Rand advocates responding to the online criticism that comes your way, usually via forums and blogs. He talks about politely taking responsibility for the things you’ve done wrong and equally politely trying to explain your position. Hopefully, you will have salvaged some of your reputation and impressed people with your candor. However, I believe that there are circumstances where you should stay well away from the discussion and not engage the nay-sayers in conversation. Rand does an exemplary job of remaining calm in the face of forum rage, but not all of us are blessed with such a cool head. Replying to criticism can also lead to all-out flame wars.
I think that you should only reply to posts, comments and forums under these circumstances:
- The criticism is founded on factual evidence. When discussing what you or your company has done wrong, the poster can cite specific instances where you’ve made mistakes and fouled things up. “Evidence” like, “SEOmoz sucks” isn’t worth replying to. You can’t prove that SEOmoz doesn’t suck any more than they can prove that it does.
- The poster claims his comments. “Anonymous” is such a lame name. I lose a lot of respect for critics when they choose to remain anonymous, or give themselves pseudonyms but not link out to their own websites or include any identifying information. These people want others to take their opinions seriously (that is, they say “SEOmoz sucks, don’t buy their services,” and they truly want people to avoid our company) and yet they’re not willing to put their names to such comments. Have I made anonymous comments on the Internet before? Yep, you bet I have. However, I’ve never expected to be taken seriously or respected for my anonymous opinions and I’d not expect a reply if I wasn’t ballsy enough to claim my words. (This is yet another reason not to read or care about Digg comments.)
- The commenter is not a troll. If you’ve never come across the person who’s posting bad comments, Google their username. If you find they have a history of trolling, hatemongering and nitpicking, just ignore them. You will never change these people. Their nastiness usually stems from something completely beyond your control. Very rarely will they admit that they were trolling; be nice when they do.
There are some great resources out there that all say the same thing. Ignore trolls. They do it for the reaction, just like the idiotic kids you went to elementary school with who’d call you a loser. They only wanted to see you get upset. They were the real losers, and now we have their Facebook profiles to prove it. Trolls are exactly the same. If you knew their real identities, you’d see that you are fighting with garbage.
However, if you come across an array of comments, some positive and some negative, from a certain user, chances are they’re not a troll and they’re not deliberately out to start trouble.
- You trust yourself not to lose your cool. This is a primary reason for me not to reply to unfounded criticism. Sometimes, I’m well aware that spinning out like an enraged chihuahua is a stupid idea, but my fingers would rather respond in the language that dumb comments deserve. You know that you work hard on your products and services and you feel bad when they don’t work properly. However, as I previously mentioned, true trolls want the satisfaction of knowing they’ve incited a riot. I will read this paragraph over and over and valiantly attempt to take my own advice.
In the end, my opinion rests with the idea that honest, constructive criticism should be replied to and anything shy of that should be ignored.