Do We Agree Too Much Online? Yes We Do- I Mean, No We Don’t

I have been noticing lately some handwringing, public and private, over the fact that social media marketing and PR folks do nothing but agree with each other in blog posts comments, and on Twitter et al. Nothing could be closer to the truth.

This cohort is a friendly bunch, all  trying to promote social media as the communications wave of the future. I agree that healthy debate would be a lot more interesting, but I would stop short of disagreeing for disagreement’s sake. There are a few gainsayers out there, and snarky ripostes tend to degrade into name-calling and outright trolling. That’s not healthy debate.

The funny thing is, even when we take issue with one of the marketing leaders, such as in the recent Seth Godin Brands in Public controversy, the result was a chorus of people agreeing that Seth was all of a sudden a  bad guy (I abstained).

I asked on Twitter for impressions of this problem, and I got a general, um, agreement: agreetoomuch

So, what do I think? We sure do seem to agree a lot. We definitely could stimulate debate more. Take, for example, the recent Washington Post social media guidelines that people are railing against. My straight reading of them doesn’t reveal some sinister plot to stifle personal expression, but an attempt to dictate common sense to people who have essentially loaned their “personal brands” to the company (not that there isn’t potential for the fears to be borne out). Geez, I can’t even disagree without mitigating myself a little.

Well, enough of that- you can see how difficult it is to disagree. I do urge myself and others to take a few swings, and not be afraid to start a healthy debate- and in turn not to be bothered or offended by dissent.

However, here are a few parting shots in defense of agreement:

  • Why focus on the negative stuff? I’d rather highlight stuff I want people to see, wouldn’t you? when I worked for Christian Science Monitor Radio, it would occasionally bother me that we did mostly positive movie reviews- but we only did one a week, why bug people with the crap when you can drive them to the good stuff? Still, some bad movies were worth the debate…
  • We are a collegial group. It’s ok to reinforce each other and build each other up. I know, Kum-Bay-Yah, whatever…
  • As mentioned above, disagreeing for the sake of it borders on trolling; why bother?
  • Is it such a bad thing to agree?

That said, the responsibility is on us (us=anyone who reads, comments, and posts) to bring up issues and debate them intelligently. How about Geoff Livingston when he takes on the notion of “personal brand?” Is he just shooting for controversy, or starting an interesting debate (answer: both). How about some more stuff like that?

What do you think? Do you agree?

(That’s not a trick question– or maybe it is)


  1. I hadn’t really thought about it until you raised the issue, but for me, I think the problem is that I am more likely to join a conversation when I see a statement/observation/argument that I agree with, especially if it’s well put. I’m inclined to reply and say, “Yes. That’s exactly what I’ve experienced as part of X”. A bit of positive encouragement is a great thing.

    However, if I see a statement I don’t agree with, the decision making process is more complex. I may a) overlook it – it’s nonsense so why respond? b) abstain from giving my opinion, so as to avoid confrontation – especially if I generally respect the opinions of the person making the statement c) disagree publicly – but then I have to be sure I have the time and supporting evidence ready for the (potentially heated) argument that is much more likely to ensue than if I’d agreed…so sadly, again it’s often easier to d) do nothing publicly, but quietly mutter dissenting comments into my keyboard.

    (side note: I find it’s generally easier to join a debate where opinions from both sides are already being voiced, than to be the first one to come out with a contradictory argument against a so far respected opinion – again, not an excuse, just an observation)

    Overall, then, I do a bit of all of the above depending on the circumstances, but I never (I hope) agree ‘just for the sake of it’ because that’s, well, silly.

    Having read this, I’ll certainly be making a concerted effort to make sure I comment when I have something to say, not just when I have something to agree with.

  2. Tammy Homan

    People comment/reply in three cases: When they agree, STRONGLY disagree or they feel they can add something to the conversation. I’m guessing there are a lot more things that people sort of like or aren’t against that they comment on just to comment. They don’t feel they can’t add anything to the post and may have had a similar idea before, so they say “Great post, totally agree.” and their stamp is on it.

    Taking it to the negative side and full out disagreeing with a topic takes more motivation. If a post or comment isn’t stabbing at someone’s beliefs, morals or opinions, they’re not going to take the time or energy to reply. Bottom line: It’s easier to agree with something than explain why you disagree.

