6 Ways Being Snarky Will Come Back to Bite You… Hard

December 28, 2008 - Written by Gyutae Park  

cat fightFirst of all, I want to wish everyone a happy holidays. I hope that everyone had a great time celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa with family and friends.  This is usually the time of year where we all spread the holiday cheer and show love to those around us. It’s a jolly time where we have giving hearts, pretend to like each other, and live in harmony.

But before you start seeing rainbows, butterflies, and Care Bears, I want to stop there. The topic of my post today is actually quite the opposite of the scenario I just described. It’s about being snarky and overly critical for the sake of attention – and how it can come back to bite you if you’re using it online.

In case you’re not familiar with the term “snarky”, Urban Dictionary defines it as “any language that contains quips or comments containing sarcastic or satirical witticisms intended as blunt irony. It’s usually delivered in a manner that is somewhat abrupt and out of context and intended to stun and amuse.”

online fightI’m talking about the people who publicly insult others and put them down for the sake of humor and attention (i.e. the high school bullies who pick on others and pull pranks to look “cool”).

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not going for the “holier than thou” stance here and I know that being snarky works extremely well online. In fact, just a few days ago, I came across a post by Nickycakes called the Top 10 Worst Make Money Online Sites of 2008. It got a ton of comments and even managed to go hot on Sphinn. I admit that it was actually very witty and funny, but obviously it had to come at the expense of people who were probably not amused by the insults.

There are a few bloggers out there who take the snarky and cynical approach and do extremely well for themselves (e.g. Maddox of The Best Page In The Universe, Mark “Rizzn” Hopkins, and Steve Hodson). However, it’s not for everyone and comes with a lot of negatives.

Looking at it from a business perspective, being snarky is not a wise decision especially if you’re building a personal brand and online business. It’ll come back to haunt you big time. How? Below is a list of the negative consequences that come from being snarky online – whether it be on your blog, in chat rooms or forums, or in everyday life events.

1. You make enemies

target enemyObviously insulting others is a surefire way of making enemies – which isn’t a good thing in the Internet world. If it’s bad enough, one person could wreck havoc to your reputation and spread the word about how bad of a person you are. Sure, you might have benefited from making snarky remarks with links and exposure, but at the end of the day it’s not worth the potential for disaster. Everything you do online counts towards your reputation. Just one bad word or one sour relationship could ruin everything for you.

For example, take a look at Vic Franqui from Blogger Unleashed. He openly lashes out at fellow Internet marketing blogger Caroline Middlebrook for being “fake” and crushes the dreams of a new blogger. He has a cultish following of people who enjoy this kind of stuff, but he’s making a lot of enemies in the process.

2. You put yourself in harm’s way

danger signWhat goes around comes around, right? The anonymity and the distance that comes with the Internet makes it easier for people to do things that they wouldn’t normally do in person. For example, you might cuss someone out or embarrass someone online but not dare do the same in “real life”. However, what you may not realize is that your online actions have real ramifications. For example, plan on attending an industry conference? I’m sure it’ll be super awkward if you saw that guy you completely insulted on your blog last month. Not only that, but it’s pretty easy to find out where someone lives by using WHOIS data (although hopefully it will never come to that). Scary, eh?

As an example, Jon Fisher of the Wicked Fire Affiliate Marketing Forums is notorious for his snarky comments and in-your-face style. He’s developed a reputation in the industry because of it, but he’s had to pay for it in the form of enemies, lash back, and even seize and desist letters.

3. You isolate yourself – no one will want to get close to you

isolationIf you’re in the habit of insulting people and making jokes, it doesn’t matter who – you do it anyway. Your “followers” will think it’s funny and laugh with you but at the same time they know that you could easily turn to them to be guinea pigs for a joke. Because of this, most people will avoid getting close to snarky people like you. You might get attention and exposure but it’ll be difficult for you to gain friends and develop meaningful relationships in the industry.

4. You put yourself up against higher standards

high jump vaultingMaking sarcastic remarks and putting people down should mean that you’re better than the people you’re insulting, right? You can’t make a joke about the flaws in a person and be guilty of the same things. It just doesn’t work. Because of this, you need to hold yourself to higher standards in order to avoid appearing hypocritical. Being snarky is stressful and takes hard work – why not just play nice with the same amount of effort?

5. You limit your audience

empty seats audienceIf you take the snarky approach on your blog and are relentlessly sarcastic and pessimistic, you severely limit your audience. Sure, there will be people who like your style and find it amusing, but in those cases your blog becomes nothing more than entertainment.Readers may enjoy your personality and tone but probably don’t expect much from the content of your posts. If you’re looking to become an authority in your niche and be perceived as an expert, being snarky won’t help.

