When Social Media Piranhas Strike

social media piranhas

By Clayton Carroll, {grow} Community Member

We’ve seen it before.

Someone disagrees with an influencer and the social media piranhas have a feeding frenzy. They quickly rip apart the dissenter. The piranhas hurl jeers and “insights” all designed to devour an opinion and shame that person from showing their face in public again.

Faced with this possible outcome, why would anyone disagree?

Sometimes there seems to be a lack of critical thinking on the internet. However, I think that’s just a small part of it.

If someone thinks an influencer is wrong, there are several reasons why they might not voice their opinion:

  1. Influencers are the new celebrities (Mark Schaefer and Tom Webster, aka Schwebster, in their niche are now akin to Branjelina). There’s probably a bit of a positive halo around these folks.
  2. Those who voice disagreement fear alienation by an influencer and their fans.
  3. It is very time consuming (and a lot harder) to thoughtfully disagree than to clap, clap, clap, when everyone else is cheering.

How Did This Happen?

The internet and social media enables almost anyone to become famous in their niche.

Think of the screaming line of tweens that came down with Bieber fever.  I feel the same way about Gary Vaynerchuk and Mark Schaefer (well, almost).

Gary and Mark have delivered so much value, I almost feel indebted to them. Also, they are almost always right and have impressive accomplishments (how they became influencers).

These influencers (Mark and Gary) are celebrities to people such as myself.

We Emotionally Connect with Influencers

When an influencer or anyone has helped you tremendously, you form an emotional connection.

The tweens that caught Bieber fever also went crazy for the Twilight movies.  Like a Justin Bieber concert, these tweens on went nuts for Team Edward because they wanted him to end up with Bella (was anyone on Team Jacob?).

I want to become a better marketer so I metaphorically scream and cheer at Mark and Gary’s every word.

Disagree with my celebrities and I might turn into carnivorous fish.

Chewed Up and Spit Out

I’m sure most of us have seen people decimated by the social media piranhas and read horror stories.  Someone saying the wrong thing at the wrong time can end their career.

The stakes are high on social media and the internet because everything goes into public record. Targeted troll attacks can be devastating if someone really wants to put time and energy into coming after you.  So why give them a reason to do it?

Role Model, Icon, Celebrity = Influencer

Whatever you want to call them, an influencer is a good person to know.  They are even better for helping your business or personal brand (influencer marketing as Mark talks about).

If they like or know you well enough, they may even promote you for free.  Get known well enough to the influencer’s tribe and their fans might become your fans.

Why risk a potentially good relationship by disagreeing with them?

I’m Just Here to Cheer

Whenever I disagree with anyone online strongly enough to put it in writing, I always try to think through every possible objection or outcome.  Get it right or risk being dropped in the middle of the Amazon. I also find it very difficult to articulate a proper response in 140 characters or less.

Critical thinking in this case takes a lot of effort with little return.  It’s easier to nod, smile, engage in Groupthink and move along with your day.

Is There a Solution?

There’s not really a perfect solution but it helps if we act like normal humans.

More specifically, any partial solution requires both the influencer and we as their audience:


  • Be very clear it is ok to disagree with you and welcome any constructive criticism.
  • Encourage a difference of opinion, which helps everyone get better.
  • Make it clear to all of us that you do not tolerate social media piranhas.

My Fellow Audience Members:

  • Always be respectful and constructive when disagreeing with the influencer or another person.
  • Encourage the idea of different opinions even if the opinion is wrong.
  • Accept no matter what we say or how right we are, someone will always disagree.

Influencers Are Sometimes Wrong

No one bats a thousand.

It can be hard to imagine your influencer being wrong.  They accomplished all these great things and what have you done?

The best way of looking at it may be as Gary Vaynerchuk says, “You’re only as good as your last at bat”.  Seeing an influencer that way does not diminish their accomplishments but keeps them honest.

Other Thoughts

Mark does a great job of encouraging great dialogue on his blog and social media.  I’ve always felt his community is a reflection of him, which is professional and very sharp.  Gary also does a great job of engaging his audience when folks constructively disagree with him.

So the problem may not really be with the influencers. The piranha mindset comes from the community and I’m not sure how that can be corrected on a large scale. It might just be a problem we have to accept as our to-do lists grow every day. What do you think?

Clayton Carroll is in sales and marketing at the software company ERP 101, which provides software for your very small business.  He also finds and shares digital marketing success stories every week on Medium and the ERP 101 blog.  Find Clayton on Instagram but also make sure to add him on Snapchat!

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