Dealing with trolls

The problem of acerbic and vociferous haters is not going away anytime soon.

Ugly people voicing vicious personal attacks is obviously nothing new.

It’s been a topic since we first started opening up our platforms of communications on corporate blogs. When we knew open communications was the answer to community markets yet had to address the outliers telling us our products sucked and as did our companies.

A year or so ago running up to the election we all lamented the politicizing of just about everything, most seriously language itself. (See posts The new normal is anything but and Humanizing our networks.)

Today is a different reality and most every brand has embraced that their stance on any one of the vast social challenges is part of who they are. Part and parcel to defining themselves to their markets.

True for Vogue, true for Merck, true for Rupert Murdock.

Even companies who may not put their causes first, need to caucus internally and get clear with the teams their core values and how to deal with the haters.

The most conservative companies are addressing at a board level the communications chains to their employees and customers when execs tweets cross their line of what is acceptable to them.

This is a tough one for a variety of obvious reasons, not least of all how to address this in public.

Common knowledge says that the best way to deal with the haters is to ignore them.

The power of ignoring those with a crazed need not to communicate but to vent bile, is what we do. With some exceptions, we have learned to grit our teeth and allow for this on our blogs and in larger community forums.

We do this out of respect for diversity of opinion and acknowledgement that open communications, no matter how painful at time is how it should be.

This is changing, for me.

Maybe it is the grating intersection of our need to step forward on social issues and what appears to be an increase in the viciousness that spouts from the trolls that stumble around communities, spewing venom and ugliness.

Hijacking our threads, like marauding crowds of zombies who hack with their articulation not with sickles and scythes.

I agree wholeheartedly that living in a world that is only a reflection of ourselves is an echo chamber. I agree as well, that policing differences of opinion out of our line of sight is a sure path to only listening to ourselves. And I certainly agree that diversity is key to both community and creative changes in how we think.


I’ve come to the realization that diversity does not include hate. Diversity does not include supremacists. And communications does not include those whose only intent is to disrupt and attack others personally.

There is a line, sometimes fine, sometimes not, between discussions around civil differences of opinion and a street fight.

And I/we need to decide when to draw the line.

I want to give Disqus some credit here for stepping up and helping communities do this. I say this even after being a strong critic of them in the past for not kicking Breitbart and other hate mongers off their platform.

I am applauding them here for creating two tools that are really helpful.

One is the easy ability to clearly post how your own definitions of what is acceptable behavior on your blogs. Making it front and center is an asset as it is your community and you have the right and the responsibility to make your world as you see fit. I’ve been remiss and am posting mine today.

And the other, is the ability to block users.

To be clear, after a decade of building, writing and participating in blog communities there have been only a few times that I’ve erased comments as inappropriate.  On our own blogs this is easy to do.

But community and our markets now exist cross communities, cross the web. You, your brand and your stances follow you around. And the issue of what to do when not on your own properties is a real one.

For the first time, last week I used the block feature which hangs off of this box on the right side of each comment.



It allows you to report and remove users. They become invisible to you. As if they don’t exist—which in effect they don’t.

I struggled with this at first, running through the litany of whether this is right.

No more.

Life is both a wonder and a challenge. Communities are what makes the world and our businesses turn. And to those whose only intent is to disrupt, so be it.

Need to say having these ugly trolls out of site, is just as it should be, a pleasure and an opening for more productive discussions.

Who really needs this shit?

In real life, we surround ourselves with those we want to, where conversations are useful and challenging. We choose to buy or not from companies as we want to as well.

Now online, to some extent, this is possible as well.

As it should be.


These posts by Fred Wilson and Nick Grossman on adjacent topics with quite different opinions are well worth reading.

Internetworking communities on the blockchain

Communities simply happen.

In spite of the limitations of the platforms they are built on and regardless of the hosting mechanics that never quite seem to fit.

In the last decade or so social networks have been what tied our world together and communities what created value and gave the networks their souls. A symbiotic and parasitic relationship that typifies our connected world.

Up to now possibly.

As the social nets have become overtly controlling and commercial, this relationship has become more strained. And the more familiar I become with the dynamics of the communities built on the blockchain the more I see the potential to turn this paradigm sideways.