6. You will alienate your readers – they have to pick a side

football sidesFinally, picking fights with others alienates your readers and forces them to choose sides. Sure, a lot of people might enjoy the drama and take part, but some may want to stay out of it or remain neutral – which causes them to avoid you and your site altogether. In the end, no one wins. You’re left with an army of opposers and enemies and people who no longer care about you because they’d rather not put up with the drama.

If you remember, Google spam engineer Matt Cutts surveyed his blog readers about whether or not he should out SEO Aaron Wall about the other side of his anti-Google story. In the end, Matt decided against it, but imagine all of the public drama that would have ensued if he decided to go the snarky route. Readers would have had to choose between Aaron and Matt – which would have been damaging for the search industry as a whole.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, being snarky comes with a lot of negative consequences that just aren’t worth the short temporary benefits. Sure, we might lose our tempers once in a while and make some comments we regret later on (even nice guys like Rand Fishkin can be snarky at times), but as a general rule of thumb it’s always better to be helpful, unique, and interesting rather than rude and insulting for the sake of attention.

What’s your take? ::ducks from all the snarky people reading this post::

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42 Responses to “6 Ways Being Snarky Will Come Back to Bite You… Hard”

Tom @ The Home Business Archive on December 28th, 2008 Subscribed to comments via email

Good post.It´s true that not everyone can understand a joke.On the internet it´s even harder to make a joke so everyone will understand it “the right way” because of the language barrier, you don´t want to insult anyone.So, is the right way to check out how the competition handles this or should you concentrate on building your business by building relationships first and then make jokes?

Gyutae Park on December 28th, 2008

Hey Tom,
It really depends on what you mean by joke. It can be beneficial to use humor as a way to lighten up your messages as long as it’s clean. What I meant by this post was more along the lines of snark – deliberate sarcasm and insults meant to offend people but used to gain attention because of the shock factor.

I’d focus on building relationships and helping people. There are a lot of other ways to gain attention that offer much more long term value than taking the snark route.

 
 
Meg Guiseppi on December 28th, 2008 Subscribed to comments via email

Thanks, Gyutae, for explaining why taking the high road wins out. We all need a niceness check, from time to time.

It could be that, for some people, snarkiness is a top personal brand attribute, and somehow they’ve decided it’s a positive one that they should embrace and broadcast.

I believe that personal branding is all about embracing the best you have to offer. Sending out a positive brand message attracts likeminded people and golden opportunities.

As you say, for a while, the snarky side will work for them, and probably attract a huge following of people who are likewise out for blood. But in the long run, it backfires.

Minding your manners in all communications, online and in person, will always pay off, in the long run. It’s just like Mom and Dad taught us.

-Meg

Gyutae Park on December 28th, 2008

Thanks Meg. You hit the nail on the head with your comment. Taking the high road as you say will always win out – even though it might take a little more effort on your part.

Mom and dad did teach us right… now if I can only get to eating my vegetables… :P

 
 
tom on December 28th, 2008

Do as you like as long as you don’t impose it on others

be the change you want to see in the world

That pretty much sums it up.

tom

Gyutae Park on December 28th, 2008

Well the “do as you like as long as you don’t impose it on others” doesn’t really apply here. All of your actions online do have consequences since they are publicly available for all to see. You have to be careful about what you say and do if you care about your business reputation.

 
 
Donny-Linkersblog.com on December 28th, 2008

You especially don’t want to do these things if you are a blogger and trying to build up your credibility within the industry. You want to have as good as a reputation as possible by building yourself up as an authority figure in your niche.

Gyutae Park on December 28th, 2008

Yep, the lesson applies especially to bloggers because we’re essentially building a personal brand for ourselves. People read our blogs because they think we have something valuable to offer or because their values are aligned with ours. Being snarky pushes away many of the important people we should be targeting.

 
 
max on December 28th, 2008

Great post, I have to agree making enemies isn’t fun but sometimes you do need to fight back. Some people just don’t get it unless you kick their ass. Life doesn’t come to you, you have to fight Life, or even yourself.

There’s time you need to not fight and there are times you need to fight.

When you do fight, just make sure you are honest and right, people will follow who’s more righteous in the end.

But if it’s not worth a fight, then ignore it I guess.

Gyutae Park on December 28th, 2008

“Some people just don’t get it unless you kick their ass.” I think that’s the Korean in you. Haha.

While I agree that you should fight back when you’re taken advantage of, most online fights are petty and unnecessary. People quarrel over the most ridiculous things.

Like you said, if it’s not worth the fight – ignore it.

 
 
Brandon on December 28th, 2008 Subscribed to comments via email

Nice Post… and nice intro to “Snark”… a new intro to my terminology.

This behavior reminds me of the Rich Jerk syndrome…. They seemed to do well, but people took their strategy as novel, instead of long term tactical.

