The internet can be a cruel and unforgiving place, especially when sharing your art, opinions, or creative endeavors with people around the world.
It’s a sad reality that many viewers and readers are ready to start typing on their keyboards with words that hurt, hit home, and shake your confidence. If you’ve been the victim of an unhappy customer, a bad review, a mean comment or even a DM that left you seeing red and boiling over it, read on for expert advice on how to way to combat those noisy consumers of your content.
I preface this by pointing out that I myself have first-hand experience with all of the above and more. Having a YouTube channel focused on film photography will invite enough comments to last a lifetime, and believe me, they aren’t always pleasant. I’ve seen healthy debate here on Fstoppers, as well as disreputable and seemingly unhelpful criticism of an article’s title, down to the opinion or work of the writer. The sad reality is that if you put yourself forward, you almost have to expect that behavior to return. Haters are going to hate it, so if you’re planning on proving me what I mean, hit that comment button and fire it up.
kill him with kindness
It sounds like a tasteless tactic you’re told to implement at school when all you want to do is get back at that kid for bullying you all year. I understand. I’m normally an eye for an eye type of person; however, it doesn’t always yield the best results when done online. Instead, I recommend taking a deep breath before reaching for the keyboard and crafting a response that might do more harm than good and approaching it from a different angle.
Chances are this person was rude or mildly to moderately insulting, sarcastic, or just plain mean. So why not rise above their cruelty and respond in a polite and professional manner? It immediately makes you feel like a more civilized person who’s cool as a cucumber even in a siege, that’s probably not what the commentator expects, and it leaves little to no room for them to stay longer in their average game. Be nice, be polite, address their concerns, and explain why they don’t like your work, agree with you, or think your voice, editing style, writing, opinion, or whatever they can criticize are not up to par. to their standard. This will neutralize the burn and you’ll come out perfectly clean without any petty back and forth.
Here’s a little anecdote about the success rate of this tactic when used in the field. I frequently adopt this strategy in the comments section of YouTube, and it’s the best way, unless I just ignore it. I’ve found it tends to turn people around and make them think about how rude, flippant, or offensive they may have been. It reminds them that you are, in fact, a person, and then they either back off a bit, change their tone, or just be nicer in the future, which is really what we all want. I once managed to turn a mean commenter into a regular, kind commenter who then sent me a set of lenses as a gift and is a really lovely person, proof that killing him with kindness really works. Sometimes people surprise you and it’s a really uplifting feeling to turn a negative into a positive. Fun word game for all analog shooters who read.
Block and delete
The polar opposite of the previous strategy and for good reason. Sometimes a person is so jaded and bitter that even a spoonful of your sweetest, rainbow-sweetened words will never get an ounce of goodness out of them. In these cases, I say three words to you and to myself: Block. And. Delete. I did and will continue to do so for the rest of my long internet career hopefully. Newsworthy comment blocking and deleting gauges would include, but not be limited to, the following:
- DMs or any type of personal messages directly to you with a mean, nasty, accusatory, threatening or defamatory nature.
- A consistent online reprimand in any form where the person has made it clear that they have some sort of internet vendetta against you and your work. Goodbye.
- A sleazy, below the belt, unsolicited attempt to collaborate with you, meet with you, call you, or reduce your work and production to your appearance or presentation.
I know it sounds obvious because we’re all adults here, but it’s really easy to get caught up in self-defense. Type, delete, and retype that perfect retaliatory response when in reality the person isn’t worth your time and they’re getting exactly what they want. By taking your attention away from your photographs, writings, work, etc., and putting it all on them and their bad comments. Someone recently directly messaged me on Instagram asking me why my partner takes better pictures than me? He then explained to me that it is because he uses “real” cameras. Guess what happened to him? It has been blocked and deleted.
Collect the positives
So this strategy came about by looking at a YouTuber by the name of Matt D’Avella, who has millions of subscribers and is very successful. The suggestion he made was to save all the positive feedback you received via email in a folder and use it as a way to remind yourself of all the amazing feedback you received on your work. As humans, we are literally wired to focus and dwell on the negatives. Think word of mouth and the likelihood of you telling friends and family about a bad experience rather than a good one. It’s so easy to have all those nice, positive, encouraging comments surrounding your work and feel shocked at yourself, only to then get a bad one and let it take over the many clients, clients, viewers or readers satisfied. Saving those emails or DMs that highlight why you’re good at what you do, how you exceeded expectations, or made someone’s day will remind you of the positives and allow you to create that work again or this experience for a future person.
Don’t worry too much about the negative things and know that there will always be someone who doesn’t like what you do, who doesn’t want to hire you or take your workshop or course, and that’s okay ! You can’t be everything to everyone, and being self-aware enough to know that will help you let go of it and move on to more constructive tasks.
Can you learn from it?
So, as mean as these keyboard warriors can be, there is sometimes an element of truth in the commentary, and it can be very hard to admit. In my experience, I’ve actually found that when something really gets to me and I find myself boiling and complaining, really wishing I could talk to that person about it, it’s because they’re right. However, this does not negate or absolve someone of being rude, but it can be used to your advantage.
When I started on YouTube, I was extremely ill-prepared. I’d save a new film camera, get excited, press record and start yelping with little direction and way too many uhs and ahs. Boy, people loved to point it out. I was really embarrassed about it and I got so anxious every time I filmed a video, thinking about all the comments people were going to make. These comments pushed me to find a way to improve, and although I was annoyed and upset reading them, in a way, it made me a better presenter. I doubled down on planning and rehearsing my scripts and slowly but surely improved and grew in number as a result. It might not have happened so quickly if people hadn’t pointed out my lack of preparation.
Still to this day, I look for what I can learn from the negative reviews. Even if they aren’t constructive in their reviews, that doesn’t mean you can’t extract insights from them and use them to your advantage. It all depends on how you approach things and the energy you bring to the table. Similarly, sometimes the only thing you learn is that this person is a waste of time and cruel for fun, and in that case you can implement strategy one or two.
Can you hack it?
It’s worth pointing out that the more popularity you gain, whether that’s creating photography content online, dominating the portrait, wedding or family niche in your area, or even bringing in more clients and killing it at work, you will open up to more of that negativity. It’s sad but true. Think about celebrity culture and how quickly we cut, chew and spit out the latest talent we were after not too long ago. So it’s worth asking yourself honestly if this kind of work is for you. Do you have the resilience to pick yourself up and shake off the comments, hold your head up high, and not let yourself down?
Photography has so many facets, and now, in 2022, we are spoiled for choice in terms of the areas of work we can venture into. However, many of them require you to have an online presence and a presence that grows with your customer base, so it’s likely that you’ll come across one or more of these types of negative reviews at least once. I hope this article arms you with a practical defense and the comfort of knowing it’s not just you. I promise.