Sword and the Script

Examining the Rage of a Social Media Rant

by Frank Strong


Ranting has become cool. You can earn a reputation by tearing down someone, something or some brand.

For the believers in that notion called “personal branding” the rant has become something of a logo, a tagline or a calling card.  However, rants are a lazy writer’s crutch:  they are usually heavy on emotion and light on facts or research. Usually, a rant is a gamble that snark and sarcasm will be mistaken for intellect and insight.

Didn’t get what we want? Post a flurry of angry tweets. We’ll crush you on Yelp.  We’ll write a negative review on Amazon.  We’ll create a social media crisis.  You’ll see. “Do you know who I think I am?

Indeed this trend may well be approaching social media crisis, but increasingly, the brand that’s being hurt the most, is the personal brand, rather than the corporate brand.  Life tends to have circular patterns — the kind that you’ll see on the other side.  As the cliche says, what comes around, goes around.

“Really, to be great at customer service, you only need to be mediocre, because everyone else sucks.” – Scott Stratten, The Book of Business Awesome

Two distinctly separate views

Heaven knows I’m no angel.  Two nights ago I typed out a nasty tweet about Microsoft. What did that accomplish?  Not much.  The world didn’t pile on and retweet that message, Microsoft didn’t respond, but I did hear from a work colleague that suggested I use Google Docs (I’m doing that now).  Tonight, I reflect and regret that social post. In isolation, it’s probably insignificant, but unchecked over time, such outbursts begin to add up.

I’ve seen the flip side of this too.  On three separate occasions an individual was tearing up a brand Facebook page I manage.  This person could not be appeased.  Finally, with no way to satisfy this person,  I took screenshots of all his posts and emailed them to his boss’ boss.  It’s been quiet since.

A sales person was harassing a company one evening from a personal handle; a representative from the company being attacked took note and responded in kind.  The next morning the salesperson discovered that company was a sales prospect.  Was a prospect.

During the recent power outages as a result of Superstorm Sandy, I took a look at the social sites of Dominion Power and Comcast, with provide services to my home.  Dominion Power, perhaps taking lessons from previous years, was on top of their game.  Quick to respond on Twitter, they had facts, stats and an interactive map to share with customers looking for an ETR — or estimated time of restoration of power.

Comcast, on the other hand, was, well, the epitome of its reputation.  Their outages lasted in some cases two days longer than the power companies, and yet the company had the audacity to have its customers listen to commercials for their services while on hold to obtain information about restoration.  It was absurd!

I hung up the phone and sat down to do some research online, thanks to an iPhone hotspot, for a blog post I was considering.  The first place I looked was Twitter — and what I saw astounded me.  It seemed to me, that every other tweet about Comcast had the f-bomb.  Simply stated, I was stunned.

Was I upset with Comcast?  You bet.  Does the company or any brand deserve that sort of treatment?  Doubtful.  Do those rants affect our reputations as individuals?  I’m certain they do.

Impulse of anger

What is it with the impulse to share with the world every perceived indignity? What other thoughts or feelings, besides what we are eating, are we so inclined to share so freely?

The Guide to Psychology, with scholarly citations, frames it this way:

The brilliant French psychoanalyst, Jacques Lacan, taught that aggression results as a psychological defense  against threats of fragmentation. That is, as infants, we are just a jumble of diverse biological processes over which we have no authority, and our first task in life is to develop a coherent identity which “pulls together” this fragmented confusion. This identity may give the appearance of a unified personality, but it really is just a psychological illusion that hides our essential human vulnerability and weakness. And so, when anything or anyone threatens us with the truth of our essential fragmentation, the quickest, easiest, and most common defense available—to hide the truth of our weakness and to give the illusion that we possess some sort of power—is aggression.

In other words, the online rants tinged with rage and aggression?  Lacan might have called these childish.

The next time you rant

Whether it’s a business deal, a new employment opportunity or a lost marketing opportunity, generally rants are bad for business.  Increasingly, employers are reviewing social sites of potential candidates.  Though Microsoft turned heads when it hired Robert Scoble, for most, they have a better shot at being struck by lightening.  I’d never hire a person who fills their streams with barrage of missives and the handful of conversations I’ve had with other possible employers reflect similar thinking.

