Rule #1 for Spreading Love: Don't Diss the Competition


Dissing us... on Flickr Many companies have spent alot of advertising dollars to tell us what's wrong with the competition. I spent the last US election, wondering what each candidate really had to offer since all I heard from them was what their rival did (or was going to do) wrong. I constantly hear from startups who talk about how their competitors suck so bad.

To me, this kind of smack talk against competitors isn't only in bad taste, but it seems to deflect from any discussion about what it is that the smack talker has to offer. Are they trying to avoid the question as to, "Why would I give a damn about them?" Even worse is when a company disses another company that is clearly ahead of them in popularity. Seriously? If their product/service sucks so bad, why are so many people using it? Perhaps by dissing it, you are entirely missing the point?

The first rule of spreading the love is that you never talk smack about 'the other team'. Social Capitalists (those that spread love and raise social capital through that action) never feel the need to talk poorly of their 'rivals', instead, they admire the smart things that they have done and learn from what they could improve on. Hell, true Social Capitalists work with their competition in order to make for better customer experiences.

A couple of times in my history I've been a disser and never has it worked out positively for me. For example, when I started at Riya, I went after Flickr, joining in the angry mob with pitchforks over the Yahoo! TOS. Not only was that a dumb move because it made me look like a jerk, but it also created a bit of a rift between myself and the awesome peeps at Flickr. Therefore, when it came time for me to go to them about using their API for commercial purposes, I had to explain my previous lack of judgement and re-establish trust connections. Fortunate for me, the Flickr folks are wonderful and understanding, but I still felt like a numbskull.

What would have that gained me? Nothing, really.

Now, in a different angle of dissing, that of a David going up against an 800-lb Goliath, dissing causes a bit of a different problem. Now, of course dissing works out well to get avid supporters in your cause, but long term, it isn't a very viable strategy. What happens when Goliath falls? Where are you, then? What is your new strategy? It's kind of the end. What happens if Goliath regains public support? Then you just look petty. Worst of all, you don't have a strategy at all, you have an ANTI-strategy. You have a campaign of ugliness based on what you are not. It's very tempting, though. We've seen lots of situations where the fact of being the 'little guy' gives you the competitive advantage. Unfortunately, those tables turn on you as strong as they supported you once you are the big guy. It's not scalable.

I think much of Firefox's early strength came from being what Microsoft was not. Much of the passion in the community was directed towards Firefox because the goal was to take down Microsoft IE. Now that Firefox has 'arrived' as a viable browser alternative (and is getting close to surpassing IE in adoption from what I understand), it isn't the David any longer and has lost much of the steam behind its support. I know more than a few people who used to use Firefox in principle who have switched over to Safari and Camino or even gone back to IE with it's #7 version. They need to switch their strategy to what they represent (not what they don't represent) soon.

Instead of talking about what the 'other guy' lacks, why not talk about what you have? Instead of how awful the competitor is, why not demonstrate how nice you are?

Companies and candidates who are on top don't have the need to diss the compeition. They have all of the confidence in the world. It is only when feeling insecure about what they have to offer that they bring out the teeth. Either they are supportive of their competition (I've seen this alot in Silicon Valley) - cooperating with them and making deals (co-opetition) - or they admire them for the smart decisions they make and learn from their mistakes. There is much power and whuffie to be gained from being the bigger company/person.

So next time, instead of fighting Goliath, gather around the principles that you are passionate about (ignoring or trying to involve Goliath). It will show your confidence, gain you oodles of whuffie and give you a much better overall base to grow on in the end.

::Ben Rowe in the comments:

The CEO of our my last company spent to much effort on dissing our competitors that we actually raised their profile.

Our customers wouldn't be half aware of who our competition was were it not for us continually bad-mouthing them.

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