Beware Anonymous People Bearing Advice
There are great places to get advice about how to run your business.
I’m a huge supporter of networks like The Professional Copywriters’ Network, I’ve got plenty of time for people who’ll put their experience to paper in books, and I’ve got a soft spot for Twitter.
But there are some downright terrible places to find advice and opinions too, and in my experience it’s the places where people anonymously post content with no moderation, oversight or consequences that you’ll see the most bad advice, angry yelling and downright unpleasantness.
So should you take the advice you find on anonymous forums, coming from obviously fake names on social media, or from strangers with no discernible credibility seriously?
I think no.
Take the old chestnut about copywriters charging by the word as an example. I’m on record as saying that it’s bad for writers and even worse for clients. And I’m not a lone voice shaking my fist at the clouds – the PCN agrees, Ben Locker agrees, Alastaire Allday agrees. And we all agree under our business names, on our business websites.
COPYWRITERS: Charging by the word makes you poor and miserable. CLIENTS: Paying by the word makes word counts more important than message.
— 603 Copywriting (@603Copywriting) January 25, 2016
So imagine my surprise when I stumbled around a forum thread where users like “callmesnake” were furious that anyone would suggest you should charge by the project.
It’s not the only example. Business forums are full of people called “buycheapseonowIndia” tell you that you shouldn’t pay more than a £20 one-off fee for Search Engine Optimisation, or where someone who’s fairly likely to be a teenager selling bangles on Etsy explains anonymously that brick and mortar shops are dead.
There’s something about forums that bring out the worst in people. And that counts double on business forums where suddenly everyone with a pseudonym seemingly has a vested interest in telling you how to run your business, spend your marketing budget or handle your clients.
So should you listen to the anonymous advice you find on places like Reddit, Digital Point and The UK Business Forums seriously? Or should you run a mile when you’re confronted with a faceless “expert” offering the only true path to enlightenment?
Let’s find out.
When nobody knows who you are, everything can feel like an attack
The main issue with forums is that even the most innocent question seems to turn into an argument. There’s no such thing as a difference of opinion – merely lines in the sand, the rattling of sabres and handbags at dawn.Forums, in short, are full of people who don't know shit. Click To Tweet
Because nobody on these forums has any idea who anyone else is, there’s no credibility beyond the hopeless “member since -” and “posts made” stats that reward volume over knowledge. If Andy Maslen, with his decades of experience, list of prestigious clients and stack of self-penned books tells me to put my prices up, I take that as an authority offering advice on how to run a business.
When “Fysixxx” tells me I charge too much and that nobody wants copywriting anyway, that feels like an anonymous moron putting the boot in.
Because I have no clue who Fysixxx is. I don’t know what he does, whether he’s good at it, or what he’s basing his advice on. All I know is that he’s posted 17 times a day since 2004, and looks down on me because I’ve not. His authority exists only under that pseudonym and only on that forum. It may as well be shouted at me by one of those weirdos carrying a “THE END IS NIGH” sign around the city centre.
And the thing is, I instantly don’t trust him. Because if he was trustworthy, surely he’d be happy to put his name to his advice?
If you’re not putting your name to advice, can you stand by it?
Let’s go back to my initial example about pricing by the word. I’ve given you names there. You can find all of the people I mention, you can call them up, and you can make sure they practice what they preach.
If they don’t, they’ve undermined their credibility.
That doesn’t work on a forum. If you’re anonymous, there’s no reason to be beholden to your own advice. It’d be incredibly simple to sign up to a forum, spend a few weeks posting three times a day in the joke threads, or the what are you having for tea threads, or in the what’s on TV threads, until you’ve hit an arbitrary number of posts.
Once that’s done, you can sidle over to the proper advice threads. Tell all those startup businesses looking for advice that they shouldn’t offer free consultations, or that they shouldn’t include amendments in their quotes, or that they shouldn’t have a phone number on their site because it’s 2017 man and this is the digital economy.
Then when a client wants to call for your services, they can’t call your competitors. And when they email, they don’t get the consultation they want. So they’ll stick with you, thanks very much.
This is an extreme example, sure, but it’s not pushing the limits of the believable. If people aren’t putting their name to advice, they don’t have to stand by it. So there’s no reason for you to take it seriously.
The next time you’re confronted with an anonymous expert bearing advice, go with your gut feeling, lace up those trainers and do what you want to do.
Run a mile. Because there are some right nutcases out there. And none of them are using their real names.
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