I’m going to be honest with you: I’m a little nervous. Tomorrow I head to Long Island so that I can spend Father’s Day with my dad. But that’s not why I’m nervous. I’m nervous because my mom’s been upset with me for five weeks. Ever since her birthday passed and I ‘technically’ never said happy birthday she hasn’t let me forget it. Moms are kind of like the Internet that way. They’re good at holding the mirror up to you to make sure you’re breathing, to pat you on the head, and to remind you, loudly, where you took a wrong step. The better you can deal with them, the greater the things you can accomplish. Or at least, the less time you want to spend pulling your hair out.
Below are some tips I’ve picked up along the way for dealing with a cranky Internet and a cranky mom. Because, well, they’re both pretty important to your brand and well-being.
Break down the real message
Last month I called my mom on her birthday. I asked how she was celebrating, what my dad/brothers had planned and may have even joked about how old she was. But, for some reason, the words “happy birthday” never made it out of my mouth. And, well, I’ve been hearing about it ever since. Taking a step back, I know my mom’s not really mad over those neglected two words. She’s mad because I’m not home. She wants to see me more often. She misses the couch-side chats we used to have late into the night gossiping about things. Even though she says it’s about her birthday, sometimes you have to dig to hear the real message.
The same applies on the Web. The people who speak negatively about your brand usually aren’t upset over what they say they’re upset over. Your customer isn’t mad because it took you two days to respond their email; they’re upset because they think you don’t value them. They’re not mad that you couldn’t respond to the comment they left on your blog; they’re mad because they took it as a sign you don’t care about the community. If you want to fix this, you need to cure the cause, not the symptom. Sometimes it takes some detective work to uncover what it is, but that’s what you need to attack.
Honor unrepentant honesty.
If we’re being frank, my mother knows my bullshit. She can tell from a mile away when my ‘marketing’ knob turns on. And when she notices it, she calls me on it. She doesn’t give me a chance to explain myself, she just verbally squashes me and walks away (yes, that’s where I get it from). Part of being my mother’s daughter means understanding the importance of surrounding yourself with people who will tell you exactly what’s up. Hi, have you met my business partner Rae?
If people are willing to give you brutally honest feedback about what you’re doing, welcome those people! There are plenty of people on the Web who will trip over themselves to kiss your ass in hopes you’ll give them attention. For every troll there’s a leech and you don’t need those folks. Honor the people who are honest with you, even if you have to pick yourself up after their delivery. Sure it sucks when people call us out on shortcomings and it sucks even more when they do it in full view of everyone else, but these are the people who push us. They’re the ones we learn from and the people who help keep our companies on the right path. When someone is honest, even if it’s harsh, find the one nugget that will propel you forward and use it. Drop everything else.
Own your insecurities.
The reason my mother and I often battle to the death occasionally butt heads is because we know each other’s sore spots. I know what I can bring up to make my mother’s ears turn red and she knows what to throw back at me to make me storm up the steps and revert into my 13-year-old self. We’re human and we have insecurities. What families and communities have in common is sometimes we purposely kick other people’s insecurities or we let them control our own reactions. Sometimes it actually helps us bond.
Truth: Faceless Internet people ruin your day because you’re insecure. The same way you have to dig to find out why THEY’RE really mad, you have to dig to find out why YOU’RE really mad, as well. Are you mad because someone made a negative comment about your conference or are you mad that their comment made you question your leadership skills? Are you mad that someone disagreed with your blog post on SEO link techniques or are you insecure in your skills as a link builder? Your response is dictated by what’s going on inside of you. If you’re upset, look in. Don’t look out. I’ve found its way easier to deal with Internet haters when you fix what’s causing you to react to them. You’re not going to change them.
Accept your humanness
Last month I goofed and there was Birthday-Gate 2010. I’ve apologized, I’ve sent repentant flowers, and tomorrow I’ll go home and grovel a little bit more. And my mother, because she is also human and loves me, will forgive and forget. We will both accept each other’s humanness and new understandings will be had. There will also, probably, be cake. And stories. And laughs.
If you goofed, you goofed. Admit it. Owning the mishap lets you see it for what it was and helps everyone to move on. And, you know what? Congratulations. Because if you got called out for failing, well, it probably means you took a chance. And that’s okay. Oh, and when you’re done accepting your humanness, also except theirs. Don’t hold grudges or let it affect you, it just ruin everything you’ve been working on.
That’s what I’ve got. What are some ways you keep your sanity with a trying Internet?
[Oh, and Mom, happy belated birthday.]