Behave Yourself on Social Media

Nat RussoSocial Media 34 Comments

If you spend any amount of time on social media, someone (or several people) will eventually target you for a verbal attack. This attack can take on various forms, from the blatant ad hominem attack, to more subtle attacks couched as criticism of your work or ideas.

Sometimes the criticism is genuine, and the point is valid, but the approach is less than friendly.

What should you do when you’re attacked? Start by listening to Mark Twain:


Remember Why You’re Here

There was a reason you got involved in social media, remember? It probably had something to do with building a platform and generating interest in your work. Whatever the specific reason, I doubt you created a Twitter or Facebook account to engage in vitriolic debates.
As a writer, you are your brand. Your work is your product.
There is a difference between these two things. I understand we’re talking about art here, but many of the same marketing principals apply to selling books as they do to selling widgets. A customer is more likely to return to a brand that they trust to buy additional products. You may have a wonderful talent for writing, but if people despise you, you’re going to lose sales. There’s a difference between being controversial and being an idiot.
Before you hit the “Tweet” or “Update Status” button, ask yourself this question: “Is what I’m about to say to the world representative of my brand?” If the answer to that question is no, think long and hard before you click the button. Because as soon as you post your update it’s permanent. End of story. You can’t delete things from the internet. Ever. By the time you click “delete”, you have to assume someone will have already seen and shared it. Your message now has a life of its own. And it will come back to haunt you.

Take a Deep Breath … And Do Nothing

Understand the medium and the nature of these “attacks” before you do anything. I’m going to use Twitter as an example, but this applies to any social network you participate in.
Twitter is about now, not five minutes ago. If you let the negative comments go without responding to them, they’ll be nothing more than a flash in the pan. If you choose to get involved, however, you’ll breathe life into something that would have otherwise died quickly.
For Facebook and other social networks where messages have a longer life, it’s even more important that you refrain from getting involved. You’re under no obligation to respond just because someone commented on your post.
We can’t control how we feel, but we can control how we behave.
If you refrain from responding, the vast majority of your followers won’t even notice the comment was made. If you respond to the attack or negative comment in any way, you dramatically increase the chance the situation will spiral out of control. People will choose sides and you will have sparked an all out social network war. You are your brand. Is this how you want your brand to be perceived?
No more than a couple of weeks ago I slipped. I failed to take my own advice, and I quickly regretted it. I made the mistake of assuming one of my grammar rules applied to both American and British English. I was wrong. A knowledgeable follower from the UK pointed this out to me. Instead of accepting the wisdom and publicly correcting my mistake (in that moment…I’ve since corrected it), I allowed my pride to blind me to the fact I was actually wrong. I dug in and tried to defend an untenable position. And people called me on it.
Oh boy, did they ever call me on it.
Those of you who know me and who have been following me for a while know that this is unlike me. But … like the rest of you, I’m human. It was a perfect storm of events and I didn’t take that deep breath.
The bottom line is this: if you refrain from engaging, you’ll suffer in private for a short time. If, however, you involve yourself in the negativity, you’ll suffer publicly for a lot longer.
Before I close, there is one more situation I’d like to address that isn’t necessarily confined to social networking. I’m talking about authors who respond to negative book reviews.
This is a lose/lose situation. You’re not going to argue someone into liking your book. Embrace this right now: they didn’t get it “wrong”. Their opinion is not “wrong”. It’s their opinion. Nothing more. They can’t be “wrong” about how they felt about your book. If you argue with them, or respond with a well-formed argument that addresses every negative point in the review, people aren’t going to “see your logic” and come to your defense. Instead, they’re going to point a finger at you and say “wow, he/she really has some thin skin.”
You’re an author. You’re a public figure now. You asked for this. You put yourself out there in a medium that by its very nature opens you up to judgement. This is the price of entry. Embrace harsh criticism now, because it only gets worse. The more popular you get, and the more successful your work becomes, the more vitriolic the assaults will become. 
Just remember: behave yourself on social media.
[UPDATE 5/10/2014] Not only will you be the victim of vitriolic assaults, but some people…other writers…will attempt a form of “blackmail” to get you to write a review of their books! I wrote an article here that describes the lessons I learned after publishing Necromancer Awakening.

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About Nat Russo

Nat Russo is the Amazon #1 Bestselling Fantasy author of Necromancer Awakening and Necromancer Falling. Nat was born in New York, raised in Arizona, and has lived just about everywhere in-between. He’s gone from pizza maker, to radio DJ, to Catholic seminarian (in a Benedictine monastery, of all places), to police officer, to software engineer. His career has taken him from central Texas to central Germany, where he worked as a defense contractor for Northrop Grumman. He's spent most of his adult life developing software, playing video games, running a Cub Scout den, gaining/losing weight, and listening to every kind of music under the sun. Along the way he managed to earn a degree in Philosophy and a black belt in Tang Soo Do. He currently makes his home in central Texas with his wife, teenager, mischievous beagle, and goofy boxador.

