Tearing down the house: How to handle social media haters

social media haters

By Mark Schaefer

I live in a quaint lake community where there is a mix of new, modern homes and cottages built in the 1960s and 70s. As the value of lake land goes up, we are seeing many of these smaller houses being torn down to make way for a bigger and more modern structure.

Such was the case this week when a house on the other side of my cove was torn down. I am guessing it probably took four or five months to build that house many years ago … maybe longer … but to my amazement, it was torn down in just two days. This big backhoe came in and just knocked it right down to rubble.

I thought that this was an accurate analogy for life on the web. It’s always a lot faster tearing things down than building them up. That’s why negative comments and trolls on the web hurt so much. We may build a reputation over a long period of time only to dwell on the negative, and perhaps even let one single negative incident define us … or destroy us.

About a year ago, I was coaching a young man who became distraught over negative comments directed at him on the web. The harsh comments came from one person and he simply could not let them go. Nothing I could say to him would get him un-stuck. He became so obsessed by these criticisms that he literally disappeared from the web for several months.

Seth Godin, one of the most well-known and accomplished marketing experts on the planet, once explained that he removed comments from his blog because he became obsessed with every negative remark. Business advisor Gary Vaynerchuk said that no matter how much success he’s had, the negative comments still hurt.

Even when you’re famous, you’re still human. Hate hurts.

Keeping hate in perspective

One of the most common things you see around the web is “haters gonna hate,” or “ignore the haters.” Easier said than done. Does anybody really ignore the haters?

The reality is, the bigger you become on the web, the bigger target you become. I’m sure you’ve seen many blog posts encouraging you to create content that:

  • Takes a stand
  • Advocates a new position
  • Comments on other posts or articles
  • Is highly original

If you do those things, you will certainly stand out. And if you stand out, you will eventually attract criticism. It’s almost a sign of success. So here is the weird thing, if you do a good job, some people will probably hate you for it.

There are lots of blog posts out there listing steps on how to deal with haters but I wanted to do something different. Here are 12 of my favorite quotes on how real human beings deal with haters in their lives.

James Altucher, author, self-help columnist

“Realize that behind anger there is fear. Something is going on in their lives that is bringing up a fear. And they indulge the fear by having an anger towards you. By projecting their own fear onto you. For a brief moment, you become the monster that has been hiding onside of them. Anger is just fear indulged.”

Chris Brogan, blogger, podcaster, entrepreneur

“I have haters and spies. The humor is, I’m just over here doing my thing. I’m making mistakes at times. I’m doing good things other times. I’m right out here being me and working on my stuff.  The haters and spies spend all kinds of time and energy, comparing notes, sharing information, and postulating and speculating.

“I’m just working on me, my relationships, and my business. Keep hating and spying. I’ll keep posting things for you to share and speculate on. Don’t worry about your own lives. Those mustn’t be as interesting. I’ll do some things to keep mine more interesting for you.”

Tina Fey, actress, writer

“If you ever start to feel too good about yourself, they have this thing called the internet. You can find a lot of people there who don’t like you. I’d like to address some of them now. BabsonLacrosse, you can suck it. DianeFan, you can suck it. Cougar Letter, you can really suck it ’cause you’ve been after me all year. And to my husband Jeff, I love you and thank you.” (Golden Globes acceptance speech)

Mitch Joel, marketing executive, author

“The Haters want things to stay the way they are/the way they were. Most businesspeople don’t want change and don’t want to change. They’re busy spending their time trying to figure out how to make the old ways of working work more effectively. New mental frameworks are always about trying to bring progress. Personally, that was always the vision of everything you see being published and the work I’m trying to do —  bring progress to the Marketing industry. The Haters aren’t looking for progress. The Haters are looking at the averages… and who wants to be average?”

Tim Ferriss, author, speaker

“Focus on impact, not approval. If you believe you can change the world, which I hope you do, do what you believe is right and expect resistance and expect attackers,”

Constance Wu, actress

“We didn’t get into this business to please the haters. We got into this to tell our stories because they matter and because honestly, these haters probably made us feel shame for these same stories when we were younger, but now we are older and have a firmer stance on this earth and in our own voices.”

Peg Fitzpatrick, author, blogger

“The biggest lesson that I learned is that if I don’t let it bother me, it goes away. Even when people write or say really mean things, and they will if you are pushing the envelope, it doesn’t matter. It is always a reflection on them. Most of these people don’t know you and they are just shooting out insults into the internet to get attention. Ignore it.”

Gary Vaynerchuk, author, speaker, business leader

The only move is to be the bigger person. When people say, “Gary you’re so full of shit,” I jump in and say, “Explain to me why. What can I do?” The moment you acknowledge somebody else’s point of view, you’ve already made the conversation more of a positive for you. Haters, a lot of times, just want to be recognized. Twenty to thirty of my biggest fans started off as haters. What happens is they gain a lot of respect for your willingness to hear them out.

Jay Baer, author, speaker

“Regardless of who the hater is, I recommend responding publicly. Even if they rant and rave and call you names, you’ll answer coolly and publicly. It probably won’t change the behavior or attitude of that one person, as it’s almost impossible to turn a crazy lemon into lemonade; the fruit is already rotten. But by replying in public you show your temperament, your values, and your belief that all deserve to be heard.”

Dale Partridge, author, speaker, business coach

“Over the past several years, I’ve had two death threats and probably 5,000-10,000 hateful comments on social media. I’ve received emails, physical mail, and even voicemails from people telling me how stupid, ignorant, disgusting, and appalling I am to them.

“And while I’ve been told I have the skin of a rhinoceros, these vicious statements have left scars on my emotions. Online influence is not for the faint of heart.

“But over the years, I’ve learned the best way to respond to such people, is to not. To remind them that I am bigger than their hurtful immaturities and I will use my silence as an instrument of purposeful avoidance of their poor character.”

Michelle Obama, former First Lady of the United States

“Well, when it comes to social media, there are just times I turn off the world. There are just some times you have to give yourself space to be quiet, which means you’ve got to set those phones down. You can’t be reading all that stuff. I mean, that’s like letting somebody just walk up and slap you, you know?  You would never just sit there and go, ‘Slap me in the face and I’m good with it.’ No. So why would you open yourself up to that?

“People won’t remember what other people say about you, but they will remember what you do … So when it came to this role, I just said, you know, let me just be First Lady. Let me wake up every day and work hard to do something of value, and to do it well, and to do something consequential, and to do something that I care about. And then let that speak for itself. And that would shut up the haters, because I would have a whole portfolio of stuff that defined me because it’s what I did, not what you called me.”

And finally …

Here’s a story I tell people who are struggling with hate directed at their content:

When George Washington became the first president of The United States, he was the most beloved man in the country. In fact, he might have been the most beloved man in the history of America. Artists of the day created sculptures of him in a toga, as if he were a Greek god.

By the end of his second year as president, the detractors had come out. He was criticized relentlessly by the press and by what became opposing political parties.

Isn’t that interesting? Even the most popular person in the history of our country had haters. Is it any surprise you would get some, too?

Having haters is part of a life lived to the fullest. Your life isn’t defined by the hate, it’s defined by how you handle it.

SXSW 2016 3Mark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world.  Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

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