5 Ways To Deal With Trolls, Unsubscribes, and Unfollows

How do you deal with trolls? How do you cope with the inevitable unfollows and unsubscribes that come with working online? I've been online for 9 years and these are my best troll-defeating tricks!

A few months ago I discovered ads.twitter.com.

In one handy dandy space, you can see how all your tweets are faring.
Which ones are the most popular (this one was retweeted 13 times and favorited 9 times)
How many clicks they get (this one only got six)

And, rather horrifyingly, how many people unfollow you.

In case you were wondering, that’s the sound of me developing a complex about the 96 people who have unfollowed me over the last three months. Sure, 467 new people followed me BUT WHY DO THOSE 96 PEOPLE HATE ME? Do they really think tweets about cranberry moonshine are that offensive?

Ultimately, sharing your life and insights on the internet is going to lead to a good dose of rejection. People will unfollow and unsubscribe. You’ll probably get troll-y comments and you might even get written up on that One Website That Shall Not Be Named where strangers will call you a ‘forever teenager.’

I’ve spent the last nine years attempting to develop a (slightly) thicker skin when it comes to internet rejection.

5 ways to deal with trolls, unsubscribes, and unfollows

1. Know that it’s an unavoidable professional hazard

If you’re a carpenter, you go into your career knowing that at some point, you’re probably going to pinch a finger in something. If you’re a chef, you realize you’ll work nights and weekends. If you’re a social worker, you know you’ll have a engage in a lot of self-care and maybe therapy to counteract the emotionally challenging aspects of your job.
Internetting isn’t any different.

If you’re online, people will leave less-than-lovely comments on your blog. You’ll get lots of ‘Dear Blogger’ emails from P.R. companies. People will unfollow you on Twitter/Facebook/Instagram and unsubscribe from your mailing list. You’ll get spammy comments. There are lots of wonderful things that will happen too, but it’s important to know what you’re getting into when you start putting your thoughts online.

2. Realize that in order to be successful, you'll probably have to do things that annoy some people. Click To TweetI spent a long time approaching sales with a “Hey, I made this thing and it’s over here if you want it and this is the only time we’ll ever talk about it” mentality. Not surprisingly, this led to very few sales.

It’s totally, 100% possible to promote yourself in non-gross ways. However. You will have to write a sales page. You really should gather testimonials. And you’re going to have to promote your services on social media – multiple times. You’re doing a disservice to yourself and the awesome products you create if you don’t.

I (somewhat controversially) tweet about each of my blog posts three times and I know there are people who think that’s overkill and have unfollowed me because I do that. I tweeted about this post at 8:05 pm (20 clicks), 1:05 pm (36 clicks), and 9:19 am (24 clicks). I’d have missed out on 50 clicks if I’d only tweeted once! It’s a post I’m particularly proud of and I’m glad I gave more people a chance to see it.

3. Notice when YOU’RE unsubscribing and take note of your feelings

I subscribe to verrrry few newsletters (one that I always open? Paul Jarvis’s).  I’ve joined several and then unsubscribed. When I do that it’s never with a ‘You are useless human and I hate having you in my inbox!’ thought process. It’s usually more of a ‘Ahhh! I feel overwhelmed by my inbox and this is how I’m dealing with it!’ thought process.

I’ll unfollow people on Twitter when their stream is a series of complaints about local bars or they’re just bantering back and forth with their friends. Complaining about the quality of a martini or sharing inside jokes doesn’t make you a bad person by any stretch of the imagination. I just don’t need to follow that.

I try to imagine a similar mindset when people unfollow me. They don’t hate me, they just don’t need to see photos of my cute new shoes.

4. Separate the constructive criticism from the trolls

When my ’31 Things I’ve Learned in 31 Years‘ post went viral, a lot of strangers happened upon my blog and some of them felt moved to leave unpleasant comments. One told me I wrote like a 14-year old. Another told me that I looked like I was 43.