Comments 34

  1. Nice post! The “stuff” authors post on social media never ceases to amaze me! Sometimes, I just want to message them with, “take that down, you’re making yourself look bad/crazy/unstable/….As a full-time high school teacher, I learned quickly not to argue with students. The same principles apply when building an author platform. The biggest offenders I see are the really young writers or those with no/little business experience. Writers need to model their social media behavior after the big name authors.

    1. It’s so easy to forget that we’re running a small business!

      Social Media lulls us into a false sense of intimacy. We share a few laughs with a person, like a few posts, favorite a few tweets, and all of a sudden it’s easy to believe a relationship has formed. The line between public life and private life is so blurred these days. The more we think of ourselves as a “business” and less of an “individual” (while engaging in social media), the better off we are, I think.

  2. Very sound and sensible advice. I have refrained so often from getting into a ”flame war” as like you, I’ve seen other do so and thought: I’d never buy a book from someone who responds like this!Also the review thing – again, (and it’s mainly on Facebook, I’ve encountered writers responding furiously to a one * review ..which only gets everybody to head over to Amazon to check it out!!

  3. Nat, this is so true. Sadly there have been a couple of very public spats over here in the UK. The Queen invited a selection of 200 poets from around the country to a reception in their honour at Buckingham Palace.
    There was an emphasis on those that promote poetry in schools, to disadvantaged children, young offenders etc. Those really making a difference!
    You would think this would be a nice simple way to honour the work of all poets around the UK, that there could be nothing contentious about it.


    One poet who was not invited wrote to Buckingham Palace pointing out that he was the most important poet currently writing in the UK and therefore thought his invite must have been lost in the post.
    He sent a copy of the letter to one of the national newspapers who took great delight in publishing it.
    He then started making quite offensive and uncalled for comments on the Facebook pages and blogs of any poets that HAD been invited and mentioned it online.

    Another poet who did attend started making very offensive and abusive comments on a fellow poet’s Facebook post after a question was raised regarding the morality of poets who had been outspoken against the monarchy attending the reception.
    In the comments various views were expressed in reply until this poet (who had attended the reception) started making highly abusive and personal attacks on various of the commentators on the post whilst using the vilest language to dismiss their points, poetic ability and right to have an opinion that was at variance with his.

    I have been truly shocked and dismayed at the childish behaviour and overinflated egos that these two poets have displayed.

    I had never heard of either of them before but regardless of their talent and poetic prowess neither of them will ever be on any of my “must read” lists now purely due to their disgraceful public behaviour!

    1. What an amazing story, Nick. And what a shameful situation for so-called “professionals” to take part in. I think you hit the nail right on the head with “overinflated egos”. Every time I’ve seen something like this happen (or, shamefully, allowed myself to take part in), I think it’s always come down to a matter of misplaced price.

      I’m of the firm belief that another writer’s success in no way detracts from my own, or in any way makes it more difficult for me to be successful. Quite the opposite, in fact! I think that every writer who becomes successful lifts the rest of us up!

  4. Interesting post Nat! Good advice for all! I wrote a similar post in response to someone mocking what I wrote. I was surprised how it angered me but even more surprised how well I handled it!

    1. Restraint is SO hard to perfect 🙂

      I’m amazed at how many nasty arguments I see between writers (or between writers and fans). Don’t they realize they’re diminishing their chances of success by alienating people?

    1. It was regarding the usage of “that” vs “which”, which has somewhat different rules in the UK. It’s pretty strict in American English: “that” introduces a restrictive clause, and “which” introduces a non-restrictive clause. Not so in the UK.

  5. What if you reply positively to the negative feedback? For instance, if someone says “the characterization was horrible” or “the plot seems unrealistic” and you reply with a “Thanks for the feedback: I’ll work on it.” Is that still a horrible thing? I can understand ignoring it if it’s a “you suck, your book sucks, and you should stop writing” comment but wouldn’t ignoring constructive criticism that may come off as insulting be a bad thing?

    1. Responding is a lose/lose situation.

      In fact, and as crazy as this will sound, I would advise not reading your reviews at all, and I know published authors who swear by this (Raymond E. Feist, Mercedes Lackey). Let’s face it, you’re not going to learn anything you don’t already know in a bad review. If you do, you may be publishing prematurely due to not revising properly, not getting *specific* feedback from beta readers, or not hiring an editor who is more than a proofreader.