Next time you’re inclined to rant consider if you’d be comfortable with your boss or even your mother saw your words, because the chances they will increase every day.   Better yet, write your rant, but don’t publish it, come back 24 hours later and take another look:  you may not recognize your own words.

Rants are chasing cool, not making cool.  And who wants to be a follower?

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like:
Rationalizing the rants that hold PR hostage 

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Hey Frank - nicely put about "snark disguised as savvy." 

We may give more room to the Social Media Bigshots but the core of being rude and/or vindictive is no different whether you have 50k followers or 5. When a Big Deal (even someone who I respect) mouths off without thinking, that's a data point that I file away about them. Every impression matters. 

When I see people go off on social media, it sometimes makes me think about the British approach to acting: outside in. I believe that what you actually impose on your life (internal questions, words, actions) affects who you are. So beyond the potential damage to personal/business relationships, there's also a real effect from social media ranting on how you craft/shape your self concept. The short version: if you act like a jerk (even if you are a decent person), you will become a jerk. 

It's why I buy homeless people food at least a couple times a month. Sure, they are hungry and I can see that and it bothers me, but it is also an external reminder to my self that the homeless are humans with needs and concerns. To me, that's worth more than $10 in my pocket. 


Excellent article, @Frank_Strong ! 


I have had this theory for years, and I will share it with you here. When we are among of a group of people, we tend to be influenced by the way they look at and speak to us. We are afraid of their judgments, so we automatically pay attention to our words -- at least for most of us.


But what happens when this frame of reference is not here, and all we have is a computer screen in front of us? Inhibitions disappear. And we act like children. There is no one looking at us -- or so we think. 


Of course, there are exceptions. 


I believe that we can solve issues without having to go into nasty rants. As you said, taking a breather helps put things in perspective. 

Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes
Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes

I have been known to rant a bit here and there and by a bit I mean more than a little.  My rule of thumb for this is based upon my objective for the rant which usually lies in one of three areas:


1) I am venting because I am irritated and all the rant is supposed to do is blow off steam.

2) I am venting because I am irritated and am hopeful that the rant will blow off steam and help encourage the person/company I am irritated with to do something to assuage my anger.

3) I am venting because I am irritated and think that others will relate and become readers.


Sometimes I wander through all three areas at once, but ultimately I look at my words and ask if there is substance to them. If there is substance based upon a thoughtful look at the issue and solution than I figure things usually work out ok.


But if it just me screaming then I don't really expect people to take me all that seriously which is why I try not to make every post based upon that.


Frank, I agree with almost all of this. I just take one exception. As a guy who works for an electric utility (and one that groks the big storm scenarios), you might be just a bit unfair to Comcast here. Cable companies, unlike fixed-line phone providers, don't run a current through their lines. (The micro-current in the phone lines are what allow you to use the phone when the power is out.). Without a current to use as a guide, cable companies are often blind when it comes to figuring out who is down and who isn't. The majority of their notifications come from people calling to say they have power, but the cable is still out. In some instances where utilities are on the same poles, the cable crews hang back and stay out of the way, as the electric guys (rightfully) take priority in the restoration pecking order. Granted -- Comcast owns its pain here, having long ago relinquished the benefit of the doubt. But you would think they would do a better job of explaining what I outlined above. You know, Expectations Management 101.


Ranting is just destructive. I always regret when I don't take the time to illustrate the point in a measured fashion.  Good post, Frank.


Frank, what you say has deep meaning and it does make a person want to stop and think, "Is this really what I want to say" Being guilty to doing this as well. I even made an effort to reply bad to the person that works at the company I spoke negatively about and apologized and explained why I was upset. He understood and thanked me for reaching out to him.

Soulati | Hybrid PR
Soulati | Hybrid PR

Do you think there are levels to ranting, Frank? I get in a place where the world affects me and the most recent Petraeus scandal contributed to my rant this week "Sex, Drugs, Scandal -- BAM!" with its ~80 comments. I took one on the chin, but then when I stick out my neck that way, it's expected. 


I was ranting against leadership and positions of power being relegated to the toilet due to personal choices gone public. I was ranting against things out of my control and with disgust that the country had to spend time and money listening to bedroom affectations with others' spouses.


But, I have to agree...ranting with f-bombs against companies in heat-of-the-moment tweets can't help. I have written blog posts about really poor customer service, though and then complimented that same company when service was restored. 


We have a might power as the name of your blog suggests -- we can either slice or wax poetic. 


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