The Internet can be a cruel and unforgiving place, especially when sharing your art, opinions, or creative endeavors with people worldwide.
It’s a sad reality that plenty of viewers and readers are ready to start tapping their keyboards with words that hurt, hit home, and shake your confidence big time. If you have fallen victim to an unhappy client, a bad review, a mean comment, or even a DM that left you seeing red and stewing over it, then read on for some expert advice on how to tackle these vociferous consumers of your content.
I preface this by pointing out the fact that I myself have first-hand experience with all of the above and more. Having a YouTube channel centered around film photography will invite enough comments to last you a lifetime, and trust me, they aren’t always pleasant. I have seen some healthy debate here on Fstoppers, as well as some unsavory and seemingly unnecessary critique of the title of an article, all the way to the writer's opinion or work. The unfortunate reality is, if you put yourself out there, then you must almost expect this behavior back. Haters gonna hate, so if you are planning on proving my point for me, then hit that comment button and bring it on.
Kill It With Kindness
This sounds like some wishy-washy tactic you are told to implement in school when all you want to do is get back at that kid for bullying you all year. I get it. I am normally an eye for an eye type of person; however, that doesn’t always pan out the best when done in an online capacity. Instead, I recommend you take a deep breath before reaching for the keyboard and crafting a response that could bring on more harm than good and come at this from a different angle.
There is a high likelihood that this person was either 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? This immediately makes you feel like a more civilized person who is cool as a cucumber even when under siege, it’s likely not what the commenter is expecting, and it gives them little or no room to keep at their mean game any longer. Be kind, be polite, address their concern, and explain why it’s okay that they don’t like your work, agree with you, or think your voice, editing style, writing, opinion or just whatever else they can criticize isn’t up to their standard. This will neutralize the burn and have you coming out squeaky clean with no petty back and forth.
Here's a quick anecdote on the success rate of this tactic when used out in the field. I adopt this strategy frequently in the comments section of YouTube, and it’s the best way, short of just ignoring it. I have found that it tends to turn people around and makes them reflect on how rude, flippant, or offensive they may have been. It’s reminds them that you are, in fact, a person, and they then proceed to either backtrack slightly, change their tune, or are just nicer in future, which is really what we all want. I once managed to turn a mean commenter into a regular, nice, commenter who then sent me a set of lenses as a gift and is a truly lovely person, proof that killing it with kindness really does work. Sometimes people surprise you and it’s a really warming feeling to turn a negative into a positive. Fun play on words for all you analog shooters reading.
Block and Delete
The polar opposite to the previous strategy and for good reason. Sometimes, a person is so jaded and bitter not even a spoonful of your kindest, sugary, rainbow-y words will ever pull an ounce of goodness out of them. In these instances, I say three words to you and myself: Block. And. Delete. I have done this and will continue to for the rest of my hopefully long Internet career. Gauges of block and delete worthy comments would include, but not be limited, to the following:
- DMs or any type of personal messages directly to you with a nasty, mean, accusatory, threatening or defaming nature.
- A consistent berating online in any form where the person has made it very clear they have some kind of Internet vendetta against you and your work. Bye.
- A sleazy, below the belt, unsolicited attempt at collaborating with you, meeting up with you, calling you, or reducing your work and your output down to the way you look or present yourself.
I know it seems obvious as we are all adults here, but it’s really easy to get caught up defending yourself. Typing, deleting, and retyping this perfect retaliation response when, in actual fact, the person isn’t worth your time, and they are getting exactly what they want. Taking your attention away from your photography, writing, work, etc. and putting it all on them and their bad comments. Someone recently directly messaged me on Instagram asking why my partner takes better photos than I do? He then explained to me that it is because he uses “real” cameras. Guess what happened to him? He got blocked and deleted.
Collecting the Positives
So, this strategy came about through watching a YouTuber by the name of Matt D'Avella, who has millions of subs and is very successful. The suggestion he made was to save all the positive feedback you have received via email in a folder and look to this as a way of reminding yourself of all the amazing comments you have received about your work. As humans, we are literally wired to focus and dwell on the negatives. Think about word of mouth and how much likely you are to bang on about a bad experience over a good one to your friends and family. It’s so easy to have all these nice, positive and encouraging comments surrounding your work and feel chuffed with yourself, only to then receive one bad one and let it override the many pleased customers, clients, viewers, or readers. Saving those emails or DMs that highlight why you are good at what you do, how you overdelivered, or made someone's day is going to remind you of the positive points and keep you on track to creating that work or experience again for a future person.
Don’t sweat the negative stuff too much, and know that there will always be someone who doesn’t like what you do, doesn’t want to hire you, or take your workshop or course, and that's okay! You can’t be all things to all people, and being self-aware enough to know that will help you shake it off and move on with more constructive tasks.
Can You Learn From This?
So, as nasty as those keyboard warriors can be, sometimes, there is an element of truth to the comment, and that can be really hard to admit to yourself. In my experience, I have actually found that when something strikes a real nerve with me and I find myself seething and complaining, wishing I could really have it out with this person, it’s because they are right. This doesn’t, however, cancel out or absolve someone for being rude, but it can be used to your advantage.
In my early days on YouTube, I was extremely unprepared. I would thrift a new film camera, get excited, press record, and start yapping away with little direction and way too many ums and ahs. Boy did people love to point this out. I was really self-conscious about it, and I would get 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 get better, 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 have grown in numbers as a result. This may not have happened as quickly had people not pointed out my ill-preparedness.
Still to this day, I look for what I can learn in the negative comments. Even if they aren’t being constructive in their criticism, it doesn't mean you can’t extract information from it and use it to your advantage. It’s all about the way you come at things and the energy you bring to the table. By this same token, sometimes, the only thing you learn is that this person is a waste of your time and is being cruel for fun, and in that case, you can implement either strategy one or two.
Can You Hack It?
It’s worth pointing out that the more you grow in popularity, whether that is through creating photography content online, dominating the portrait, wedding, or family niche in your local area, or even landing more clients and killing it at work, you will open yourself up to more of this negativity. It’s sad but true. Think about celebrity culture and how quick we are to cut down and chew up and spit out the latest talent we were rooting for not that 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, keep your head up, and not let it get to you?
Photography is so multifaceted, and now, in 2022, we are spoiled for choice in terms of areas of work we can venture into. However, so many of them require you to have an online presence and one that grows with your client base, so it’s likely you will come up against one or more of these types of negative comments at least once. I hope this article arms you with some practical defense and the solace of knowing that it’s not just you. I promise.