While these comments are deeeeeply annoying
a) they’re not true
b) I don’t know these people – why should I care what they think?

When I mentioned in  a blog post that I’d dressed a Dio de los Muertos girl for Halloween, a reader (articulately, kindly) pointed out that dressing up in the theme of another culture’s religious holiday maybe wasn’t in the best taste, I listened, agreed, and thanked her for her input.

Sometimes you’ll get trolls, sometimes you’ll get thoughtful input from people who know you can do better. It’s important to be able to separate the two.

5. Keep a ‘smile file

Are you dying from how cheesy that name is? I don’t care, it totally works. Whenever a reader emails me to tell me a specific post really resonated with them or that the Network of Nice helped them meet their new best friend, it goes in the email folder labeled ‘smile file’. When an advertiser tells me their traffic increased by 1200% or sells out a workshop – into the ‘smile file’ it goes.

As humans, we all suffer from negativity bias – the tendency to recall more negative memories than positive ones. With that in mind, I’ve been building up a bunker of kind, supportive emails to help me get through the inevitable unfollows and trolls.

How do you deal with unfollows, unsubscribes, and snarky comments? Share your tips – I’m sure we’d all benefit!

P.S. What you’re seeing when you see ‘success’ + How to stop equating success with self-worth

photos by Corinne Kutz // cc

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  1. Nell

    Oooh thankfully I’m still small-fry so I’ve not yet had to deal with those truly nasty types (trolls). But I have had posts that people have veraciously disagreed with me, and as long as they are respectful when putting forward their argument then I think that’s totally cool.

    The unsubscribes I can deal with as long as the balance is skewed towards lovely new peeps following me. But now I’m going to check out that ads.twitter.com thingo, so my opinion my change…

  2. Erika

    This is a great post Sarah! I always like to remember that it’s an act of courage to put myself out there and be vulnerable for the whole world to see on my blog/Twitter/whatnot, so even if the feedback I get isn’t always positive/nice/human-like… I like to think I’m still ahead! 🙂

    Also, re: the twitter unfollows thing… I notice that a lot of spammy people do the “follow a bunch of people and if they don’t follow me back in 3-4 days, unfollow immediately” game to up their follower counts, so fluctuation is to be expected and I try not to take it too personally. Moz’s Followerwonk tool (which I believe you have to have a Pro account to use) will tell you WHO unfollowed you… and the only ones that really sting are when IRL acquaintances decide to cut me out of their Twitter lives. Oh well, their loss! 🙂

  3. Mandi

    I love this! I am constantly amazed by the Internet-bullying that goes on among bloggers. (Then again, I’m kind of an idealist and think most people are fundamentally nice/good.) This really puts it in perspective though — like taking time to really THINK about why people unsubscribe: it’s not personal, they just probably get too much mail. It really softens the blow to your ego if you just take time to think. I also love the idea of a “smile file”. I need to add that tag in my Gmail, pronto.

  4. Kelsey

    I loved and needed this! I’m a social worker and a New Englander-a double whammy in the ‘not wanting to promote yourself’ department but it’s good to know there are acceptable methods of going about this. And the ‘forever teenager’ comment? Boo! People need to stop being so curmudgeony.

  5. Norma Maxwell

    I LOVE this post, Miss Sarah (who looks 25 although she says she is at least 31 and will be gorgeous when’s she’s 81–both inside an out). I just had an unsubscribe from an early mega-supporter of mine (you know, one of those people who comment/share every blog post, facebook post, and other thing you do pretty much w/out fail). She disappeared a while ago…but never unsubscribed (until recently, that is). I felt a sad twinge when I got the unsubscribe and wondered what I did to annoy her. But this post has made me feel better–so thank you! I bet she has email overwhelm, or maybe she isn’t doing the business thing any longer–whatever the case, instead of wondering about it, I’ll instead be spending my time focusing on the stuff in my my new smile file! xo ~N

    • sarahvon

      I know! I turned off my unsubscribe notifications because it bums me out!