Good post!

Gyutae Park on December 28th, 2008

Thanks Brandon. Snark does work initally.. I know that the Rich Jerk product made a pretty good amount of money (although I’d never endorse it) but it doesn’t offer a good long term strategy where you can build lasting relationships with your customers.

 
 
Kathy@ Virtual Impax on December 28th, 2008 Subscribed to comments via email

Great post!!!

Being “snarky” is also known as being a troll and there are a lot of bloggers who think that being a snarky troll is a great way to get noticed.

The strategy of being a snarky troll may get you noticed initially – but it’s not a good strategy for the long run. You’re so right: being a snarky troll just serves to isolate you and brands you with the “Does not play well with others” tag.

Gyutae Park on December 31st, 2008

Thanks Kathy, you’re completely on point in your comment. Being snarky and offensive does work. Especially online since people don’t necessarily need to save face. But like you mentioned, it’s not a good long term business strategy – more for bored teens with nothing better to do.

 
 
Jill Whalen on December 28th, 2008 Subscribed to comments via email

I used to be pretty snarky online, but have toned it down over the years. Karma is real and what goes around really does come around.

It’s definitely much better for all to listen to what dear old mom always says…if you have nothing nice to say then don’t say anything at all. (Well it wasn’t my mom who said that as she’s pretty snarky, but you know what I mean!)

Gyutae Park on December 31st, 2008

Thanks for sharing Jill! Unfortunately I wasn’t in the industry back then but I’ve heard a lot of stories about the old Thread Watch days. Glad to see that you learned from your experiences – although you can’t really change your personality or who you are.

 
 
Saurav Verma on December 29th, 2008

Gaining at the expense of others is the worst kind. You can be critical of things but still not sound harsh or rude.

I may not like everything in this world and exercise my freedom to voice it, but then I make sure it is subtle but still conveys my point.

As you said “what goes around comes around”,and therefore being ‘snarky’ is definitely not in the best interest.

Gyutae Park on December 31st, 2008

Thanks for clearing up that point for me. I didn’t mean that everyone should be nice and loving. In fact, it’s good that there are critical people out there who offer a different perspective. What I meant was that it doesn’t pay to use snark to take advantage of other people and get ahead.

 
 
Nicole Price on December 29th, 2008

Where is the room for disagreement with your observation. The whole idea is self defeating and counter productive. You have done a great analysis and I find it difficult to add to it.

Gyutae Park on December 31st, 2008

Haha, thanks Nicole. I was kind of hoping someone would lash out at me here so that I could further prove my point. :)

 
 
AndyW on December 30th, 2008

I always have a rule with engaging others on the internet and that is not to behave differently than how I behave in “real life”.

Mostly I follow that but some people have got it coming to them and sometimes you’ve got to be cruel to be kind.

You can develop a “snarky” persona on the internet, but the joke soon wears thin…

Gyutae Park on December 31st, 2008

That’s a good rule to follow, although a very difficult one to keep up with. The anonymity of the Internet makes us do strange things, things that we would be embarrassed of doing in “real life”. But you’re right, just be yourself online and off. Hopefully that doesn’t mean you’re a cruel person.

 
 
Chris Boggs on December 30th, 2008 Subscribed to comments via email

Great post Gyutae (found through Sphinn) and thanks for clueing me in on maybe the biggest Search soap opera of the year which occurred in January re: John Andrews vs. Rand. Funny how I still miss most of that snarkyness when it happens.

I admit to occasionally going on the offensive, even preemptively within blog comments but would never create a post solely for the purpose of attacking another individual. I have created posts around issues that some people have taken as personal attacks (SEO Standards topic comes to mind).

If choosing to be the tip of the spear in comments, I am very open in my attack style and not “snarky” as you define (maybe USMC training? :P). Is this a different subject or is insulting/calling someone out within the same realm as snarkyness? Thanks again! Maybe I will have a New Year’s resolution to be always kind. :)

Gyutae Park on December 31st, 2008

Hey Chris,
Thanks for stopping by. The John Andrews vs Rand feud was big, but there was another amusing one on Sphinn just a couple of days ago: http://sphinn.com/story/94600 Check it out, it won’t disappoint.

I think my definition of “snarky” wasn’t clear in the post. Of course, it’s okay to be completely honest and critical – even if it’s offensively blunt. What I meant was that it’s not okay to put down others and take advantage of them just for the sake of personal gain (e.g. name calling, over the top spews and sarcasm).

Good luck with the New Year’s resolution!

 
 
john andrews on December 30th, 2008 Subscribed to comments via email

I think we all need to be careful about the health of the web as a communications medium. All nice and sweet is not healthy.