From hanging out in these coin-based markets, regardless of which coin or  competing platform they are built on, the possibility for a changed community dynamics seems possible.

And any time behavior is capable of being platformed in new ways, change is not only feasible but carries the possibilities of massive cultural transformation along with it.

I don’t pretend to have an answer, not I think does anyone, but in these early market communities there is a different dynamic at play.

Different in how ties are being formed and portending I think a reconfiguring of what marketing could mean in this new reality.

This idea came together for me around the idea of internetworking communities that I head my old friend Bill Thai talking about from one of his events on Necker Island.

The construct is that if rather than the broad social networks that we live on today, where we waste so much time pining for connection, there has been cropping up an alternative built on the blockchain, reshuffling the hierarchy of communities and networks.

Staring with the communities first as deep commercial decentralized connections, wired together establishing network interoperability cross them.

This is slippery to get your head around.

But what you sense is a real migration in place, off of the social nets where we are more and more stymied for expression and more and more harvested for the value of our data for media dollars.

Where the innate friction in this new paradigm—and there is friction of course—is pushed into the background by the pure possibilities of it all.

There are a number of still developing points that I can’t quite place but keep waking up thinking about.

Our core humanity and need for community is not transactional in nature so why the blockchain?

This one is hard to internalize.

Maybe it’s the resilience of community itself. It exists today on the matrix of the social nets so why can’t it exist in a transactional framework like the blockchain?

Community adapts and possibly peer-to -peer and the sense of ownership that it conjures up is more relevant as a platform. Or maybe it’s a good option cause the one we have today are so poor.

The past year has highlighted the limitations of our social nets as a platform for anything other than patter, and show and tell. The need is real and could drive this shift as our community needs follow us wherever we are.

Many of the coin-based communities are neither pure communities nor marketplaces, but a hybrid, market economy defined in a new way.

Once you remove the traditions of standard currencies from the platform the dynamics changes and this fresh hybridness takes over.

There is a stronger sense of ownership by both sides of the market and with it, a more generous reality of compensation that has the core value/compensation equation but different in yet inchoate ways.

It’s more convivial because trust is built into the transaction yet it is transactional not social by nature.

The dynamics of this are real, though not at all understood.

Marketing on blockchain-based marketplaces has the potential to be completely different.

This is the hardest one for me to come to grips.

When we moved online we brought with us our core behavioral needs. We evolved but the dynamics of groups and the needs of each of us are constant and will remain so.

But if you hang out in these marketplaces, the dynamics are more about community and less about networks. The KPIs that have driven marketing on the nets are out of place.

Engagement around the value of exchange feels natural though.

So what happens as the content producer on Steem want to grow their business footprint? Will this platform simply bring along with it all the crap from the social nets and start that media based mosh pit of target, find, touch, nourish, transact?

Or will it create its own dynamics where value in itself is the driver of attention?

Or is it as I’m prone to believe, a hybrid where community group dynamics will take on a new form in these market communities, starting out with a purer value-based engagement like we see in communities of interest today?

Moving forward

This relationship between private currencies, interconnected hybrid market economies and the changing face of communities and marketing is I think at the very beginning of change.

The craziness of ICOs will level out.

The behaviors of people and companies as they start to slowly reinvent our businesses and economies is just getting started.

If there is anything that we’ve learned from the crypto world is that the time to start engaging and shaping change is definitely right now.

When is the time to call it quits?

Everything is normalized in the glow of hindsight.

It’s a core survival instinct to rationalize the failures of our past as guidelines for the future. And nowhere is this more true than reflections on startups we just couldn’t make work.

There are endless posts on learning from the pains of failure, but few touch on the decision to quit itself. To those of us that have been there, that’s the inscrutable and tough one.  No matter who you are, how experienced you may be, this process is never completely rationale and always mired in pain and trauma.

This comes from the very nature of the startup dynamic I think.

By dint of what we do, we make the unimagined real. On a daily basis we work in an environment where the reality of our vision is invariably at odds with the realities of the marketplace.

We work in a perpetual state of suspended disbelief, rationalized through sheer drive and vision.  Every day is a medley of ups and downs, internalizing this over and over again making it hard, almost impossible at times, to decide when enough is really enough.

This came back to me with painful clarity the other day.

