If you are creating content on the Internet and manage to build some kind of an audience, even a small one, you will almost assuredly have to deal with negativity from some of the people who consume your content. It is especially frustrating when you are being verbally attacked over free content – imagine going to somebody’s house for a free meal and then telling that person how bad their cooking is and that they should have cooked something else instead – but, somehow, this can be the norm on the Internet.
Criticism is useful, and you should value and encourage whatever constructive criticism any of your audience or customers offer. What I will be talking about in this article is specifically non-constructive negativity. Generally, this kind of negativity will make up a very small percentage of the overall reactions to your content, but it stands out so much more. It is easy to have a negative comment completely ruin your mood for the day.
This article will contain some lessons and tips that I have used to deal with negativity over the years that I have been blogging about mobile development. Keep in mind that this is just my own experience, and the same situations may impact you differently. If negativity is impacting your mental state, please seek the help of somebody who is qualified to help.
What Does Negativity Look Like?
This article is going to be in the context of the content I create, which is technical blogging. However, many content creators will face very similar situations no matter what it is that they do.
To start off with, I’m going to contradict one of the points I make later by highlighting some negative comments that I have received and share them with you. These comments would be better placed in the trash, but I think it is useful to show the kinds of comments people make. Depending on your personality, you might also find it useful to share messages with your friends and have a laugh about them (especially if you have friends in a similar field who receive similar comments).
Most of the following comments will be paraphrased, but these are some examples of comments that I have received over the years:
“It’s clear that you don’t care much about your website, because I can tell that you clearly haven’t spent longer than an hour setting it up” – (someone who thought my search bar was too big)
“You should take a long walk off a short bridge” – (in response to making bonus content available to people who subscribe via email)
“This is bordering on a scam, I’m embarrassed for you” – (somebody who thought that I was intentionally using line spacing and border margins in my book to increase the page length)
“Your ‘preview’ of content was indeed nothing worthwhile, and enticing a scam. Remove me from your email list.” – (in response to a free ~50 page preview I made available of my book)
When you put a lot of effort into something, receiving comments like these can be upsetting even if you know they are stupid or misinformed. Often, I’m left scratching my head pondering how some people even form certain reactions in their heads. Maybe sometimes there is still useful information in certain reactions. If someone is able to come to some conclusion that seems utterly absurd to you perhaps there is an issue with the way you have communicated something. If something you have done has made some truly angry, maybe there is an important underlying issue. But a lot of the time it is probably just people being unreasonable and you should ignore it.
If somebody can not make their point politely, feel free to disregard it entirely.
However, acknowledging you should ignore something and actually ignoring it are two entirely different things. So, now I’m going to discuss a few key points that I try to keep in mind to deal with this kind of negativity.
Never (ever, ever) Engage Negativity
Try to think back to the times that you have engaged in some kind of Internet fight/debate with somebody in the comments section who was attacking you. If there have ever been times where you’ve come away from that situation thinking Wow, I feel so much better now that I’ve resolved that situation with the commenter then maybe this advice doesn’t apply to you.
If you do engage in conversation with somebody attacking you, generally you will just achieve the following:
- Invoke more negative comments from the commenter
- You give them legitimacy by engaging
- You will probably spend the day monitoring the comments section for more comments and thinking about it
- You waste time you could have spent creating content for nicer people
So, my number one rule is just to never engage in negativity. This can be hard to do, especially if the person is clearly wrong and you have the “perfect” reply. No matter how perfect your reply is, you won’t achieve a positive outcome 9 times out of 10.
The exception I have for this is if they are a paid customer. If you do have to – or want to – respond to someone, be brief and polite. Just completely ignore that they were being rude. If you are polite to somebody who is being rude to you it will often calm them down and probably make them feel like a bit of an asshole. If they are being exceptionally rude/abusive or continue to be rude, I will generally politely refund their money and cease communicating with them.
One of the benefits to selling digital products/courses is that there is very little incentive to put up with rude customers or clients because most of the individual customers will only make up a small portion of your income.
Focus on the Positivity
This is a quick and obvious one, but focus on the positive comments that people make whenever you can. It is a shame that these kinds of comments are more quickly forgotten than the rude ones. If somebody sends you a nice comment, engage with them, thank them, and maybe even keep those comments filed away somewhere to look through when something gets you down.
