there are many more who aren’t.

And it’s wise to fully consider what they might think, too.