I was sitting at Esther’s wine bar in Santa Monica and was overcome with a wave of regret over my decision a number of years ago to shutter my passion project, thelocalsip, a community platform for the wine community and retailers across the globe

I so loved this idea.

This is the launch post, oozing with confidence and passion.

As I look back, I realize that my decision to close this down was shortsighted. Yes, wrong in the clear light of reflection.

Not that it was bound to succeed certainly, but because my criteria for the decision was incorrect. That years later, there is still a nagging personal ache in this area and a market hole that is still wide open.

I decided to close theLocalSip not because there wasn’t interest, there was. Not because there wasn’t value certainly. But because I simply couldn’t make the model work and as a bootstrap side venture, it needed economics of some sort to continue.

What I failed to acknowledge then that I understand now through experience, self-reflection and mentoring others, is that when we look at the hard realities of the marketplace, it is not a test of the model as much as it is whether we believe that our visions of value still holds.

Even in the face of market economics.

I’m not a P & L denier by any definition but in this instance, and in many facing entrepreneurs, it’s whether we still, even in the face of poor market fit and struggling to make payroll, believe not necessarily in the product but in the core need of people within the market that we were driving towards.

In a discussion with a buddy the other day, he took the other side of this argument. That execution not ideas matter. That not vision but market fit is what drives. That if you can’t raise the funds, that is a sign that you can’t sell the dream.

There’s truth here of course but everything aside, in the loneliness that only founders and CEOs understand, you need to come to grips with whether the passion of your drive is the archetypical Koolaid of self-delusion and should you just keep doing it. Or rethink it. Or is it time to close it down?

No matter how clear the learning is when looking in the rear-view mirror, nor how many times you go through it, it remains a struggle at this inflection point regardless of how skilled you are at managing your own emotions.

No matter how many times you have been in this hyper emotive state before.

I listened to an excellent Tim Ferris podcast on this topic recently, a compendium of stories from well known entrepreneurs on the topic ‘when to quit?’.

The one theme that stuck with me was—make a decision whether it is product that has failed, the market that has turned or whether your vision itself is still a driving force.

If it is the later and there is no market vision fit to boot, you learned something and move on.

If not, dig deep to see whether you have the poise and perspicacity to continue to work on the vision in some way that connects core belief to a still yet to be proven market.

Closing a company is a serious act of finality. Realizing that you need to rethink or redo or reconfigure, quite another.

Some people view the world as a series of great ideas with failed executions. Some as a race against market share and capital burn.

I’m prone to believing that the very best execution on a less inspired and internalized idea is a sure road to nowhere. And that vision, truly visualized yet still inchoate is not something to let go of so easily.

It took me a while to internalize this.

It’s a truth that mollifies the crazed highs and lows of startup existence, somehow making them more palatable. And something that should be of use to startup founders who are always dealing with this.

And for me personally, it makes me wonder–just a bit–whether I should brush of that theLocalSip database and give this passion another go.

 “The most powerful person in the world is the storyteller”

A lot has changed since Steve Jobs said this in 1994, but indeed almost all customer and generational truths lie in shared stories.

What Jobs understood better than most, is that the narrative between companies and their customers, the identification between products and people’s view of themselves was the key to marketing personal empowerment.

This is a universal truth, then and even more now.

We need to acknowledge that along with the possibilities of a more personal medium, there are more demands to master it.

I think there is a narrative truth that is more akin to the relationship we have to an episodic storyline than the well encapsulated and closed reality of a film that starts and stops. Or to an image in an ad or gif.

Why does this matter?

Getting the narrative right is one of the most important things that companies do to ensure their market success.  A must do.

People simply react to what feels right to them.

No matter how busy or distracted they are, each individual in the market is open to a narrative that connects them to things that matter to them.

To the clothes, they want to buy. The people they want to vote for. The tools to make work better or charities to support. Or the sense of power and hyper-charged chutzpah that pervades the personae in the decentralized world of incentivized networks on the blockchain.

Think about this in relation to your company or even to your ability to communicate more effectively as an individual on your social nets to raise some funds or front a cause.

Each and every individual is open to information or connection around most every decision they have to make. Even those pieces of their lives they don’t know can be better or different.

We just need to get the narrative right and orchestrate how and when we tell it. We need to play the role of being the mouthpiece of what they need or want to hear.

