When Social Media Piranhas Strike

social media piranhas

By Clayton Carroll, {grow} Community Member

We’ve seen it before.

Someone disagrees with an influencer and the social media piranhas have a feeding frenzy. They quickly rip apart the dissenter. The piranhas hurl jeers and “insights” all designed to devour an opinion and shame that person from showing their face in public again.

Faced with this possible outcome, why would anyone disagree?

Sometimes there seems to be a lack of critical thinking on the internet. However, I think that’s just a small part of it.

If someone thinks an influencer is wrong, there are several reasons why they might not voice their opinion:

  1. Influencers are the new celebrities (Mark Schaefer and Tom Webster, aka Schwebster, in their niche are now akin to Branjelina). There’s probably a bit of a positive halo around these folks.
  2. Those who voice disagreement fear alienation by an influencer and their fans.
  3. It is very time consuming (and a lot harder) to thoughtfully disagree than to clap, clap, clap, when everyone else is cheering.

How Did This Happen?

The internet and social media enables almost anyone to become famous in their niche.

Think of the screaming line of tweens that came down with Bieber fever.  I feel the same way about Gary Vaynerchuk and Mark Schaefer (well, almost).

Gary and Mark have delivered so much value, I almost feel indebted to them. Also, they are almost always right and have impressive accomplishments (how they became influencers).

These influencers (Mark and Gary) are celebrities to people such as myself.

We Emotionally Connect with Influencers

When an influencer or anyone has helped you tremendously, you form an emotional connection.

The tweens that caught Bieber fever also went crazy for the Twilight movies.  Like a Justin Bieber concert, these tweens on went nuts for Team Edward because they wanted him to end up with Bella (was anyone on Team Jacob?).

I want to become a better marketer so I metaphorically scream and cheer at Mark and Gary’s every word.

Disagree with my celebrities and I might turn into carnivorous fish.

Chewed Up and Spit Out

I’m sure most of us have seen people decimated by the social media piranhas and read horror stories.  Someone saying the wrong thing at the wrong time can end their career.

The stakes are high on social media and the internet because everything goes into public record. Targeted troll attacks can be devastating if someone really wants to put time and energy into coming after you.  So why give them a reason to do it?

Role Model, Icon, Celebrity = Influencer

Whatever you want to call them, an influencer is a good person to know.  They are even better for helping your business or personal brand (influencer marketing as Mark talks about).

If they like or know you well enough, they may even promote you for free.  Get known well enough to the influencer’s tribe and their fans might become your fans.

Why risk a potentially good relationship by disagreeing with them?

I’m Just Here to Cheer

Whenever I disagree with anyone online strongly enough to put it in writing, I always try to think through every possible objection or outcome.  Get it right or risk being dropped in the middle of the Amazon. I also find it very difficult to articulate a proper response in 140 characters or less.

Critical thinking in this case takes a lot of effort with little return.  It’s easier to nod, smile, engage in Groupthink and move along with your day.

Is There a Solution?

There’s not really a perfect solution but it helps if we act like normal humans.

More specifically, any partial solution requires both the influencer and we as their audience:


  • Be very clear it is ok to disagree with you and welcome any constructive criticism.
  • Encourage a difference of opinion, which helps everyone get better.
  • Make it clear to all of us that you do not tolerate social media piranhas.

My Fellow Audience Members:

  • Always be respectful and constructive when disagreeing with the influencer or another person.
  • Encourage the idea of different opinions even if the opinion is wrong.
  • Accept no matter what we say or how right we are, someone will always disagree.

Influencers Are Sometimes Wrong

No one bats a thousand.

It can be hard to imagine your influencer being wrong.  They accomplished all these great things and what have you done?

The best way of looking at it may be as Gary Vaynerchuk says, “You’re only as good as your last at bat”.  Seeing an influencer that way does not diminish their accomplishments but keeps them honest.

Other Thoughts

Mark does a great job of encouraging great dialogue on his blog and social media.  I’ve always felt his community is a reflection of him, which is professional and very sharp.  Gary also does a great job of engaging his audience when folks constructively disagree with him.

So the problem may not really be with the influencers. The piranha mindset comes from the community and I’m not sure how that can be corrected on a large scale. It might just be a problem we have to accept as our to-do lists grow every day. What do you think?

Clayton Carroll is in sales and marketing at the software company ERP 101, which provides software for your very small business.  He also finds and shares digital marketing success stories every week on Medium and the ERP 101 blog.  Find Clayton on Instagram but also make sure to add him on Snapchat!

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  • Jennifer Porter

    Good read. Constructive criticism Is valuable and I think we all learn from it, irregardless of positive or negative feedback. With respectful presentation everyone can grow.

  • Bernice Mirrilees

    Here’s another idea: share your thoughts directly with the influencer if you are able to, rather than with their entire sphere of influence. No one likes to be criticized publicly, constructively or caustically. If the influencer is a thoughtful person, they may share your points with their audience and ask for input. If they respond to you personally their EQ goes up. If they ignore your comments, you’ve got a valuable insight into that person’s character.

  • Claytonjay101

    Thank you and very true, coming from a sports background I’ve always been a huge believer in that.

  • Claytonjay101

    That’s a great insight Bernice! Had not thought of that one, a good addition to what I laid out.

