Armchair Quarterbacks: Don’t Be That Troll

A quick thought (or ten) for anyone who is thinking about armchair-quarterbacking someone else’s PR or social media execution without anything constructive to add…

When you criticize things from the outside, you:

Armchair Quarterback

Don't be this guy.

1. Don’t know what actually happened. You know what you read in blogs, in the papers, etc. You don’t know what actually happened — who said what and to whom.

2. Don’t know what discussions happened internally. You see the reported outcome. You don’t know what conversations happened – between the agency/agencies in question and the company; within the company or among the various stakeholders at the table. Hell, you probably don’t even know who all of those stakeholders and agencies are.

3. Don’t know the context for the decision(s) that were made. You don’t know the competing priorities in play. You don’t know what had been tried before and didn’t work. You don’t know what communications happened behind the scenes.

When you criticize from that starting point and don’t have anything constructive to say, you:

4. Make yourself look uninformed to all parties in question. You don’t impress anyone by taking cheap shots; you just show how little of that context you actually have.

Armchair Quarterback game

Is this how people sit when they come up with this stuff?

5. Make yourself look petty. You’re taking cheap shots. You’re sniping from the sidelines. When was the last time that made someone look good? Oh, that’s right, it didn’t.

6. Set yourself up for a fall. By taking those cheap shots, you set yourself up there on a pedestal, ready for anyone who encountered your critique to take you down next time you screw up. And guess what? Even if you didn’t actually screw up, you don’t have a leg to stand on – that leg is occupied trying to kick others when they’re down.

7. Lose recruitment opportunities. I’ve said many times – PR is a small world. Those people you just alienated might have been potential recruits some day. Don’t worry about it, though – given that you just alienated their client, too, you won’t have too much incremental work to worry about.

8. Lose new business opportunities. I just mentioned it – you don’t just alienate the agency in question; you alienate their client, too, through your misinformed punditry. Say goodbye to being on that shortlist.

9. Damage your own reputation and that of your employer. It’s not just yourself that you hurt with your critique – it’s your employer, too. Yep, just as in so many things nowadays, your actions are tied to that of the company you work for. “These opinions are my own” disclaimer or not, you’re working for that company and the words you say/write are those of someone working for that company. People will draw that line whether you want them to or not (to take it a step further, ask the many people who have lost their jobs after ill-advised comments online).

10. Get me worked up. Ok, that’s not really a big deal, but did you really think I would publish a post with nine points? Yeah, right.


Don't be this guy either.

For the record: As I’ve said before, criticism can be good. For that to be the case, it needs to be informed and it needs to be constructive. It can’t be uninformed, because that leads to you giving criticism that is based on a slice of reality and that does nothing to benefit anyone (including you). And it can’t just be an attack, with no constructive input, because then you’re just a troll.

If you find yourself falling into that trap (and I’ve done it myself in the past), do yourself a favour and cut the company a break.

Make sense?

(Yes, this was sparked by a particular incident. No, it wasn’t about me or about Edelman. Yes, it got me worked up. No, I won’t name the people at fault. Move along…)

(Images via here, here and here)

10 Responses toArmchair Quarterbacks: Don’t Be That Troll

  • I’ve often thought that a fascinating blog project would be a “Now it can be told…” blog, where days, months or years after the fact there would be an in-depth summary that covers all sides and angles of things to relay the full story.  and now you know…   the rest of the story

    Agree completely that any internet rant where you don’t have facts to back you up make you look the fool.  Having done monitoring for a fair share of brands over the years, I’ve seen a few instances of punditry that were based on nothing but conjecture  or just simply making up things to fit a point.  I still remember those names.  I know that if I run into any of these folks it will be that bit of wanton punditry that will be the first thing that leaps to my mind.

    The simple solution is to just debrand your article.  If your reaction to what you think is going on is valid, then by debranding you turn what would have been a “me too” pile on, into a piece of evergreen content.  Something that can apply to many instead of one.  

    • Thanks Rob. Great point – by removing the pointed attack, you can turn something aggressive and destructive into something a bit more useful for a broader audience.

  • I could not agree more with this post! It’s amazing what the assumed anonymity of social media will bring out in people. The line between debate and an online bashing that doesn’t hold any merit is being blurred and while we should be offering constructive criticism and honest feedback, we are simply spewing online hate, often without all the facts. 

