[su_note note_color=”#f9f9db”]WANT MORE? This excerpt is from Tod’s book TOUCH: Five Factors to Growing and Leading a Human Organization. Learn more about the book here.[/su_note]

I’m not a prick. Really, I’m not. Although, judging from the tweet I sent back in October 2012, you might think otherwise.

I was giving a speech in Seattle and staying at the local Westin. As I often do, I had forgotten my toiletries back home, so I called the front desk and asked if they could send up a disposable toothbrush kit. Almost all hotels have them, and most will give one to you free.

The operator says “Sure, no problem. $23.95.”

By the time I had processed what she had said, I had already hung up. $24 for a cheap toothbrush? (I mean, maybe if I had been staying at a low-end, bedbug-ridden motel, but this was a relatively high-end hotel. And I was a Gold member of its loyalty program.)

So — and here’s where the prickish part starts — instead of calling back and asking someone why it was so much, I grabbed my iPad and pounded out a brief rant.

There. That’s better. I felt vindicated, smug, and secretly hoped my 10,000+ followers would retweet it. That would teach the hotel a lesson, I thought — all I needed now was a long moustache to roll in my fingers saying “Mwahahahaha!”

To its credit, the Westin’s headquarters monitors brand mentions of its hotels like a hawk and, within minutes, they had called the front desk of the hotel and had the manager call me.

“It’s not really a big deal,” I said, now feeling a little sheepish that I was actually forced to speak with a real human being. “I was just surprised, that’s all.”

“I think there’s been a misunderstanding,” he explained. “Our operator was quoting back your room number — 2395 — to deliver it to you. That wasn’t the price. Of course, we wouldn’t charge you for a toothbrush.”

“Oh,” I mumbled. “Sorry about that.”

Like I say, I’m not really a prick. But sometimes I play one on Twitter.

It’s Not Just Me

I’m not the only one who’s popped onto Twitter, Facebook, or a blog comment to shout angrily at a seemingly empty account. Sometimes it gets results, sometimes it gets ignored, and more often than not I just embarrass himself.

This isn’t the way it used to be. Before the Internet, even talking to telemarketers was handled with an ounce of decorum.

Today, entire web sites exist to collect consumer reviews — much of it harshly negative — and those reviews have had the power to bring down entire companies.

Remember that not everyone who posts something negative about your brand is necessarily out for blood.

As a result of client projects for which I’ve read thousands of comments left on news articles and blog posts, I’ve organized commenters into five main categories. The premise is you must first seek first to understand (and believe me, reading hundreds of comments is an important and valuable commitment) before you can decide any follow-up course of action. You need to become more familiar with what the issue really is and who you should be reaching out to — before you put energy into what should be said.

The following are the five categories of commenters we’ve identified at my social media agency:

  • INVOLVED – These are the people who are close to or very concerned about the issue at hand. They know the stakeholders, they have intimate knowledge of the contributing elements, and can analyze the different directions and effects of the issue on the fly. Involved commenters help keep the conversation relevant no matter their stance on the issue.
  • INFORMED – These are the people who have taken the time to learn more about the issue and its key players. They tend to know the history and appreciate the impacts. Informed commenters generally have a personal interest in the issue. They contribute new ideas to the conversation and help others understand by taking the time to offer valuable responses.
  • MISINFORMED – These are the people who have skimmed the article and possibly other resources, may have misunderstood the information they received and have collected or were fed inaccurate information from other sources. This is the first level of commenter that lets opinions cloud the issue by relying on their opinions fill in holes in their understanding. Misinformed commenters aren’t necessarily malicious.
  • UNINFORMED – This is where the participants in the conversation transition from being people to being commenters. The uninformed choose to let their opinion validate their broken logic. They aren’t interested in the back story and don’t know who the stakeholders are. In most cases, they’ve picked up on a single point of the article or taken a single piece of information out of context. Uninformed commenters like to pontificate and are happiest when they deconstruct what other people are saying, sometimes peppering their comments with personal attacks.
  • ANGRY – Known largely as “trolls” and “flamers,” this is the angry mob of people who like to berate others no matter what the discussion is about. They’ve never heard of the issue and probably won’t come back to it. They spray their anger and leave. This group get their energy from lobbing emotional attacks that lack, among other things, logic.

The table that follows quantifies five qualities of each commenter category based on several criteria with ratings of one (lowest) to five (highest), and zero to indicate “none.” The qualities cover engagement (how likely the commenter is to provide more than one contribution), understanding (how much knowledge the commenter has on the issue and its contributing factors), credibility (how much believability and insight they offer in the discussion), logic (how likely the commenter’s contribution is to make sense and relate to the issue and its contributing factors), and emotion (how much mood and personal feedback is likely to be present in the commenter’s contributions).


Note that the involved tend to offer their insight and knowledge in a few credible and logical arguments before they depart from the exchange. These people tend to feel their points have been made and don’t require repetition. It’s hard to keep these people around for a meaningful discussion, particularly when the angry mob gets involved.

Misinformed people tend to stick around more. Our observations suggest many of these people seemed genuinely interested in a productive discussion of the issues in order to expand their understanding. They have some credibility in the exchanges because they appear to listen.

The conversation gets much more prickly and unproductive as the uninformed and angry participants become more involved. They’re just itching for a fight and will use ad hominem attacks to get a charge from their targets. They turn the discussion from the issues to the personalities of the participants. And, they tend to be reasonably active. They often depart out of fatigue or “out of protest.”

Knowing the qualities of these groups is important. It will help you better prepare your responses, if any are merited, to the conversation.

Remember, you must have a handle on the people in your camp as much as you need to vigilantly watch and react to your critics. Sometimes your greatest informed and misinformed supporters in any category can get testy. To earn credibility, you must protect the critics as closely as you protect your own interests.

Once you know your commenters by their categories, it becomes easier to figure out who to engage with, how and when.

[su_note note_color=”#f9f9db”]WANT MORE? This excerpt is from Tod’s book TOUCH: Five Factors to Growing and Leading a Human Organization. Learn more about the book here.[/su_note]