  • Kitty Kilian

    Clayton, when I started reading I thought this would be a really wonderful blog. Because you write well and you start out tackling a taboo: never attack a famous person online. Hurray, I think. But lo and behold within a few lines you are singing Marks praise like everyone else and in every effing paragraph. Can we tackle that inverse taboo in a next blog post, please? I happen to have a few thoughts on the subject. Because I find it annoying to no end.

  • DeeDee Gollin

    I like the halo comment! Thanks for the humor Clayton. As I tell my son…sometimes its just good to “smile and wave, boys!”

  • Totally love this! Any great influencer will encourage healthy discussion and even disagreement providing it’s done in a respectful and polite manner. However, it’s an individual’s choice if they want private or public discussion. There is no right or wrong answer here IMO as it depends on individual preference and their “comfort zone”.

    More importantly, we all must keep in mind that there is a HUGE difference between constructive criticism, disagreement and discussion verses an ATTACK. Out and out attacks are never warranted and never accomplish anything (except embarrassing the attacker….).

  • Interesting thought on the “inverse taboo”, Kitty. I love your thought provoking comments and would really like to read more about your thinking on this subject. Maybe you could write the “next blog post” and share your thinking?

  • Thanks for presenting a dissenting view Kitty. You are a person who always confronts me directly and I appreciate that. It is one of the reasons we are friends, in fact.

  • It’s easy. Kitty kicks my ass. And I love it.

  • Real world contacts often give each other unspoken permission to gently, passionately or angrily disagree when they are face to face. So I’m not just talking about what happens in Los Vegas. I’m not just talking about friends.

    But such liberality is not generally applied online and, yeah, it is pretty much verboten in most mild-mannered, professional OR happy-faced, online, entrainment communities.

    Actually, things were a lot rougher on the internets in the 1980s and 90s. Most of that tough business has moved to the dark web, 4chan, military-highschool-college forums/groups, etc. Before the turn of the millennium, I received way more death threats. And, happy day, I think I’m down to three in the last 10 years. Most of the people who registered for netizenship after Facebook and blogging, however, are soft, cute, friendly and easily-scared. It’s a kinder, gentler internets now. But not really. A proven troll warlord knows better. And that reference is more of a hat tip to Everquest in the 90s than to the trolls and flame wars I endured and conquered in the days of the wild, wild internets.

    Yes, nothing cleans a place up faster than the love of money. Not to mention that information, envy, support groups, relevance, influence and happiness can make pleasant and tolerant pretenders of us – most of us. And the forced dispossession of internet anonymity was/is critical to the taming of the internets. The only interesting design feat accomplished by Facebook was this – the forced dispossession of internet anonymity.

    But there is a darkness in human nature that will never be tamed. And you find these piranhas (I call them snaga, the slave orcs in Tolkien story time)… you find the snaga gathering often where the opportunity for feeding frenzy and human sacrifices are more likely.

    If someone who is known is not someone who can brush off the stings and rough salutes of superior, equal and lesser folk – you are following the wrong people. Rockstars and Hollywood people come to mind. And politicos. I believe it was Nassim Nicholas Taleb who said that Mercy and good humor belong only to the Mighty.

    Alas, intelligence used to dazzle like precious stones and metals in the darkness of the wild wild webs. In the daybreak, that fiery dazzle and sparkle is seen less or, maybe, they come to the public square less. Maybe, they come out less because they cannot tolerate the snaga, the lesser minds and hearts and the indecency of our intellectual bankruptcy. Maybe, my eyes are failing. Maybe.

    And this is how we shared ourselves in the wild, wild webs. Those of us who were/are real, on- and offline.

  • Kitty Kilian

    But you don’t agree, do you? 😉

  • Claytonjay101

    It’s definitely a tough subject, if I do comment on something, I try to in the way I described above and always stay professional.

  • Claytonjay101

    I love this comment Kitty and thank you for the kind words about my writing. Also, I can tell nothing gets by you.

    I didn’t mean to come off that way but I can see what you mean and understand the frustration. I was more trying to lay out the problem and point out how it’s emotional and we all know that’s an interesting subject.

    I would love to see your thoughts on this in a future topic!

  • Claytonjay101

    Thanks DeeDee! I agree, there are definitely times to do just that.

  • Claytonjay101

    Totally agree Steve. Intent and your execution of it are the difference between helping someone get better or feeding them to the piranhas.

  • Kitty Kilian

    That’s OK Clayton – I did not mean to cause you any embarassment, and I totally get what you are saying in the blog. Americans are way more polite than us Dutchmen anyway 😉 I am obnoxiously impolite.

  • Claytonjay101

    No not at all! In fact, I loved your comment. I’m Dutch but from West Michigan so I’m almost there.

  • No I do agree. I had a little heartache with the fandom writing on my own blog and I actually toned it down a lot from the first draft. But I like Clayton and was willing to let it go and see what happens. I actually thought it might attract a but more negative criticism.

  • Thanks Clayton, this is especially true when, through reasonable discussion, that “someone getting better” might just be yourself!

  • Claytonjay101

    Very great insight Stan and I love the Tolkien reference. I wasn’t “on the internet” in the 90’s so to speak, unless AIM chat counts, so I don’t have an appreciation for what you are talking about but totally see your points.

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