Upgrade your mindset — choose to fill your day with positivity and spread positive vibes only, including how you speak to yourself, and watch your life change. This includes the words you use when commenting on peoples’ social media.
Keep it to yourself — unless someone is explicitly asking for constructive criticism to help them grow, you really have no need to comment.
Kill meanness with kindness — I’ve seen people respond to mean comments completely calmly, calling people out and asking why they felt the need to take time out of their day to try and make someone feel bad about themselves. Often times, the meanness backs down and they even end up apologizing.
Report the abusers — most social media sites installed a flag comment/user feature. Don’t be afraid to use it. No doubt most of these people just set up another fake profile and start over again, but they’ll likely get bored eventually. We live in hope.
Launch a positive comments day — I think we should launch a positivity day on social media that encourages people to post random kind words on new accounts they discover. Once it becomes a legitimate thing with a hashtag, people will jump onboard. Seriously, make 5 positive comments on other peoples’ photos a day. Doesn’t have to be people you follow. People respond to positivity with positivity; it’s contagious. You’ll help make social media a more beautiful place for the day, and hopefully beyond. Nice comments can make someone’s day.
As a part of my interview series about the things we can each do to make social media and the internet a kinder and more tolerant place, I had the pleasure to interview Sophie Bowman. Sophie, also known as ‘that Brit’ is the founder and CEO of Brand Branding PR LLC. Sophie built her business online so that she could travel the world and work from home in her pants. Sophie has gained a unique arsenal of skills over the years from multiple industries, which led to her working on an array of weird and wonderful projects, from organizing launch parties for music moguls like John Legend and Kanye West to the Pope Mobile stunt during the Pope’s official visit to London, and helping to organize the 2012 London Olympics.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
I grew up in London and worked in almost every industry available, trying to find my ‘calling.’
I’m the first to admit that my resume reads like industry ADHD. Although originally frowned upon by traditional HR bores, my versatility became my USP. I dabbled in retail, recruitment, was a promo model for a while about 100 years ago, worked in PR, studied music journalism on the side, had my own column in a leading UK magazine for a long time, became an international journalist, was a lifeguard for a bit but got upset with the fact there was nothing Baywatch about it; you name it, I did it!
I secured a media sales position with a prominent UK magazine purely to understand the business from the inside and gain the upper hand. I learned what editors were looking for in pitches and how I could make their lives easier, allowing me to go on to use what I learned and successfully pitch my PR clients almost 100% of the time. It made perfect sense to me, but most people thought I was nuts until it all came together.
There’s no way I’d have got to the position I’m in now if I’d committed to one industry. I’ve always been a die-hard Richard Branson fan, so I lived by his mindset of saying yes to every opportunity and figuring out how to do it along the way. I’m a huge believer in challenging the business status quo — it’s fun to break industry rules, think outside the box, and shatter glass ceilings. And yes, I was frequently in trouble at school.
I had my first mid-life crisis when I was engaged and about to turn thirty and realized I’d never lived abroad or traveled to half the places on my bucket list, and would pretty much be stuck on the same salary forever if I continued teaching at special needs schools in London.
I stayed with an expat friend in Marrakech to celebrate the big 3.0. And put a deposit down on an apartment while I was there after enjoying a few cocktails. Selling branding, marketing and social media strategies had been a lucrative side hustle for a while, so securing monthly contracts with social media clients was the next step so that I could start my adventure.
That was five years ago. I’ve since lived in Morocco for 2 years and Australia for a while, before relocating to Miami three years ago. I can work from anywhere, including from home and hotels in my pants…
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
The most interesting thing to happen to me is probably the fact I got to where I am by winging it. I wanted to experience multiple industries so that I could find something I loved and become a force to be reckoned with whatever position I ended up in; I had a plan without having a plan if that makes sense? Social media was originally my side hustle, but it became my breakthrough. I didn’t completely realize at the time industry hopping would eventually help make me an asset to almost any company I created or joined.
I studied Business and Public Relations at University, but I didn’t want to limit myself to traditional PR as the competition was tough for newspapers and magazines. I figured social media was going to become a big deal back in 2004, so I made it my business to learn social media and web design. I’m beyond grateful I took this route. Most of the people I studied PR with found themselves out of work in recent years when magazines and blogs started going online.
Since mastering social media, I decided to build my own Instagram account one day to use it as a tangible calling card for potential new clients. There are a lot of cowboys in this field who will greedily take people’s money to post content without any understanding of the algorithms knowing they’ll deliver zero results. I wanted a live profile I could use to showcase my skills in building engagement and followers organically. This led to a whole new revenue stream when brands started approaching me and paying me to review their products and services.
