Tuesday 15 January 2019

Real social media friends can help handle hecklers

As professionals today, it's expected that we have a social media presence. Stock picture
As professionals today, it's expected that we have a social media presence. Stock picture

Gina London

It was my birthday last week (why yes, I'd be happy to still receive birthday cards, thank you so much!) and to celebrate, I posted a fundraiser for a children's charity on my Facebook page.

Within minutes, a few friends donated and I felt that warm feeling of doing something good for someone else.

The next day, I led a training session for a new CEO client and I didn't check social media until right before I got to bed.

And there it was. Nestled amid plenty of good wishes, a nasty post: "As if reading your column wasn't enough, now I have to see this self-serving request!"

Maybe my first thought should have been, "Hey, at least he's reading!" But, instead, I felt that sudden sense of deflation. A sucker-punch to the gut.

As professionals today, it's expected that we have a social media presence.

LinkedIn is your digital office, Twitter and Instagram are the chatty cocktail networking receptions and Facebook is your family room. There you can be more informal and relaxed because you're surrounded by friends (and maybe third-party data aggregators, but this is not a column about data security).

While I've been trolled on Twitter - usually when I'm speaking about current affairs on TV or radio - it's never bothered me.

So, perhaps, this unnerved me because it was on Facebook, where I thought I had curated a more positive circle of friends.

Or more likely, it was the derogatory use of the term "self-serving" that demoralised me.

You're right to point out that this person bizarrely called my birthday charity fundraiser "self-serving" - which of course didn't donate to me, but rather to needy children.

And yet, most of all my other posts could indeed be described as self-serving. Like any of us who choose to be on social media, we share parts of our lives.

Those parts may include photos of food or vacations or children at recitals, and they may also include career accomplishments: winning an award; being recognised for surpassing a sales goal. Any kind of workplace achievement.

What you post, personally or professionally, goes into the public eye and is therefore subject to the occasional heckle.

How to handle a hurtful heckler is now part of our modern communications strategies. Here is how I handled mine - along with some great tips from my supportive real friends on Facebook.

1 Face the fear

Normally, for Twitter trolls who often hide behind pseudonyms, I just ignore them. On Facebook, up to now, I had never been a target - probably because I stay above the fray on politics.

But for this dispiriting post - after I deleted it from my feed where it seemed to jeer aloud to me from the screen - I decided to send a private message to the offender.

I didn't sink to their name-calling level, but rather I politely asked if they could explain why they were so angry with me. At the end of my message, I wished them well.

My hope was I would give them a chance to engage with me calmly. But, perhaps not surprisingly, they chose not to respond at all. After 48 hours, I unfriended and blocked them - eliminating that toxic person from my feed.

2 Share your experience

At first, I thought I would let it go at that. Deleted and done. But then I decided to share my experience with my Facebook community. I was amazed at the hundreds of heart-warming reassurances I received.

A friend in Colorado shared how much it rattled him when an old school mate had unexpectedly lambasted his humorous postings as a "desperate need for attention".

Another friend in Washington with whom I worked at CNN, wrote that she was baffled and dismayed when someone vehemently attacked her over her choice of college basketball teams.

3 Listen to reassurance

Whether tangible or virtual, groups of friends should be utilised to provide support. That's what friends are for.

From my high-school days to newer acquaintances here in Ireland, I appreciated their comfort.

Like my artist friend in Kilkenny, "I think your posts are uplifting. Don't stop. We love what you do. You have to promote what you do and you do it professionally."

And from this lovely friend in Cork: "I can imagine how you must have felt. How unkind and unnecessary of that person. Not a pleasant experience.

"We've all had to drop a few FB 'friends' along the way unfortunately! Life is too short for their bitterness. Kindness, respect and love all the way. Onward and upward."

And just this past Tuesday, as I was speaking at an Enterprise Ireland and Global Situation Room conference supporting Irish business efforts to scale to the US, I met Nina Vaca, the dynamic CEO of Pinnacle Group, one of the fastest-growing women-owned businesses in the US.

She summed it all up by saying: "Never forget to tell the world what you are doing. Celebrate your success!"

That said, perhaps, my favourite piece of reassurance was from a certain radio personality friend in Cork who quipped in faux Latin, 'Illegitimi Non Carborundum!'

If you have to look it up, do. It's a good one.

  • Write to Gina in care of SundayBusiness@independent.ie
  • Gina London is a former CNN anchor and international campaign strategist who is now a director with Fuzion Communications. She serves as media commentator, emcee and corporate consultant. @TheGinaLondon

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