Nontrivial certainly but always where we start.

Building products is hard and a process. But no more I would argue, or more complex than touching individuals we have no prior connection within their very hearts and beliefs to move them to thought or action.

What marketing does, the engine of the narrative process, when done right, is to figure out how to make this possible.

All of us have a huge arsenal of data and networks available to us. Tools and rules of thumb to guide our actions but the soul of the machinery is in what touches people. Otherwise, it is just machination. Just exercise and technique.

I would always rather have my narrative at an emotive and true connecting point than an infinite amount of resources to roll it out. If I can nail that, funding, market connection and community engagement all have a better shot.

What is it that ties this all together?

It’s more than simply a story. Or talking points.

Jobs (so the story goes) was thinking of Disney at the quote at the top of this post.

We, however, need to think of ourselves as the creator and pulse of our own narrative. Forget being the most powerful in the world and think about the right way to touch your own world.

Many of us in marketing were brought up with the corporate communications mantra of vision, mission statement, elevator pitch, one liner, short para on who we are and on and on.

There is value in that exercise but our narrative is not exercise, it is the language we speak in.

This is not getting it perfect, it is getting it true and engaging.

Success is not a pitch, success is touching people who are not looking for you and doing something else. Who you don’t know, who don’t in most cases even know that what you have is something they care about.

This doesn’t come from an image or ad.

It comes from finding the words that speak to the value that someone else needs to hear. Finding someone else’s aha point in a common language.

Ask yourself—

Why someone chooses you or your product over another? Why in the midst of all the noise and distraction, it is possible to connect and touch someone?

How can you from a very cold start create something new in the world that finds its way into a mass market of connection? Not through code, through connection and belief?

Stories are the force that shapes our world. The answers to all the questions not yet asked.

What’s yours?

Father’s Day









I’ve written about my dad and my family growing up many times on this blog.

About his story as a first generation immigrant raised in the blue-collar community of Paterson, NJ. In the mist of the Passaic Falls that drew his parents from Ozorkova, Poland to work in the silk mills there.

So much time has passed since his death that the melancholy of loss has become more pensive, more useful and inchoate at the same time.

I’ve turned the ache into thought, longing into something that I can hold onto and pull out as needed.

This morning with his image in my mind, I’m thinking about how our lives are shaped and powered by composite memories of people and events even as they change and crystalize over time.

My memory of my dad is so transfixed by the passage of years. So nuanced by a lifetime of my own experiences that have transpired since we laid him to rest.

It is less about a litany of learnings than one image that I see when I close my eyes.

It’s become clear to me as I get older that memory is not about the past, it is what we carry forth into the present as character and strength from what we’ve learned.

Being old by definition is spending your days looking back as the best part of the present. Being alive is longing for the new, taking what we’ve experienced as pieces of ourselves to pave a new future.

When I think of my dad, the picture at the top of the post captures it for me.

Me, probably seven or eight years old, him in his late twenties at the time.

Snuggling into him on a family vacation to the Thousand Islands.

Me, the precocious middle child grabbing a moment of ownership and connection from my always busy, ever attentive, forever teaching father.

It feels like a lifetime ago.

Loss though is not what I iconize about my dad.

It’s more a hyperlink to a place in time. A wrinkle that you can crawl into as needed and peel back parts to feed what is ailing you. I stare at this picture often, a scan of an actual Polaroid that my mom took and noted the place and time on the back in pencil.

It makes me think about how lucky I was to be brought up in a family that truly cared, that made sacrifice normal, that worked like crazy, that did everything they could for each of us.

This is a pictogram of love. Of safety. Of security. And of thanks.

This is the good stuff of life, these memories as fuel for the future.

They become more rounded at the edges over time, more framed images than motion pictures with a plot. But still, a narrative that belongs to me alone.

This is a composite of memory.

Of want and need. Something that I deem sacrosanct that holds me tight. And gives me strength.

I feel lucky.

He was a really good man and a great father.  I don’t miss him as much as I try to be as good a person as he was.

In retrospect, life is as we craft it in our thoughts.

Can you hold 50 years in a snapshot of something that feels out of body even if the body was your own?

A lifetime of experiences, reflections, and uncertainties in this framed view of where you came from and where you are going?


Happy Father’s Day to all.