Cheers to winging it!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
During my time as a Talent and Promotions Manager in London, the 3-woman agency I worked for secured the annual staffing contracts for Notting Hill Carnival and the London 2012 Olympics.
Between the three of us, we interviewed over 300 people within 8 hours at our Mayfair office. I was responsible for writing all the notes next to every interviewee in an Excel doc. When someone asked me to put the document into alphabetical order to find a specific applicant, I didn’t know to save a working copy. I pressed something and excel decided it hated me, and the whole document corrupted and was rendered useless. I was not popular for the rest of the day. I spent that whole weekend in the office alone fixing my mistake. Fun times. But I learned a valuable lesson that most mistakes, however stupid, can be fixed. Life goes on.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I get contacted by a lot of aspiring social media influencers all the time. They were always astonished when I took the time to respond to their direct messages or emails, giving them tips on how they can optimize their Instagram account and become an influencer. A lot of social media professionals won’t share their tips and knowledge because the fewer people who understand the Instagram algorithm, the more money they can make. I decided to produce a downloadable step-by-step guide on how to become a paid Instagram influencer I taught to Miami Ad School students this summer which you can implement yourself. The course includes how to pitch brands you’d like to work with and gives you the name of the best agency to sign up with to start receiving free products so that you can start your influencer journey.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. Have you ever been publicly shamed or embarrassed on social media? Can you share with our readers what that experience felt like?
I think we can all agree that nothing moves faster than a woman un-tagging herself from an ugly photo on Facebook… I’ve had my fair share of a few trolls over the years who mocked my photos and called me fat from somewhere in the pits of living under the bridge in their mothers’ basements. Although I was insanely insecure as a child and teenager, though comments like this may burn for a second, I’ve never taken much notice of online trolls. You just know instinctively that their lives are far more pathetic than your own.
I have, however, worked with a lot of celebrities over the years, and some of the comments they receive on their photos are absolutely horrendous — from ridiculing their appearance to wishing dark ill on their children. The internet can be a truly disturbing place.
What did you do to shake off that negative feeling?
Responded with some of the classic British sarcastic wit strewn with a few carefully selected choice words that I can’t repeat here.
Have you ever posted a comment on social media that you regretted because you felt it was too harsh or mean?
It’s not really in my nature to be directly mean to people on purpose. I really believe unless you have something nice or constructive to say keep it to yourself unless your opinion is requested. Facebook, in particular, was a breeding ground for insecurities that manifested as digging for compliments and people who aren’t really your friends attempting to mask their dislike for you as passive aggressive one-liners with a LOL at the end. I got into a few comment wars with fools in my early twenties before realizing what a waste of time it was rising to the bait. My responses probably seemed harsh to the online voyeurs, but I always had a gift for insulting people based on their soul, not meaningless things like their looks. When you call people out on their BS constructively, they usually back down. It was fun for a while to experiment with this philosophy online, but it becomes tiresome. In the same way a plumber usually has leaky everything in their own house, when you work for years in social media, the last thing you want to do at the end of a long day handling someone’s social media is be on your own social media.
Can you describe the evolution of your decisions? Why did you initially write the comment, and why did you eventually regret it?
I watched some of my friends rising to the Facebook bait sometimes and realized the level of anger and hostility that arises out of a few words that in the greater scheme of life, are meaningless. I chose to pick my battles. When you argue with a fool, bystanders can’t tell the difference. Not my circus, not my monkeys.
When one reads the comments on YouTube or Instagram, or the trending topics on Twitter, a great percentage of them are critical, harsh, and hurtful. The people writing the comments may feel like they are simply tapping buttons on a keyboard, but to the one on the receiving end of the comment, it is very different. This may be intuitive, but I feel that it will be instructive to spell it out. Can you help illustrate to our readers what the recipient of a public online critique might be feeling?
Having worked with some celebrities during my online reputation management days who were ridiculed online, I can tell you that the effects are pretty damaging. Apart from the vanity aspect, some of these online comments went to the extent of willing them to kill themselves or threatening their children and families. That’s just a whole another level of crazy that creates a huge amount of stress for the victims. Imagine hitting rock bottom, feeling depressed, then reading hundreds of comments online telling you that your career is over, so you may as well kill yourself. When you’re in that mind space, you really could consider it, and it’s really sad that people find that in any way entertaining.
Do you think a verbal online attacks feels worse or less than a verbal argument in “real life”? How are the two different?
I think as years have passed and internet trolls have been exposed as 40-year-old jobless losers who still live with their mothers, it’s easier to brush off online attacks. I think it would be more humiliating to be verbally obliterated in public because you’d actually feel bystanders watching the chaos unfold. But maybe I’ve just become desensitized after having to deal with so many hateful comments on social media for the celebrities I’ve worked for.