    • Inga

      There is So many wonderful blogs to follow that it is easy to be overwhelmed by your inbox.
      Every now and then I try to get tough and unsubscribe… as I don’t have the time to read all of the blogs I’ve subscribed to.
      When I do un subscribe, 99% of the time it is only to reduce the amount of emails entering my inbox. Please don’t take it personally as most likely it does not reflect on you at all.

  6. Cathy

    Great post, Sarah.

    I too wish for thicker skin in the internet world, but yes, it’s a byproduct of making my living online. That said, my therapist told me something recently that is actually working for me if something negative comes along that doesn’t fall into the “Respectfully Disagree” category.

    If something hits someone the wrong way, that’s on them. Not me. If I write something that disturbs their status quo, so be it. (And let’s face it, I don’t write about super controversial stuff. I’m an effing middle-aged scrapbooker.) Still, it’s helped me to see what truth may reside in a negative comment, take it in and realize that it might not really be about me at all.

    Also, I’ve always wondered about Tweeting more than once about blog posts. Might have to try that as it seems like Twitter doesn’t drive a whole lot of traffic my way.

    p.s. I have a Smile File, too. It’s called “Nice Emails from Nice People.” Some days, it comes in handy.

    • sarahvon

      SO, so wise, Cathy!

  7. Liz

    I think the one of criticism and trolling is the most important. Many bloggers I once had respect for (over a time span of several years) lost me as a reader for their lack of understanding what trolling and what constructive criticism is. If I fear leaving some constructive criticism on your website, that brings up a red flag for me. For example, Genesis is a wonderful framework, but as a developer, I prefer not to use it, because having everything coded out that I want is much easier and saves space — that thing is bulky is you’re not into all the features. A potential designer-to-hire then called me a troll because I’d said it was too bad she didn’t know how to theme without it, because I actually liked her work.

    It’s the same with offering tips — WordPress security is kinda my “thing”, so when someone suggests a plugin to their readers, I comment with a link to a page on the latest exploit, then I give a suggestion to a similar plugin or tips on how to secure it. If it has had multiple exploits and scored hack attacks on multiple websites, I skip the tips and give something better to use. It’s not an “I’m-better-than-you” thing I’m saying, it’s me saying, “I love what I do, but I love your website more, and I’d rather not have to fix it, so here, try this,” sort-of-thing. (But somehow, it’s always mistaken. :X) Maybe I’m too formal. >.>

    I really like the idea of a smile file. I could make mine in the form of a scrapbook. 😮

    • Liz

      …a plugin to their readers that rings a bell in my head reminding me about the latest exploit.

      Long comments + me = forgetfulness 😐

  8. Deron

    Great and witty post, Sarah! Just signed up for Paul Jarvis’s newsletters this weekend, I’m impressed so far!

    • sarahvon

      He’s great! I think you’ll really love him!

  9. Tara

    Great post Sarah, and timely as I just noticed some unsubs after sending out my email this morning. {I unsubscribed to those updates but Aweber shoves it in your face as soon as you log in. Not cool.} It’s funny how we do know that it’s not really about us, but in the moment it can feel so horrible, it’s good to have a post like this to refer to for regaining perspective.

    I’ve been fortunate so far in that I’ve not experienced anything more than unsubscribes and one slightly stinging comment, although I know people who’ve had incredibly unkind things said to them. I try to remember as you say that when I unsubscribe it’s not because I in fact hate that person! I’ve also been known to subscribe and unsubscribe to the same things according to where I’m at at any given time. And I have a ‘Lovely File’ in my computer too, and a ‘Nice Things’ folder in my email, for gathering all the kind messages I receive. {Mind you, I forget to look at them!}

  10. Cindy

    Please understand that probably most of the unsubscribe has nothing to do with you personally, but that some of do subscribe to too many blogs and then we don’t have time to keep up. Also, we subscribe right at first because of something specific we may want to remember and do.

    Again, I would not take most of the up subscribing personally. There is just so much out there and not enough time to keep up.

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