Business blogging 101: How to deal with public reactions to your content
A lot of small business owners that I speak to express their hesitation at "going public" with a blog, or writing articles for public or social consumption on the Internet. The problem is that you, as the blogger, have very little control over how your content is treated once it is made public. And let's face it, the Internet is not short of crazies.
Many small businesses worry about how negative reactions to content they create and share online will reflect on their business. This doubt, is then manifested in content that is not widely distributed or shared. Often, recognizing a need to create content, businesses will simply post to their own site in the hope that the search engines will start driving organic search traffic, without taking the next step of sharing socially, writing guest or expert articles, writing news articles, and so on.
What I have learned from writing content over the years (and this includes the books on software development, web development, eCommerce, marketing, and so on), is that the benefit and goodwill you derive from creating useful and relevant content will always outweigh the inevitable attempts to discredit your content. Most people are reasonable.
Let's take a look at a few different categories of readers that your content is likely to encounter while it is "out there" on the net. I should point out that I focus mainly on how to deal with "bad" reactions, since it should go without saying that you can respond in kind to "good" reactions.
The vast majority
"The vast majority" of readers are simply that... readers. They'll read your article and move on. If you're lucky, they liked what they read and might remember you next time they see your company logo, site or blog, but may not. They're also not likely to comment since the vast majority of online users browse passively without becoming involved in debate or discussions.
Nothing to really worry about there...
Most competitors will keep an eye out on what you write with a view to ensuring that they keep up-to-date with the goings on in their niche. This is standard, good practice and as a blogger, entrepreneur or small business owner, you should do the same.
You might find that some competitors take it upon themselves to ask difficult questions in an effort to show off their own knowledge and capture a bit of recognition from your content. This can be turned into a real opportunity to shine, provided you know your stuff, because you have an opportunity to demonstrate more depth of knowledge of your subject.
Be careful not to be lead into unfamiliar territory. If you're unsure, stick to what you know...
A very small minority of people actively search for content that they can latch onto with a view to purposefully misleading your readership. It's not uncommon for unscrupulous people to misinterpret something you have written and turn it into a display of your apparent "incompetence".
This can be hard to swallow. It's a case of remember those lines from Rudyard Kipling's IF:
"if you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken,
twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools."
I'm not calling your readership fools, but you get the picture? Every now and then you'll come across people who do this maliciously - it's part of being involved online. The best remedy is either not to engage them at all (because this can give them a greater platform to spread misinformation), and trust that most people will disagree with their point. Or, debate with them politely and with clarity, and don't get tricked into using aggressive or foul language.
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Remember, never argue with an idiot because they will drag you down to their level and beat you with experience...
It shouldn't come as a surprise that the Internet harbors a few off-keel individuals. The beauty about dealing with these people is that you can often ignore them outright because it is so plainly obvious that they are not worth engaging. I have come across people who have commented on an article about marketing with a tirade about something completely unrelated, like politics - punctuated with foul and abusive language.
Fundamentally, it should be up to the forum, blog, or site moderators to keep comments like these off their site. Most quality sites do so fairly well. If you feel something is offensive you can often report it to the site admins to deal with.
I personally outright ignore respondents of this type since there is very little constructive debate to be had here.
This is one of the toughest category of people to pin down. I remember one of my books receiving a one star review on Amazon.com upon its release. The reviewer had gone with the usual generic points of this type: "This author doesn't know anything", "He's got it all wrong", "Save your money", and so on. Nothing specific that would indicate any intimate knowledge with the content, of course.
In this instance, I was lucky because the reviewer had posted a link to a competing title within the review itself, lending his review the suspicious air of someone with a vested interest in a competing publication. Since the review had gone up so close to the book being made available on Amazon, it was unlikely he had even had time to read it in the first place. My publisher pointed all of the above out to Amazon and the review was immediately removed.
The point of this story is that often responses to your content can seem overly aggressive and illicit reactions far exceeding the scope of the material. Very often these reactions have an underlying motivation - most often to discredit your material or viewpoint in favor of their own or another vested interest.
Don't resort to tit-for-tat. In other words, don't respond in kind when they post their own content. Either deal with their comments calmly and rationally in a way that further highlights your skills and knowledge, or ignore them completely.
Accurate, unfavorable feedback
The worst of the worst; you get something wrong. Well, in these cases, you just have to put up your hand and admit it. Plenty of competitors might score points from your mistake, but it's never the end of the world. Admitting to getting something wrong and promising to learn from your mistake is actually a great sign of a well balanced outlook. The type of person other people might want to do business with. After all, none of us are perfect.
Take the hit, learn from it and move on.
Business blogging summary
Ok, so perhaps this hasn't seemed that encouraging. Actually, I think it is. If you understand that most people will be reasonable then you have very little to worry about. The worst that can happen is that you make a real mistake and have to own up to it.
Remember that often acerbic and aggressive comments come from people who have a vested interest in trying to mislead your readers. Keep a calm attitude and maintain a professional level of interaction at all times, and you can't go wrong.
Bottom line; don't allow online bullies to prevent you from showing off your skills and knowledge.
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