What long term effects can happen to someone who was shamed online?
It results in people becoming more apprehensive about what they share online. They probably ridicule every photo of themselves before it’s put out there. I’m sure there’s lasting effects for many in the form of deep-seated insecurity. For some though, it acted as a catalyst for change and actually motivated them to lose weight if they had been struggling with their weight. The real heroes are those who respond to comments like that with a photo of them chilling at home, no makeup on, eating a supersize tub of ice-cream. Namaste.
Many people who troll others online, or who leave harsh comments, can likely be kind and sweet people in “real life”. These people would likely never publicly shout at someone in a room filled with 100 people. Yet, on social media, when you embarrass someone, you are doing it in front of thousands of even millions of people, and it is out there forever. Can you give 3 or 4 reasons why social media tends to bring out the worst in people; why people are meaner online than they are in person?
- People feel like they can hide behind their computers on social media. Most trolls wouldn’t dare cuss someone out in public because there’s a real risk of repercussion in the form of physical retaliation or a total verbal smack down.
- There’s a lot of haters out there who are so unsatisfied with their lack of success in life that they make nasty comments online because they hate to see people succeeding around them while they continuously fail. It’s a really ugly trait.
- Many online profiles are catfish accounts using fake names and photos, so there’s little to no risk of being called out on their behavior.
If you had the power to influence thousands of people about how to best comment and interact online, what would you suggest to them? What are your “5 things we should each do to help make social media and the internet, a kinder and more tolerant place”? Can you give a story or an example for each?
- Upgrade your mindset — choose to fill your day with positivity and spread positive vibes only, including how you speak to yourself, and watch your life change. This includes the words you use when commenting on peoples’ social media.
- Keep it to yourself — unless someone is explicitly asking for constructive criticism to help them grow, you really have no need to comment.
- Kill meanness with kindness — I’ve seen people respond to mean comments completely calmly, calling people out and asking why they felt the need to take time out of their day to try and make someone feel bad about themselves. Often times, the meanness backs down and they even end up apologizing.
- Report the abusers — most social media sites installed a flag comment/user feature. Don’t be afraid to use it. No doubt most of these people just set up another fake profile and start over again, but they’ll likely get bored eventually. We live in hope.
- Launch a positive comments day — I think we should launch a positivity day on social media that encourages people to post random kind words on new accounts they discover. Once it becomes a legitimate thing with a hashtag, people will jump onboard. Seriously, make 5 positive comments on other peoples’ photos a day. Doesn’t have to be people you follow. People respond to positivity with positivity; it’s contagious. You’ll help make social media a more beautiful place for the day, and hopefully beyond. Nice comments can make someone’s day.
Freedom of speech prohibits censorship in the public square. Do you think that applies to social media? Do American citizens have a right to say whatever they want within the confines of a social media platform owned by a private enterprise?
The problem with the majority of negative comments online about brands is that most are written by disgruntled consumers. Brands can implement awesome customer service features and support, but they can’t bend over backward and cave to every customer; they’d be out of business. We already know the customer is not always right. So no, I don’t think people should be able to say whatever they want about brands. Most of the time it’s competitor brands trying to destroy their competition. Individual humans, however, are fair game.
It’s a question that has equal answers. Yes, it’s a free world, and we should be able to say what we want, but also that right shouldn’t be given to idiots.
If you had full control over Facebook or Twitter, which specific changes would you make to limit harmful or hurtful attacks?
Apart from coding algorithms that flag specific hateful keywords, there’s actually pretty little social media platforms can do. They’re dealing with millions of users at any one time. If I had the gift of being able to code algorithms (and I wish I did), I would probably design an algorithm that responds to all negative comments with ‘Oh hey, I see you came out from under your bridge to be a troll today. How about putting that energy into being productive today? Have a great day.’
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
‘If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity, but you are not sure you can do it, say yes — then learn how to do it later.” You know I had to pull my favorite Richard Branson quote again here. If you’re more of a visual learner and need convincing beyond a quote, watch the movie Yes Man — you’ll say yes to everything for the next few days and might be surprised where the universe takes you.
We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Richard Branson and Loren Ridinger. Both Richard and Loren are so inspirational and have launched so many innovative brands while supporting others to go after their dreams.
How can our readers follow you on social media? @sophiecbowman
Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!
About the author:
Yitzi Weiner is a journalist, author, and the founder of Medium’s Authority Magazine. He is also the CEO of Authority Magazine’s Thought Leader Incubator, which guides leaders to become prolific content creators. A trained Rabbi, Yitzi is also a dynamic educator, teacher and orator. He currently lives in Maryland with his wife and children.