    I think the most benefit is actually had from the third reason people reply. If you can add to a topic–whether you agree or disagree–you can engage others and actually start a meaningful conversation or debate.

  3. I think it’s difficult, if not impossible, to come up with cogent criticism in 140 characters or less. Positive tweets like “Yes, that’s right!” and “You are too kind” are much easier to write concisely. Due to time management issues I try to avoid getting into debates (or logrolling) on Twitter and focus instead on identifying substantive, useful information that’s linked from tweets (including this post, of course).

  4. Emily– i think you have hit upon something– people give more thought before disagreeing- perhaps there are a lot of empty negative vibe shopping carts in comment-land (to use a tortured ecommerce metaphor). But then again, maybe most of us are just too chicken to start a debate?

    Terry: You are so flippin’ wrong in your response.

    Mike: Yes, we are all guilty– you more so though ;)
    Tammy– maybe it’s just easier to beg people to add their separate thoughts- always- even if they agree. That’s a lot of work too, though

    Tim- I wasn’t talking necessarily about Twitter- though it’s just hard to add detailed debate in 140 characters, true. Again, the time management issue– more time for promoting things we like and agree with, and ignore rather than debate the “wrong” stuff.

  5. I’m an agreeable guy and I accentuate the positive, but you know what this hit home for me?

    Because people say only nice things about me and my blog for the most part, and they’re always sweet to me.

    UNTIL they see the potential to step on my face to rise up, and then they let their real feelings show.

    I can’t abide two-faced people. It’s become a bit of a problem, and what’s funniest is, people tell me all the time, “you’re not like the people I know from the agency world” (meaning that I’m not some kind of two-faced asshole), and then I get that treatment all the time from all these people (which NEARLY makes me want to be a lot more guarded).

    So I’m glad you brought this up. I agree with what you said. ; )

  6. This is why I exist, to sow discord and to not only disagree, but to be disagreeable. :)

    Actually your assessment is right on for the largest percentage of people… some of us like to take on the dirty (and fun!) job of calling BOOLSHEET on people and I enjoy getting the frequent DMs that say “Thank you for saying what I was thinking!”

    Of course, then I have to yell at them to grow a pair and say it themselves from now on. :D

  7. Doug – This is a very interesting post and certainly one that has caught my attention. My initial reaction was “Yeah, he’s probably right about this.” (see, I’m agreeing with you already!). But the more I got thinking about it, the more I came to the conclusion that often, with online communications, due to the inability to read people’s emotions, facial expressions and most importantly, tone, agreeing is often our safest way of not burning a bridge with those we respect and know.

    I think you certainly can – and should – disagree with others in online communications, whether that be via a blog comment, post or Tweet, but you also need to add something beyond that, a constructive point or a different perspective. Because the thing is, without offering that up, a simple line of disagreement in online communications often comes across as curt and disrespectful, rather than constructive. And at the end of the day, aren’t we all just trying to get a little better at our personal and professional lives?


  8. Chris– so we have the 2-faced people waiting to jump on someone to build up their own rep (they get filed in with the trolls and social miscreants, yes?)- along with the general agreeableness of many of us, we see a black hole of no-real-debate.

    akaMonty- Thanks for saying what I was thinking!

    Keith– I’ll add– you need to add value in agreeing, too. Take something you like and push it up to the next level. You (all of you) are as smart as the guy or gal who thought up the interesting post you agree or disagree with anyway, right?

  9. Doug – That’s a great, great point that you need to add value to what you agree with. Just simply saying “Great post!” Or “I agree!” (and let’s be honest, we all do that from time to time) doesn’t really add any more value than snarking on the post and not offering some constructive feedback. I like that “push it up to the next level” part … very intriguing. That’s got me thinking …

  10. Exactly– my posts can tend to be fragments– the germ of an idea to start discussion. when it works (like this one has), the comments give it a fuller life.

  11. <strong>Twitter Comment</strong>
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    You guys gotta check on @thebrandbuilder more! RT @chrisbrogan: You know @dough ‘s right People agree lots in public – [link to post]<br /><br /> – <a href=”” target=”_blank” rel=”nofollow”>Posted using Chat Catcher</a>

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