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)

Dave Fleet
Managing Director and Head of Global Digital Crisis at Edelman. Husband and dad of two. Cycling nut; bookworm; videogamer; Britnadian. Opinions are mine, not my employer's.