That said, your “snarky” is a broad swipe at attitude. True “snarky” involves wit and intelligence. Some of the negativity and “attack” stuff is far from snarky, and shouldn’t be included in a discussion of snarky. Rand’s attacks are not snarky, for example. They are dumb and harmful. Brian’s Provost’s “charlatan” post about Jason Calacanis was snarky, even if Jason didn’t get the high level wit (Google “Jason charlatan”).

The problem with all nicey-nicey stuff is the associated bias it creates in the collection of information on the web. If a searcher finds nothing but niceties, clearly the web presents an invalid representation of reality.

We’ve never had a collective archive of info used as an immediate reference before, but now that we do, we can’t afford to “play it safe” as Jill suggests above. When we do, the web becomes useless. It was that way a few years ago in SEO… every search produced authoritative-sounding articles about how to rank in Google, supported by “nice article” stuff and very little “actually you’re wrong about that” stuff.

I’m not suggesting the answer is an equal number of “that guy is an idiot” posts, but snarky is the means to say “well, I suppose he has a right to his opinion, and if is happy ranking #222 for his efforts” instead of an attack post.

Gyutae Park on December 31st, 2008

Hey John,
Good points. When I mentioned that it was better to “be kind and nice”, I was looking at it from a micro level (i.e. how can a single business get ahead?). However, if you look at the economy of the web at large, you’re right. There has to be diversity of opinions, styles, and personalities to reflect true reality.

You’re right, the definition that I used for “snarky” is murky. Of course people should feel free to be blunt and honest – even if it means being mean. My definition of snarky revolved around using words of hate and sarcasm in order to take advantage of someone and gain attention.

Anyway, thanks for the feedback. It’s always interesting to read your posts – especially the ones that have your usual dose of witty snark in them.

 
 
joe on December 31st, 2008

Hey Gyutae, long time no comment. I haven’t been reading many blogs lately but I pop in from time to time. Your readers might appreciate this homeless vid. I personally trusted Vic fairly quickly when I saw him because my father also has that no-b.s. mentality and Vic’s consistenly shown results. But he comes off harshly to a lot of other people so maybe they’ll be interested in the video. Personally, I think we need more people like him in the world.

Anyway I hope things are well with you and have a great rest of the Holiday Season man!

Gyutae Park on December 31st, 2008

Thanks Joe. Good to have you back. I haven’t followed Vic too much but it does seem like he knows what he’s doing. Maybe his actions make more sense when put into context, but my first impression is that it’s a bit over the top. I think people can have a no-bs mentality and still play nice with others without calling them names, etc.

I’ll check out the vid – maybe it’ll give me a different perspective. Have a Happy New Year!

 
 
seosoeasy on December 31st, 2008 Subscribed to comments via email

Good post.I think you had find a great analysis and sure the quote”Good talk saves the food” matches tothe article.I think that online fights are petty and unnecessary.

 
Yung Drew on December 31st, 2008

Great post Gyutae… I wasn’t aware of all the SNARKINESS going on on the internets. That “Blogger Unleashed” really knows how to drop tha “F” bombs…

Gyutae Park on December 31st, 2008

Haha, are you surprised? You have a blog about a rapper! :P

 
 
The Rich Ski Bum on December 31st, 2008 Subscribed to comments via email

I try and stay neutral in everything in life including the Internet. Some say starting arguments is a good marketing course. That may work for a short period, but not good in the long term IMO

Gyutae Park on December 31st, 2008

It’s not good to start arguments all the time, but it’s not good to stay neutral in everything either. If you want to be noticed you have to have an opinion and be able to support it. Ironically, you’re not neutral in your comment – you’re supporting something. :) Good luck!

 
 
Mike Huang on December 31st, 2008 Subscribed to comments via email

Very very good post Gyutae. Another one of your better articles :)

 
Make Money Online on December 31st, 2008

Ah I believe having one more friend is much better than having one more enemy. Especially when it comes to thing deaing with community or business. Don’t be silly to offend people around you..

 
Jacques @ SEO Tools South Africa on January 7th, 2009 Subscribed to comments via email

Snarky ain’t good for business, period! Diplomacy is the best way to deal with most all situations, neutrality assuring that you’re everybodies friend. Not making enemies is good practise, because petty vindictive behaviour will most always turn around to bite you. Would you rather be known as a nice guy, or an #sshole?

 
ZK@Internet Maketing Blog on January 7th, 2009 Subscribed to comments via email

I d rather be friendly with the community then be snarky,a big networth is always helpful

 
Cheap Mobile Calls on January 12th, 2009

I think you’d find that many people in this field won’t be too bad. Blogs about making money online and people offering their tips usually bring people that are thankful for your advice, or at least they should be. It’s always important to remain neutral though.

 
susan on March 26th, 2009 Subscribed to comments via email

this requires to me in reality- not on the internet.

 
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