Criticism Is Good

Over the last few days I’ve seen several “social media” figureheads take a distinctly anti-social approach to feedback they’ve received online. I take a pretty dim view of that response to criticism:

Criticism is good

Criticism is good

If you’re someone who experiments on the leading edge of something, be prepared for criticism. What’s more, remember that criticism isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Criticism does not equal attack

Criticism can be constructive. The fact that someone disagrees with you or suggests a different approach doesn’t mean they’re attacking you. Instead of reacting negatively, which is easy to do, try thinking about what you can take away from the criticism. Yes, there are trolls out there who go out of their way to disagree in a destructive way. However, most people don’t do that.

Every time you dismiss feedback, you lower yourself in the eyes of not only the person who gave that feedback but also in the eyes of anyone else who is considering giving more feedback.

One of the big problems in the social media “fishbowl” is that people spend way too much time agreeing with each other, without thinking objectively about what they’re agreeing with.

There’s nothing wrong with agreeing with someone if they’ve made a good point. If you think they’re off-base, however, you do them and yourself a disservice by failing to air your views.

I’ll occasionally pop up on sites like PR Squared, PR Works, Social Media Explorer or Jennifer Leggio’s ZDNet blog. If you read over time, you’ll see I occasionally disagree with them. I don’t do it because they’re always wrong, or because I’m out to attack them. I do it because:

  • I have immense respect for Todd, Dave, Jason and Jennifer (and other people, too);
  • They put themselves out there and give their own views on controversial topics;
  • They react appropriately to constructive feedback;
  • This is meant to be a conversation.

Reacting badly to criticism has another effect besides just lowering your credibility: it discourages future feedback. I read a lot of blogs, and I rarely nod wholeheartedly at everything I read. However, I simply won’t comment on numerous sites because I know that my feedback will be met with “well then go read someone else’s site.” I may like the person; I may know even know them but I still won’t comment if I know the reaction will be inappropriate.

The bottom line

If you don’t want to hear dissenting opinions, turn your comments off. Quit using social media tools in an anti-social way.

Alternatively, acknowledge that people will sometimes disagree with you and that that’s ok. Be a grown-up.

  • I was going to write something along these very lines, Dave – damn but you beat me to it again! 🙂

    It is a sad state of affairs if the only thing people want to read are positive comments about their blog (or themselves, even). Why encourage discussion in the comments section when you’re simply going to dismiss any points you don’t agree with derisively?

    Some of the people I’d previously respected have gone downhill fast in my view of them for the way they treat their visitors. Shouldn’t be a chef if you don’t like a hot kitchen.

    Thanks for bringing sense to the “my way or no way at all” mindset.

  • First I’d like to say I like the redesign. I haven’t been by in a while, haha.

    The first thing I learned on the internet is that people will disagree with you. (I was like 11, so I didn’t like that very much.) As I’ve grown to know more about interacting, it’s safe to say that one of the top methods of distinguishing yourself is learning how to interact with people. I’ve actually had people give me rep on forums for being able to “argue” my points and keep a level head in the face of trolls.

    I think there are some people who are just naturally defensive, and that’s chill, but in the end it’s about respecting other people’s opinions and ideas. If you want to offer criticism, make sure you do it in an open way. If you’re receiving criticism, remember that the person is just trying to help. It goes both ways.

    Sweet post! I stumbled it for ya.

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  • @Danny – my sentiments exactly. Thanks for stopping by!

    @Corey – you make an excellent point about offering criticism the right way. Offer it the wrong way and you greatly increase the chance of it being poorly received. Thanks!

  • The problem with a majority of social media figure heads, Dave, is that they’re so used to having their leg humped that they double back the second they actually receive some criticism. We all need to remember the real value of this space– where else can we receive open, honest feedback from some of the most talented folks in the biz, worldwide. With every “rockstar” come groupies. My advice: follow the thought for what it is, not for who’s behind it.

  • Great post Dave.

    I for one, have struggled to cope with criticism. In my personal life I struggle with it and so it’s no surprise that in an often anonymous/veiled space like the blog-o-sphere, it can seem magnified to the 1000th degree.

    People like Mitch Joel have helped me cope with NOT taking criticism personally (or at least not RESPONDING in an emotional way) and Dave Jones has taught me (by challenging me) to deal with criticism better (if not more constructively)

    From my perspective, I think there are things that may be perceived to be negative, but perhaps are not: for example when someone stands up for themselves, why are they termed to be “defensive”? I also think passion and conviction clouds the issue.

    There’s no excuse to being arrogant however.

    One extra thing: I think the person giving the criticism should be equally open to be criticized back in return i.e. being reasonable, open minded and fair in terms of their ability to listen and respond accordingly.

    PS I would podcast about this, but I know you don’t listen to Jaffe Juice (joke)

  • @Brandon – agreed. The “rockstars” often write very useful posts, but so do others. Separating the content from the ego is extremely valuable.

    @Joseph – thanks for a very thoughtful comment. As Corey did, you’ve added a useful point to this topic – we should remember that there’s nothing wrong with standing up for your opinion.

    My problem comes with seeing people literally say “if you don’t agree/have a problem with this, then go somewhere else,” without any hint of reflection. “This is free so take it or leave it” is right up there too. There’s a much more constructive way to acknowledge differences. Sometimes people just have to agree to disagree – to me, someone disagreeing with me doesn’t make them any less valuable a subscriber; in fact comments from people disagreeing with us are in many ways more valuable than simple praise (as wonderful as that is too!).

    Thanks again guys.

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  • I have to agree with this post so wholeheartedly, Dave. I am an academic, so I am VERY used to criticism (you should read some of the peer reviews that other scholars have given me on my research articles). I translated and transported that skill (how to handle criticism) on to my blog. While I am rarely criticized harshly, when that happens, I am always able to respond thanks to my training during the PhD. It’s awesome to see how some skills are transferrable from one medium and one sector to another.

  • I have to disabuse Brandon of the idea that social media “figureheads” are getting their legs humped. Maybe I am in the lucky(?) minority whose trousers are left untouched.

    Agree that “my way or the highway” is a bad response to criticism. CONSTRUCTIVE debate is awesome.

    Where I draw the line is when people become abusive or closed-off to debate. Not enough time in this short life to engage “the haters.”

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