A red mist about social media

Antony Mayfield writes about an experience recounted on the This Is Herd blog about someone getting really wound up about social media:

[…] Interesting post from Dirk about how social media can make people very, very angry.

People sometimes wish social media would go away. It’s understandable, not everyone appreciates the web’s disruptive power turning their world upside down.

I’ve encountered emotional reactions in meetings often. It’s a tough situation to deal with – but I’ve learned to resist the urge to rationalise, to argue and win a point. Sometimes it’s about an emotional moment, and you have to let the temperature die down a little…

It is tough, I agree, and it brings sharply to mind an experience I had recently in leading a workshop about social media and PR.

At one point in the workshop, one of the participants accused me of promoting my presence on social media channels like Twitter purely to sell my services and make money. The individual also reckoned that the only reason I was doing the workshop was because the organizer was paying me.

Although that was the first time I’ve been accused of this, the accusations didn’t upset me much (you develop a thick skin in this business). What did concern me, though, was the single-minded venom in my accuser’s manner.

My response was to rationalize why I blog and podcast, why I tweet and why I talk so much about social media and how I see its role in organization communication. Then I realized that all I was doing was pouring petrol on a fire: the workshop participant seemed to have a completely closed mind that would not let enter any argument to counter the one presented: that this was only about promotion and making money. The rising tension in the room was palpable.

How to defuse this? I wondered. At this point, some of the other participants chimed in to articulate their own points of view about social media, asking questions about Twitter in particular, and suddenly the tension disappeared and we were able to press on. Bacon inadvertently saved by others.

I could tell, though, that the accuser-participant was not engaged at all and certainly unconvinced of any view other than the one presented about money-making.

What this experience taught me was that, next time something like this happens, don’t get into a logical discussion with an accuser: as Antony notes, this is about emotion not logic. It’s made doubly difficult if an individual exhibits a closed mind to new ideas as seemed to be the case in this experience (and ironic that this individual’s organization has an official Twitter ID).

Instead, look for ways to dissolve rising tension, to help dissolve the red mist that appears in an accuser’s eyes.

What tips do you have for dealing with something like this?

(Photo credit: Mark Wallace)

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. Keith Childs

    Agree. You can’t fight emotion with logic. But I’m sure it’s easier said than done. Made even harder when someone is not simply stating a view which is completely opposed to yours, but is questioning your motives or your integrity. If someone attacks you, defence is natural. If someone had said “I think social media is a fad”, and had a closed mind about entertaining differing points of view, then it’s less of an issue. Dealing with a personal attack takes skill and practice. Even if the audience rallies to your defence you need to get the meeting, seminar, presentation or discussion back on track.

    You have to judge- on the spur of the moment- whether the person is just out for a lively debate or whether you are dealing with a closed mind. The key is recognizing as soon as possible if someone has simply a strong point of view or an extremist one.

    As stated, easier said than done. In the cold light of day it’s easy. In the heat of the moment it is something else.

  2. mathew

    I came across this sort of venom when launching Blogactiv.eu two years ago, becoming in the process the hate figure for eurosceptics for a month or two. And when it comes to venom, noone does it better than a eurosceptic, tinfoil-under-the-hat-to-block-mindcontrol-rays pyjama person.

    I learnt that there’s little chance of convincing anyone like that to change their mind, so I don’t actually try. But I do keep in mind that other people are listening (or, in social media, reading).

    So to ensure that their attitude doesn’t influence anyone else, I let them try their best. It sounds counter-intuitive, but all I have to do is smile patiently as they let the bile gush out. The worse they get, the more reasonable and nice I try to be.

    What this does is generally convince everyone else watching that the person is wrong, because of the tableau they are seeing: on the one hand a closed-minded nutcase spewing venom; on the other someone smiling patiently and not rising to the bait. At the very least, I get the sympathy vote.

  3. Dagan Henderson

    A similar experience happened to me a couple of weeks ago during a brief discussion on the importance of social media. My gentleman was convinced that social media are a fad and wanted to share his viewpoint . . . vehemently.

    Since he mostly seem interested in announcing his knowledge to the others in the audience, I conceded a few points to him, offered altering view points on some others, and then moved on.

    So I definitely agree with Mathew and Keith. Evaluate the moment and make a judgement call, but don’t try to silence the defector altogether – that could led him/her credence.

  4. Paul Seaman

    Neville, you shouldn’t feel victimised. Anybody involved in the global warming debate gets accused at some point of either working for big oil or for the green lobby depending on which side they take (most of the accusations are nonsense and irrelevant).

    Moreover, there’s nothing wrong with promoting one’s business interests and there is nothing wrong – and much to be respected – about being paid to impart one’s knowledge to others. The discussion on social media should focus on the strengths or otherwise of what it is you are saying. Whoever made the comment needs to grow up.

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