  • Anonymous
    ago9 years

    I don’t know Dave,

    I think there’s a difference between a potshot and a critique with supporting rationale.

    I also don’t think one needs to be privy to the inside details to offer a point of view.

    For example, I’ve always been impressed with Intel’s PR. Intel isn’t a client nor do I have any type of internal access.

    I’ve shared positive observations as an “outsider” on aspects of Intel’s PR that have impressed me (post: “Putting a Face on a Company”).

    I also recently criticized Intel (post: “Too Many Superlatives in Intel News Release).

    Now, you would be right in saying I don’t know what happened behind closed doors and it could be that some exec forced the PR team to add those adjectives to the news release.

    But I don’t think this information would be relevant to this particular POV.

    I suppose I weighed in on the topic because I think one byproduct of a profession driven to please is we often don’t do well with what I’ll call “constructive feedback.”

    Enjoy your blog.

    Keep up the good work.

    • I agree, Lou. As I said, criticism can be a really good thing. However,
      sometimes I see a tendency to veer away from “it might have been better if
      they did X or Y” and towards “company X did this… what a #fail.”

      I think people would be well-advised to bear in mind the lack of visibility
      into other peoples’ work when writing critical posts, though – doesn’t mean
      they shouldn’t be written, but I’ve learned that it’s often wise to adjust
      language accordingly.

      Make sense?

  • I am going to come off as a sarcastic ass when I say this (which I usually am, but am not trying to be in this case), but isn’t a post like this to a certain extent an example of the same thing that is frustrating you? 

    We all only see what we see, we all only know what we know, but unless we put it out there to talk about, we never learn any more. When someone says nothing just walk away frustrated both parties lose, nothing good ever really comes out of that.

    Brands, PR people, social media folks, they all need to get better at hearing criticism. Bloggers, consumers, twitter users have to get better at offering it.

    I could not humanly agree more that we have to be a hell of a lot more constructive when critiquing what people are doing online (guilty as hell of that myself), but these nonsense words like troll and hater aren’t really helping matters much either…

    • Thanks for your comment, Michael.

      I think the difference here is that I’m not pointing the finger and saying
      “you, company X over there – this thing you did is a massive failure.” I’m
      trying to point out why doing so is a bad idea, and the effect it can have
      on what other people think of you – that, rather than impressing people, it
      can be viewed negatively.

      I certainly could have avoided saying “troll” but that’s really what
      unconstructive criticism is — it’s shooting someone else down for no
      positive reason. As for “hater,” I didn’t use that word 🙂

      Personally, I love hearing feedback/criticism/whatever we call it. We did an
      informal poll at a meeting the other day, and no-one in the room said they
      get too much feedback. I think it’s under-rated and under-utilized in most
      situations. However, it’s only useful when it’s couched in terms of “you did
      this… not sure why; I would have suggested this, that and the other…”
      rather than “you did this. What a fail.”

      Hope that makes (at least some) sense.

      • It makes sense, but I still think it is splitting hairs a little. You may not be pointing at a specific person or company, but is a broad approach all that different from a targeted one? I think we are all a little guilty here (and I am sure as hell included in this. In fact I was guilty as hell of this last week.) as we come into our own online.  

        I just worry that there is a bit of a shift towards 1) Over reaction as you mentioned and 2) Over dismissal when something doesn’t come out right. There is a difference between unconstructive criticism and badly worded, but valid criticism. While I certainly don’t know the case you are referring to, there is a trend of lumping those two things into one category (again, not saying you are doing that here, just that it seems to be happening lately). 

        Also, I know you didn’t say hater, but I just see both “Troll” and “Hater” popping up a lot lately. These words are just as harmful as calling out companies and people in the first place. The name of the game is as you said to get to constructive conversation, but sometimes it takes an unconstructive path to get there.

        I just worry that once words like troll, hater, jealous and even the other side of the spectrum, rockstar, guru, come out we all just start talking to the people who already agree and lose those who could probably use to hear the message most. 

  • I know a few people like this. My personal view is that these people are highly insecure, they always know more about every subject than everyone else in the room.

    I can not bother with them, they are a waste of space.

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