Muppets_Statler_WaldorfYou can spend your time on stage pleasing the heckler in the back, or you can devote it to the audience that came to hear you perform.

From: “Linchpin: Are You Indispensable” by Seth Godin

Seth Godin has been described as America’s “marketing sweetheart.” Seems like a cool moniker though I’m not sure I want to be any group’s sweetheart. I kind of enjoy my role as “pointed stick.” I enjoy pushing people to the point of discomfort. Because that’s where learning happens and I’m a teacher. That’s why I really like what he’s saying in this quote. Don’t waste your time reacting to a small number of critics or those who simply seek to find fault. They don’t like you; won’t like you. I’m not in the business of making people like me, I tell them stuff. Stuff to help them get a job. And sometimes it’s stuff they don’t want to hear.

Mr. Godin earned his place as a Marketing / PR / Branding guru by dispensing advice that is particularly relevant in today’s social media-driven world. Companies and individuals “push” their own branding efforts through YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and the other nine million social networks that have popped up all over the inter-webs. Branding is also the by-product of reviews that these companies and individuals get from Yelp, Angie’s List, TripAdvisor, Glassdoor, as well as social media.

As a result, there’s no shortage of career experts telling job seekers to manage their online brand. Start a blog so people can read the brilliant things you have to say, set up a website with examples of the projects you’ve completed, make sure your LinkedIn profile is snazzy and up to date, post reviews of books you’ve read to show that you’ve read the right books, don’t post dumb stuff on Facebook… Branding is the way to define yourself in what can be a highly impersonal recruiting process.

So I immediately thought of Seth’s quote when I was told someone had dissed my classes on our College Facebook page. In the face of negative criticism, we can take three positions:

  • Erase it – A small number of branding experts will say to just get rid of any dissent. This works particularly well in totalitarian regimes. Throw dissenters in jail where no one can hear them and only promote good news. I have to say, I’m not really a fan of an approach mostly used by dictators and narcissists.
  • Respond to the person – Most branding experts will say that the key to managing negative feedback is to immediately respond and find out what we need to do to make the “feedbacker” happy. Sometimes this means groveling or kissing up like you see on TripAdvisor or Yelp. I’m not a fan of this approach either. Not because I don’t like negative feedback or don’t want to make people happy. The issue is, as I said earlier, I’m not in the making people happy business.
  • Respond to the feedback – Here’s where the magic happens! Good objective feedback, whether positive or negative, is gold. This worked because of X. Or, this didn’t work because of Y. Cool. Thank you fine citizen! Now I can go fix this to make my product or service more effective. Last year a student who owned her own business told me that the career classes did not meet her needs. I assessed her feedback and she was right. So I made changes in the activity part of the class to better meet the developmental needs of entrepreneurial and professional students. It was the best change and I am grateful for her feedback.

Hecklers, unfortunately, aren’t objective. They communicate emotion rather than fact and generally direct their venom at a person rather than the good or service being offered making it impossible to effectively respond to the feedback. To assess the efficacy of the feedback, look at what is said, and look at who is saying it.

So here’s an example. Let’s just say that someone gives a business a bad review on Google or Yelp or TripAdvisor or on their Facebook page. Something along the lines of: “Worlds worst! 1 professor per class. The new policy for admits in to the college is insane. The 4 1 credit class series is a waste of money and time. You’re just a number!”

The business person can ask to have the review taken down, can reply to the review apologizing and trying to make amends, or can do some research to see if the reviewer’s opinion is even worth considering. So, let’s say the reviewer’s other negative reviews are:


Does this person have a record of providing good objective feedback upon which you can undertake action to improve your service, or are they just one of Mr. Godin’s hecklers? Probably not fair to just base your evaluation on two online rants that are (by their use of all caps) driven by an inability to control one’s emotional state.

So you keep digging. Let’s say you also find out that the reviewer is no longer a member of the community critiqued, and not by choice. People leave communities for a wide variety of reasons. I remember hearing the story about my mom’s sister who ran away to Colorado to live in a hippie commune. Seemed like a good idea at the time. Within a week she’d learned that not everyone there was going to be pitching in the way they promised. First they collectively disassociated members of the community based on that person’s performance. Couldn’t pull your weight? You’re voted off the island. The second way people leave is how my aunt left. Eventually she found that the community just wasn’t the right place for her. The culture and values were different from hers. That’s not a bad thing. Culture and values come from the top down based on leader behaviors and also percolate up based on the collective needs and actions of the community members. (For more on this, read “Lord of the Flies” by William Golden. Not all business lessons are in business books!)

Her big take away from all this? Know about the community you choose to enter. Know their culture and values and know that they match yours. She later returned to school, got a degree in Chemistry, and spent her entire career with one major oil company showing this lesson applies to job seekers as well. Know the culture and values of the companies you apply to by researching them and their leadership. If you are working somewhere and don’t like it then do yourself a favor and leave before you’re asked to leave. Don’t be a heckler, you don’t help anything and…frankly…no one gives a crap what you think.

After a careful review, I’m going to choose to take Mr. Godin’s advice and ignore the heckler.