      What if one of your bad reviews is constructive criticism about your characterization, yet 90% of your readers loved your characterization? Roll the dice, because you’re going to alienate someone if you respond. If you agree that it was poor, then you make the folks who loved your characterization feel stupid. If you disagree, and you voice that opinion, then people on both sides of the coin will feel you have thin skin.

      It’s also a little “stalker-ish”. People who write book reviews are speaking to other readers/consumers. Not the writer. If the writer jumps in with a comment, it’s almost a little creepy. And future reviewers might be reticent to say anything, because now they know you’re watching them.

      My advice: let the comments roll by and off your shoulders. Whatever is said will be a flash in the pan within hours. One response, even one that says “I think you’re right. I’ll work on my characterization.” will become the headline of tomorrow: “NAT RUSSO BELIEVES HIS OWN CHARACTERIZATION STINKS!” And once you put it out there, out there is where it will stay.

  6. I agree your golden rule: Responding is a lose/lose situation.

    But I had one guy on Amazon KDP denigrate my book, as indeed he does for some reason with all writers from Thailand, even though he admitted he had not read it. Amazon took his review out initially. He then changed his name to mine and re-wrote the review, even claiming he lived in Thailand. Amazon would not remove it, saying he can choose any name he likes. My only response was to change my Amazon name to Jeff Bozos and post a simple comment to clarify that he is not me. His real name, for which he got an Amazon badge (which he has now forfeited) is George Magee and he is a permanent resident in the States. Thai Immigration have never heard of him.

  7. Hi Nat,

    Great advice- I’ve witnessed a few Twitter arguments, and neither party ever comes off well. If you don’t respond, the other person usually just looks like a troublemaker and its soon forgotten.

  8. Great post! I had a friend who ruined her reputation on because of that. I know fanfiction is not always considered the most legit platform but for some it is. She had nearly 1000 followers to her fic when another writer published a similar story. Instead of just ignoring the people who said the stories were similar she fought back.

    People picked sides and it became ugly. The author who copied her actually won the most support somehow. It was probably because she behaved better. Even though my friend was right, and her story was published first, it did not matter. People didn’t side with her because of her response.

    In result it’s destroyed that platform. Food for thought.

    1. Thanks for sharing that, Kylie! It is so true. People will choose sides and the outcome will NOT be pretty. “Right” and “Wrong” go right out the window in these situations.

  9. I just got into this situation with a writer yesterday. I’d posted on a board about a plot twist I found really cliched (without naming names or book titles) but it turns out this writer had used the plot twist in one of her books.

    She got defensive. The example I gave was from thirty years ago, she said. So I provided more recent examples of the plot twist being used. Well, she said, how were writers supposed to know that twist had been used many times before, if those books didn’t appeal to them and therefore they didn’t read those books? Were writers obliged to write a certain way to avoid cliches they didn’t know about?

    End result was that I felt like I had to apologize to soothe her feelings. So I said I was sorry if I’d been offensive in any way, that I didn’t expect writers to have to write a certain way and that one reader’s cliche might be another reader’s favorite trope.

    But I also decided I would not read a book from that author. Ever. A cliche doesn’t ruin a reading experience for me. But a defensive reaction from a writer, especially if she tries to negate or minimize my opinion, turns me as a reader off for good.

    1. Exactly, Marian. You’re reaction is precisely what I mean. Even though you eventually smoothed the situation over, the end result was negative: you won’t buy another book from that author.

      It’s truly a “lose/lose” situation, in my opinion, to respond to reviews/feedback once the book has been published.

  10. This post really hit home for me. I am guilty of having a hard time stopping my fingers from moving over the keys. It’s so much easier to type something and hit the “enter” button than speak words to someone in-person. In social media, and particularly when you do have a brand to represent, you simply can’t let yourself get sucked in to the debate or you could risk everything – your reputation, your work…everything. I’m glad I caught this post. It’s a reminder to take a deep breath and think before you respond. Thanks for writing about this! It’s excellent advice for writers and anyone out there representing themselves in business.

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      Thank you, Nicole. It’s very much an ongoing process too. Not a day goes by that I don’t have to remind myself of this 🙂

  11. Can’t be yourself at work, can’t be yourself at home, can’t be yourself in the store, can’t be yourself on the toilet, can’t be yourself around your wife/husband, can’t be yourself around the kids, can’t be yourself on the internet. People are judging everywhere, it goes WAY beyond brand management, these are rules to live by if you don’t want to get shit and it’s sad. It’s sad that everyone is judging everyone all the time. I need to live on a farm at least animals aren’t always judging you. I’m not dissing at all to be perfectly clear, I reserve the right to whine ( harmless Rachael whining lol) , Even if I’m getting judged for it lol

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  12. So much incredible wisdom and I was nodding along furiously all through this piece. I have shared it on my Facebook page, Nat. And that means something, because I rarely re-share articles on Facebook unless they move me 🙂

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