I think that empathy is one of the greatest qualities to have in many aspects of life. Having empathy can help you create better content, and it can also help you deal with negativity.
Although it doesn’t excuse bad behaviour, try to empathise with the people making rude or negative comments about you or your work. Consider that perhaps they are having a particularly bad day, maybe a client is pressuring them and they are stressed, maybe they are going through a tough breakup or have recently lost a loved one. Or, maybe they are like this all the time, in which case it must suck going through every day being hate-filled enough to behave the way that they do.
When you look at negative comments through the lens of what it says about the person making the comments, rather than about what it says about you, it can be a lot easier to separate yourself emotionally from it. There are very few confident and happy people who spend their time abusing people on the Internet.
Avoid Becoming Cynical
One thing that I always remind myself of is to not become cynical, bitter, jaded, elitist, or any other adjectives along that line of thinking. Remember why you started creating content, and remember when you were not as skilled as you are now. For me, the reason I started creating content was:
- To help people
- To constantly learn
- To make money
It is hard to maintain enough passion to be successful as a technical blogger if you don’t genuinely get satisfaction from helping people. But, it is easy to become jaded and develop a sense of disdain for some of the people who consume your content.
When you put a lot of effort into creating content, especially if it is free, it becomes really easy to get frustrated with people consuming that content. This can range from people that are mildly frustrating, perhaps they comment things like:
“It doesn’t work”
“Thanks for the article, but when I try X I get the following error: Y. Can you help?”
or people who say:
“This needs to be updated to release X”
“Thanks for the article – any chance this will be updated for release X soon?”
And then there are the people who can cause extreme frustration with comments like:
“This tutorial is shit, it doesn’t even explain X, and why would you use Y instead of Z?”
“*copies and pastes error message with no context*”
It is easy to let these comments chip away at you until you get to the point where you wonder why you even create content for these people, and it can be easy to forget all the appreciative people who you are genuinely helping. – many of whom may never comment.
I feel like the three goals I mentioned:
- To help people
- To constantly learn
- To make money
Are really symbiotic. The desire to genuinely help people will drive you to spend longer creating interesting posts and researching things. This means more great content for your blog, which means you help more people and you have the potential to make more money.
If you start to become cynical and jaded and lose that desire to help people, then that negativity will flow through everything else. If you get to a point where you’re only doing it for the money, then it’s going to take a lot more effort to maintain that drive and passion.
Avoid Spending Too Much Time in the Comments
As developers, we generally like to solve problems. If you have started a technical blog then you probably want to help people solve their problems. If someone comments asking for help with something you may even feel obliged to help them.
However, if I see a new comment added to an article, if I can’t answer that question in about 15 seconds I will generally ignore it. If I am busy when a new comment comes in that is requesting help, I will generally ignore it no matter how simple the question is. If somebody demands help in the comments I will definitely ignore it.
This isn’t because I don’t like my audience, or that I don’t like being helpful, but it is a massive time sink (more so when your blog becomes larger, it can be manageable in the early stages). Even if a question looks relatively simple, you could easily spend 15 minutes of your time responding. Perhaps you do a quick Google search to verify something, and maybe there is a bit of back and forth between you and the commenter. If you do that for a few comments each day you might end up spending an hour or more responding to people.
In this case, you’ve helped one person which is great. Perhaps this was a totally positive exchange and the commenter was very polite and friendly, but it can still be mentally draining and take away from time that you could spend creating content for everybody to consume.
Often commenters may expect you to respond to comments and help them with issues that they are having with your content, but you don’t need to do that. If your tutorial has become out of date it is not your obligation to update it. If you want to respond to comments and help people out that is absolutely fine, but you should never feel obliged to do it. If you lend someone your lawn mower, it isn’t your responsibility to drive to their house and fix it for them if it isn’t working properly.
It’s Your House
Your website is your house, and the people who visit are your guests. I think it is important to focus on improvement and take constructive criticism so that you can try to create a pleasant experience for your guests. You want these guests to come back, you want them to be your friends, and by listening to your guests and trying to improve everybody wins. But you don’t need to let assholes dictate what you do.
If somebody comes to your house and tells you that your pizza tastes like cardboard topped with dog shit, don’t keep putting effort into serving them free food. If people are rude then they are not welcome in your house.
You will never please everybody that consumes your content, and you shouldn’t try to.