Creative Commons License photo credit: mikecogh

I was recently watching a video released by an actor and popular YouTuber. He had announced plans to start a Kickstarter project to fund an idea that he had and that was the subject of the video.

Now, this video was on YouTube and with that comes YouTube comments, generally regarded as poor quality. You can add a healthy amount of self entitlement into the mix, too. But, what really struck me was the people who were offering him unsolicited advice. I want to highlight advice that fits into two particular categories.

The first category is people telling him how he should make money online. Don’t use Kickstarter, we don’t want to give you money (always love the “we,” forgetting that within an hour or two, the campaign already passed a thousand dollars). You should monetize your videos on YouTube, you’ll make way more money, you should do X, Y and Z.

The second category is the really crazy one to me, which is the couple of people who were telling him how he should go about furthering his acting career. Keeping in mind this isn’t someone who has never landed a role. This is a legitimate actor, who auditions, flies to Hollywood, has landed roles, has an agent, etc.

The reason it stood out to me was that to offer those sorts of comments, you have to have expertise or experience. As far as I could see, these people did not. They were offering advice to someone who is in a place they have never been and wants to go to a place they likely never will.

To me, this is the biggest problem with online comment sections, outside of trolling. The fact that many (most?) people who offer unsolicited advice probably aren’t qualified to do so.

In the social media management and online community circles, we like to talk about how important it is to listen and engage. And it’s true. But, what is perhaps most important is the ability to properly categorize what you are listening to. Listening doesn’t mean action. Acknowledgement doesn’t mean action. You have to consider what is being said, who is saying it and how qualified they are to be saying it. Context is vital.

I’m not necessarily saying people should keep their thoughts to themselves. Everyone has an opinion, right? But, when the opinions of poorly qualified people gain traction, that is where problems arise.

Generally speaking, the people who are qualified to comment aren’t the ones offering unsolicited advice. For example, I know a little about online monetization. I didn’t respond to the video saying “here are some things you could do!” Why? Because it wasn’t my place. It wasn’t asked for – the subject wasn’t even introduced. Likewise, I don’t randomly visit online communities and email the owners with ideas for what they could do. If someone asks for opinions on those topics, and I see it, I might offer something.

So, what can we do about this? Not a whole not. We can only control how we act and interpret these sorts of comments.

If you are reading the comments or the comments are directed at you: Listen, but don’t be inclined to believe. Always weigh what someone says in the context of where the comment is coming from and how it applies to what you are trying to accomplish. If it is polite, you can acknowledge it with a simple thank you. If it is less than polite, many comments can probably go without a reply, unless you are a customer or brand representative. If you do reply, understand that you are not replying to that individual as much as you are replying to everyone who will read what you are about to write.

If you are making the comments: Before you offer someone advice they didn’t ask for, think about what qualifies you to offer that advice. “I bought their CD” or “I once gave them a dollar” aren’t immediate qualifiers of professional expertise. Have you been where they are? Or where they want to go? Can you even fathom where they are? Also, if you are responding to some statement or blog post, please read it in full. It’s always awkward to me when someone comments on something I’ve written in a manner that indicates they didn’t read what I wrote in the first place.

Just because we all have a voice, doesn’t also mean we all have the experience to advise others on all subjects.