Earlier today, we had a bit of a brouhaha among the Twitterati of the real estate set. The genesis was this video blog by Greg Cooper in which he blasted Todd Carpenter, attacked him personally, and laid the heavy artillery on to NAR. Which then brought responses from various members of the RE.net, some friendly to Todd and others hostile to him, and resulted in this post by Bill Lublin.
Periodically, it seems we get one of these little kerfuffles in the RE.net; I personally think it’s pretty healthy. As far as the specifics of the Todd vs. Greg deal and all of that, the whole thing is likely blown way out of proportion, and others will address the “personal vs. corporate” burdens on someone using his personal channels. I hear Jay Thompson is working on a post. Suffice to say that Todd is a great guy, and if any “embarrassment” resulted, I’m 100% positive he did not intend it. So count me in Team @Tcar as far as that goes.
But the real issue I’d like to discuss is actually from a comment by Ines Hegedus-Garcia to Bill’s post which goes:
But again, that’s not the point – it’s not about Todd, it’s about the flaming of an individual on a public forum that totally crosses the line. (And the fact that is Todd makes it all the worse)
And via Twitter, there are a number of folks who thought Greg’s post was over the top, unfair, and illegitimate. Criticism, it goes, should be “constructive and thoughtful” of else, not worth the time at all.
This is where I part company with polite society.
Flamewars: The Sport of the Interwebs
Flaming, criticism, unfair personal attacks on an individual is a bedrock tradition of the Interwebs from its origins as something over-caffeinated geeks engaged in late at night in computer labs across American campuses. The same forces that make the Internet such a wonderful medium for communication and community building make it also the Wild Wild West as it comes to personal attacks. Expecting parliamentary debate on the wild ethers is an exercise in self-delusion.
The Internet, with its anonymity, its spontaneity, and its lack of real responsibility is hardly the place to expect Plato’s Symposium. It’s gonna be rough; some folks are gonna get nasty with differing levels of snark. Some people are gonna go over the edge, while others are going to be the wise voices of moderation. That chaos, that rawness, is what makes social media “work” as well as it does to form relationships. It’s people being real, and in being real, being authentic.
Some people are real assholes. (I’m not suggesting Greg is an asshole, by the way; I thought his rant by Internet standards was pretty tame, actually. But I do spend time at DailyKos sometimes….) They’re going to rant and rave and behave like real assholes.
That doesn’t mean that they’re wrong, or that they don’t have a point.
Tactics of Flaming and Personal Attacks
As Melissa Del Gaudio (@startabuzz) said via Twitter, flaming rarely hurts the target but often rebounds to the flamer. That is true. It is almost never a wise strategy to go ad hominem.
Two reasons why personal attacks are bad tactics. First, they inevitably raise the rancor of the target’s friends and associates. That usually results in personal attacks back. Second, and more importantly, personal attacks usually obscure the point you’re trying to make. Grab a passerby and say, “This is the year 2010” and you’re likely to get total agreement (along with a stare for stating the obvious); grab the same passerby and say, “You @#)8%@#$ moron, don’t you %)(*#@$ get that this is the year 20-f’ing-10???” and they pay more attention to the @$*#@)(% part than to the “2010” part.
Now, there are times when flaming and personal attacks can be highly effective, because even as neutral bystanders might think you’re just being a jerk, partisans and people more likely to agree with you anyhow may become energized by the attack and start spreading the meme around in a less confrontational way. The best modern example of this is how the Left treated Sarah Palin in 2008 (and still does); the Right for its part successfully attacked John Kerry via personal attacks in 2004.
From a strictly tactical perspective, a marketer wise in the way of social media should at least be aware of when ad hominem attacks could be effective in achieving a particular set of goals, even as she understands that she may be playing with a double-edged sword.
Bad Tactics Is Not the Same As Illegitimate
What I would warn the RE.net — and anyone else for the matter who might be reading this — of is not to equate bad tactics with illegitimacy. A complaint loaded down with personal attacks might still have a valid point buried within it.
Especially those who are in the business of helping companies use social media for branding and engagement need to exercise judgment as to what is and is not legitimate. Taking an example from real estate, suppose a past client were to get on Facebook or on a national blog of some sort and post something like this:
“I can’t stand that ***** bitch So-and-So; she’s the worst f’ing realtor in history, who kills puppies for fun. She priced my ****** house so ***** low just to move the damn thing with no effort — greedy lazy selfish bitch!”
Understandably, So-and-So’s first reaction would be horror mixed with anger. Personal attacks abound! Yet, there is a valid point there. Maybe she did price the house too low. Maybe she didn’t do a good enough job explaining the price, or market conditions, or whatever. Maybe she needs to take another look at what happened in that transaction.
A response like, “Well, that just crosses the line! I’m not listening!” is justifiable — but shortsighted. Some recognition of the fact that flaming and personal attacks are part and parcel of the Internet would likely do So-and-So better.
For example, earlier today, Greg Swann of Bloodhound Blog (a national real estate blog) just laid it on yours truly:
But, alas, the Shortbus set doesn’t have the vision to come up with a truly idiotic argument against using mobile devices to market real estate. This honor was earned by Rob Hahn, an attorney in New York City who doubles as a vendorslut consultant or a consultant to vendorsluts or some bizarre combination of the two.
Among the clever epithets he came up with were “The Inglorious R.O.B.” and “The Ignominious R.O.B.” Brilliant! Wordsmithing at its finest!
Now, I dig a good flamewar like any redblooded partisan of the political blogosphere, but in this case… I’m not that interested. I’m rather more interested to find out if the point he makes exposes a flaw in my way of thinking. Personally, I haven’t seen anything buried in his rants that makes me change my mind. The rest of it, all the personal crap, I lack the measure of respect for the critic that would make such things sting.
Frankly, that’s what I’d like to advise the RE.net when it comes to periodic flamewars. By all means, get into it — rally around the family, with a pocketful of shells, and all that. But don’t lose sight of whatever point the ranting flamer is trying to make. Stomp him all you want, but don’t rule such things “out of bounds” or “over the line” or some such. Flaming hurts the flamer; but ignoring substance hurts all of us.
As Far As Greg vs. Todd…
Greg went overboard; of that, there’s no doubt. But there IS an important point buried in his rants. Jay Thompson (@phxreguy) is writing a post on that, I believe.
Does an organization — in this case NAR — bear any responsibility if an employee says something via personal social media channels that results in negative impact?
That question is a valid one; and it’s one worth discussing.
The rest of it, the personal attacks, the name-calling… well, Greg… that was bad tactics. As you will find out. But on the actual valid issue you raised, we all will benefit by discussing that in the days ahead.