I had a teacher one year who always insisted that quizzes and tests were “learning experiences.” This was supposed to calm those of us down who suffered from severe test and quiz anxiety. Yeah, okay, I was in that crowd. It really didn’t help me settle down though. A learning experience…learning how to take tests? Learning how to succeed? Learning how to fail? Why couldn’t I just have a learning experience by reading what I wanted to learn about? Life is hard when you’re a teen.
Fast forward a decade or two and I find myself looking back on this last week and thinking, “THAT was a learning experience.”
See, two really interesting online things happened this week. The first was that I hosted my first ever controversial post – one that I didn’t even write. The second interesting thing is that someone sort of called me out in the open Twitter stream. Because I have always tried to verbalize what I learn here as I learn things, I thought I would talk a little bit about both of these “events.”
Your Online Presence Is Made Of Sand, Not Stone
On Tuesday, my friend Nicole Fende posted here with some of her views about Occupy Wall Street. I had posted over the weekend that I wasn’t seeing a lot of posts on the subject, at least in my segment of the online world, and that sparked her desire to write about it. Nicole comes from the banking perspective but also sympathizes with the protestors, and she presented (I thought) some numerical observations on the ongoing debate across the nation. Her post may have been abrasive in some places, and it was certainly passionate, but I thought it was great for two reasons. First, she was bravely voicing her opinion about something that has nothing to do with social media. Second, she was starting the conversation here.
Little did I expect the nuclear fall-out that went on all day on Tuesday. I was hoping for a great conversation, and for the *most* part that is I think what happened. At the end of Tuesday, and looking at it now, what exists on this site is a pretty clear picture of a lot of different perspectives about a lot of different things going on in the US and in the world. I am proud of that. What I could not stomach was the fact that a few comments really strayed far away from what was necessary in the conversation. Some people insinuated that the post, and the fact I had published it, meant the end of my reputation as a credible blogger. Others started attacking Nicole personally, well beyond the scope of where the debate should have been.
For a year and a half, nearly, I have used this blog to emphasize the value of listening to multiple points of view. I have begged and pleaded with people not to be nasty (because let’s face it, you’re the one who ends up looking like a jerk). I have worked very hard to become a credible resource here and wherever I go online. But in one day, and with one post, there was enough fuel for some to doubt my credibility, or for some to doubt that I had thought carefully about my actions in putting the post here. With one post, because of one thing that some viewed as a misstep, everything I had built over the last year was overshadowed.
Maybe I should not have been taken aback by that. However, I was. But I’m glad it went down that way, because it taught me how fickle the world of social media can be. One thing that you do that someone doesn’t like can be enough to make you a persona non grata to them. Even if you have helped them and always been kind, one false move and you can become the villain.
Know When To Hold ‘Em, Know When To Fold ‘Em
The other interesting event was that a person publicly criticized me on Twitter for adding LiveFyre to my site. Somehow, the conversation evolved into an accusation that I am creating a cliquey, gated community here where people have to sign in to comment. My response that I hope this can help my now numerous guest bloggers engage with comments did not do anything to dissuade this person that I had committed a major faux pas.
I knew that adding a 3rd-party commenting system here would be a pretty big change, and I am not saying I will stick with it forever – I continue to ask you for feedback because you, my readers, are the ones who matter. However, I did not expect accusations to fly my way that I was trying to close this blog off from people who ordinarily might have wanted to comment. I did not expect to be grouped with a sort of elitist, snobby crowd after all I have done to try to engage with anyone who comes my way.
Although the scenario was different, the lesson remains the same. No matter how hard you try on a day-to-day, minute-to-minute basis to build a reputation online, one person can see something you do, dislike it, and immediately change their perspective of you. Not only that, but they can present that opinion to other people who may not know you, and a different kind of reputation can be born.
Had I not taken my own advice and disengaged from the conversation, the situation could have become much worse. I knew when to fold my cards.
The Ultimate Thing To Remember
I get a fair amount of chiding in the online world. Some people say I’m too nice, others say I’m too boring. Some say I’m a sycophant, others say that I don’t do this, that, or the other thing enough. I suspect this will just increase the longer I stick around here. But the point is that I fully intend on sticking around here. This week has taught me that although it’s a painful truth, you just can’t please everyone. No matter what you do, you’re gonna tick someone off. You’re gonna switch someone from liking to disliking you. Maybe passionately. It has become clear that in the online world, and probably in the offline world too, you just have to be okay with that. The only real bummer is if you sell out on yourself.
Don’t even think about it.
Image by Konrad Małka. http://www.sxc.hu/profile/konrach