Negative comments online.
We all receive them. We all must learn to deal with them.
For sure, this remains challenging. Some negative comments are just inaccurate. Others don’t seem fair. And, a small minority are just plain nasty.
They can drain all the energy out of you and make you feel like quitting. It’s one of the big downsides of being active on social media or other online platforms.
The ability to instantly post stories, personal experiences or other news is fantastic. But the downside is visible everywhere — negativity and abuse. From people who don’t know you and often hide behind the anonymity of an online identity.
The most straightforward advice is “don’t let the negative comments get to you.” Ignore them.
However, that’s much easier said than done. It’s also not smart.
I found a better strategy that works well for me. Welcome all comments and try to learn something from them all, including the negative comments and no comments at all.
This strategy gives me energy and motivates me. It makes me even more productive, as it offers the additional drive to continue doing what matters to me — innovating, creating, experimenting, improving, and perfecting.
In a digital age, we all lead hectic lives. It’s easy to find excuses not to do certain things. Even things that matter to us, like creating original content. Finding and retaining focus is a perennial problem in a world where distractions are everywhere. Online and offline.
The best strategy for responding to negative comments? Transform them into a source of motivation to do more and get better.
Here are some of my takeaways:
1- It Has Nothing to Do with Social Media
Negative responses aren’t new.
If you want to be creative, get stuff out there, and build a legacy, you always had to deal with negative reviews and comments.
The difference is that the number and frequency of reviews have increased significantly. Everyone is now able to respond.
But something important has changed. Before social media, the acceptance of creative work depended on the opinions of “professional reviewers” or other established authorities.
The old world of “experts” might sound like a better and more honest system, but we all know this was a rigged game.
The system was easily manipulated. Also, there are too many examples of “expert” reviewers having completely different tastes from the intended audience (be it a book, a song, a dish in a restaurant, a painting, etc.).
I was watching a documentary about music last week. The example that stuck with me was about the German alternative rock band, Liquido. They released a song called “Narcotic” in 1996. Initially, the record labels — the “experts” — rejected the song and band.
One record executive even took the time and opportunity to respond in a long letter. The executive was upset and asked the group where they got the audacity to waste his time with their “awful” music.
Later in 1998, when Virgin Records re-released the song, it became an international hit.
Disintermediating the review system and letting the crowd decide has some risks, but it is still my preference. It offers more opportunities for creators, more diverse feedback, and more opportunities to respond, improve, and perfect your work.
The chokepoints of the old world (think professional critics, record executors, or publishing editors) have been cracked open. Negative comments seem a small price to pay for the positive opportunities that this disruption has created.
2- There is Always Something to It
Up until a year ago, I would react defensively to negative comments.
It felt like a threat, which makes sense because someone was critical about something you valued. “How could someone dare to say something like that?”
But when the initial frustration or anger started to clear, I often realized that there was something to the comment.
Let me give an example of a comment that stuck with me. In 2017, I posted an article on why Apple, Google, Amazon, and Facebook will dominate the future. It was one of my earliest online posts, and I was still experimenting. The article got some traction, and I was happy about it. Until I received the following comment:
“I’m sorry, but this was ‘written’ so ‘shittily,’ I could barely make it past the first few… well, not paragraphs. Please tell me this was an AI experiment?”
It was one negative comment amongst almost universal positive feedback, and I could easily have just let it go.
Of course, it bugged me, but it also forced me to think about how I present my stories. It made me realize that it’s important to find a unique, authentic voice instead of resorting to clichés or other people’s ideas of good writing.
Two years later, I still remember that comment and — in a strange way — I value it, even if I still think the person could have been more subtle.
All comments (both good and bad) now feed me and help me improve as a writer producing better content and stories.
3- More is Better
So, you can learn a lot from comments and responses. They should not be ignored, but they should not dictate the direction of your work either.
Still, it is often difficult to remain calm. Whenever you have posted something, you are naturally drawn to the comments and responses. The attention is part of the reason for doing it.
And, if we are honest, we all know that negative responses have some special emotional power over us.
All creative work is very personal in some way, whether it is writing, music, film making or cooking. And nobody likes to have their identity challenged by people who have never met us or know nothing about who we are and why we do what we do.
So, the final strategy I have developed to deal with this issue has been to accelerate production. Write more and write faster. This strategy creates greater emotional distance, allowing me to learn from the comments, while, at the same time, increasing my productivity.
And then something exciting started. More posts led to more reactions. More responses means more and better opportunities to improve.
The result? A virtuous circle of more motivation and more productivity and not a vicious circle of negativity and time wasted doing something less worthwhile.
No Going Back
I love the digital world. The potential is enormous and I am convinced it helps create a more inclusive society and more level playing field. It spurs innovation and creativity. Moreover, there is less exclusion, at least compared to the old world of entrenched interests and centralized authorities telling us what is good and what isn’t.
The digital world is so fast, and an abundance of information on any topic is instantly available. Comments (both positive and negative) are a big part of this.
For me, a crowd-based “review” system is one of the defining mechanisms of the digital world. There has never been anything else like this before in history, and it puts the end-user at the center of everything.
I have written before about the importance of decentralization in a digital age, and this is another example of how centralized, hierarchical authorities are the biggest losers in the new world.
Lots of our choices now are based on comments and reviews. We do not blindly defer to traditional authorities anymore. Instead, we collect diverse information for ourselves and make better-informed decisions based on our own unique needs.
It may not be perfect, but it is so much better than before — both for consumers (who are more likely to get what they want) and producers (who get quicker, more and better feedback on their “product” or “service”).
So, don’t get hung up on the negative comments. Make the system work for you as you continue down your path, whether as a creator or consumer.