I’ve been watching some Favorites partake in an interesting discussion the past few weeks. It’s all centered around whether there’s too much public criticism on the Web. And while it’s somewhat amusing to listen to people publicly criticize others for publicly criticizing I’d thought I’d hop in to the conversation. Because, to be honest, I think we live in a world where most people are afraid to criticize. And I think we live in that world to our own detriment.
Chris Brogan asked people to look at their blogs from the prospect’s point of view and to ask themselves how it looks to be constantly critiquing others. At BlogWorld, Deb Ng supports disagreeing with your favorite bloggers. Gwenbell argues that praise should be done in public but wonders if maybe criticism should be done in private.
I think we all need to stop being so afraid of having people say bad things about us and learn how to use it. Here’s why.
Public discussions inspire change
If no one ever calls you out on your opinions, then you’re never forced to reevaluate them. I happen to think that for most companies this is more effective when you do it in public because it forces them to pay attention. Had I emailed Seth Godin about his Brands in Public service, that email would have been ignored. When you throw things into the public realm, you give brands a reason to pay attention and acknowledge them. You also force them to reevaluate their own opinions before they become beliefs that never change
Monica O’Brien wrote a great piece on opinions vs. beliefs. Sometimes when you’re challenged you reaffirm what you always believed. But sometimes it changes you.
You could also find the new information is so convincing it completely blows your old opinion out of the water. When this happens, you’ve experienced personal growth and reached a new understanding of who you are and how you think. That’s what personal development is all about – finding out how little you know, finding out how wrong you are, and learning new thought processes. In order to get to that next level, you must be willing to debate and challenge your opinions over and over again.
It shows respect
Social media has made us far too conservative with our opinions. We’re afraid to say anything that someone else may disagree with. We won’t call others out in fear that they’ll call us out right back. Because if that happens, then we have no one to vote for our crap. We think by blindly following the leader we’re showing respect and courtesy. God forbid we’re labeled aggressive. Or a bully.
That idea is crap.
Debate shows respect, on both sides. If I didn’t care enough about you, I wouldn’t waste my time offering a dissenting opinion. How many public disputes have I had with Michael Gray, one of my strongest friendships in this industry? Michael and I agree on everything and nothing at the same time. We see things from completely different viewpoints and when we battle, we both come away learning something. That’s why he’s valuable to me, both as a colleague and a friend. If you’re a company engaging back and letting customers debate, I respect the chutzpah it takes to enter that conversation. If debate scares you or you’re not confident enough in your beliefs to defend yourself or your product, then it’s possible you’re too sensitive for the Internet and you need to leave. You may also be too sensitive for business. Without debate all we have is a bunch of superficial, watered down relationships. People in love fight. People on the verge of a breakup blindly coexist.
It shows who you are as a company
I understand Chris Brogan’s stance that constantly picking apart others may cast a negative view of your own company. And I agree, if that’s all you’re doing. But sometimes speaking out against something publicly also shows who YOU are as a company and what YOU believe in. I can tell you all day that I think SEO is important for SMB owners, but if I’m not willing to speak out against someone putting dangerous truths into the air, then how passionate about that am I really? By critiquing someone else in public, it also gives me a chance to reiterate our company stance, and I think that’s important. It shows people what you’re about and how you prefer to do business.
Some people and companies are afraid to get negative in public because they don’t want ‘to look bad’. But no one is happy all the time. No one agrees with everything that everyone is doing. In order to have thing you like, there must be things that you don’t like. That’s how we can tell the different. It creates balance. People who are happy all the time are liars. And possible serial killers.
Road map for the future
I left a really rambling comment over at Gwen’s yesterday trying to debate this same topic (sorry Gwen!). One point I mentioned over there was how having these conversations in public helps other people who find themselves in the same situations. If I watch someone both a social media campaign, by pointing out the error and offering a constructive and preferred course of action, I help the next company who stumbles across that post and was thinking of something similar.
I think the SEO industry is a great example of this. Imagine where we’d all be if all these public blog posts and site critiques were done through private email threads. Imagine all the knowledge we would have lost, all the experiments we would have missed out on. When you create an open forum and allow others to participate, you’re creating a breeding ground for knowledge and a resource that people can access when they need to. There’s value in that.
Obviously at Outspoken Media we’re not ones to shy away from publicly disagreeing with someone. Our posts on Seth Godin, Robert Scoble and that damn ReTweet button were some of our most successful posts of 2009. And they were successful because we hit on something the community was passionate about and provided an open forum for that debate to take place.
I think the problem people have with ‘public critique’ is that it gets lumped into the same baskets as those dreaded Internet trolls who just come by to kick you in the face and leave. But that’s not critique. That’s a Snark Attack and I don’t think we should think of them the same. There is a difference between creating debate and flaming someone else simply because they’re bigger than you and you have no other way to get attention. We’ve always tried to create a forum here where it’s a community, not a cult. It’s okay to disagree and it’s okay to be disagreed with. Life is in the debate. And it’s the debate that causes opinions and policies to change. That’s how we become better businesses (and, okay, people).
[If you want to play a fun game, hunt for the comments that Dawn has left on the blog. She typically comments solely to disagree with me. It's why we love her.]