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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?

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25 Responses

  1. 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.

    1. @Soulati | B2B Social Media Marketing No, I don’t think so.  I’d draw a big distinction between thoughtful, researched and reasoned commentary, and simply vomiting digital words as the result of emotion: snark disguised as savvy. 
      I’ve been mulling a post on Gen. Petraeus because it strikes a deep cord with me — he is an unbelievable human being:  an intellectual genius, phenomenal with people and yet still a Soldier’s Soldier.  Many leaders have one of those characteristics; few have all three.   Ninety-nine  percent of the commentary is a result of reading a headline and reacting viscerally. Most people have no idea what this man has done. 
      Further it’s hardly a “sex” scandal.  It was an extra-marital affair with a 40-year old woman, not oral sex in the Oval Office with an easily influenced intern. That doesn’t justify what has been done; it’s a tragic twist in the story of a leader that has been otherwise impeccable and the man resigned as he should.

  2. AdrianKessler

    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.

  3. 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.

    1. @Ike Ike, I always appreciate your perceptive, you always bring a level-headed view point to the discussion. Indeed, that is a good explanation, and they’d do well to share that information. Dominion in my view, set a standard, for responsiveness, if ETR is unfair to compare.  I was really impressed, especially given my previous experience.  In any case, the customer should not have to listen to a recording pitch a sale while on hold to get a status update. As you say, they own the pain here and have built the lactic acid for years; it’s going to take years of discipline to get back in shape.

  4. 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.

    1. @Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes So for those three reasons, would you stand outside the front door of a brick and mortar retail store and say the same things you do online to passersby? A better question might be, have you ever done that?

      1. @Frank_Strong  I can’t remember a time where I stood outside a brick-and-mortar ranting at anyone. In my experience when you explain what the problem is and present a solution in a calm manner you usually do better than when you scream.
        Within the online world the overwhelming number of my “personal” rants have been more about my venting and using the space to understand the issues and to determine the best way to proceed.

        1. @Frank_Strong
          I hope it helped. I won’t ever claim to be the smartest guy but I think I am pretty aware of who I am and what drives me.
          The two best parts of the online experience in my world are the opportunity to engage/learn with/from others I never would have met and the chance to better understand myself.
          The key element in your post that I always bear in mind is the question of what impact will my words have on my image reputation.
          It is really easy to be misunderstood online. Without verbal cues and body language people frequently misunderstand what someone has written.
          So the question becomes one where we have to do more than ask whether we would be willing to say these things in person but what do we think will happen when others read them because they live on after the moment.

  5. cendrinemedia

    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.

    1. @cendrinemedia I do believe you are on to something here.  The experts might call it cyberdisinhibition. But then, what makes us think that frame of reference is non-existent online?

      1. cendrinemedia

        @Frank_Strong It is not non-existent. I don’t know why people think that this frame of reference is non-existent. The only thing I know is that I am always very careful about the way I “rant” online. I try to remain as polite as possible.

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  9. 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.

    1. JoeCardillo What a great comment, Joe, thanks. Words are definitely a starting point — that’s why we write down important things like goals.  I guess to your point, it works the other way as well. We’ve all seen it. 
      Nice touch on buying food — and a good reminder about a significant common denominator of all: humanity.

      1. Frank_Strong JoeCardillo Thanks, yeah I find that taking small, concrete actions tends to help you think bigger picture later.
        Better to get a constant flow of information you can use than big chunks now and then (and isn’t that really how it works anyway despite what the “lightening strikes” people say).

      2. Frank_Strong JoeCardillo Thanks, yeah I find that taking small, concrete actions tends to help you think bigger picture later.
        Better to get a constant flow of information you can use than big chunks now and then (and isn’t that really how it works anyway despite what the “lightening strikes” people say).

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