I’ve been reading a blog dedicated to exposing the dark underbelly of a popular upbeat multi-level marketing company. I don’t sell for any MLMs and I rarely buy anything from them. But the blog was very familiar ground to me, seeing as I am involved in a truth-exposing circle myself.
The dialogue and plots can vary, but the basic cast of characters stays the same. If you’ve spent any time on internet forums, you’ve already met them:
The Voice of Truth. The founders of the blog, page, or group. They state their mission in no uncertain terms: Exposing the truth and deception* of Azure Blue Life Patio Décor.**
The Reporters. These people write frequent posts supporting the VoT’s mission. Sometimes earnest, occasionally snarky, and filled with facts and links to support their points. On Recovering Grace, I show up a lot as a Reporter.
Then we proceed to the comment section. That’s where the action happens.
The Cheerleaders. These are the people who always agree with the articles and have their own stories to add. “You nailed it, Voice of Truth! I, too, was sold on Azure Accessories by somebody who invited me over ‘to give my opinion on how she should arrange her patio furniture.’ Little did I know that she just wanted to recruit me. Six months later I was $3300 in debt and had a garage full of patio umbrellas that I couldn’t sell…’”
The Straddler. This person agrees with most of what’s said, but wants to bring balance to the forum by pointing out the good parts of the system. “I was a Turquois Manager, which as you know means I had eighteen consultants under me. I, too, had way too many umbrellas on my hands and was in debt. But I never pushed my team members to order more than they should just to meet our goals. Now I don’t try to hit any higher levels; I’m just in for my personal use.”
The Hardliner. This person gives no ground to the Straddler. “Stop selling umbrellas! There is no good to be reaped from this system. If you’re still in, you’re enabling the wickedness and deception whether you personally practice it or not.”
The Factoid. This person has all the numbers, all the stats, and all the links. Did a Straddler make a sloppy reference to last year’s sales? The Factoid is there with devastating accuracy. “Even if some people sold the recommended 33 umbrellas per month, that’s still only $330/month, which is only $3,960/year before expenses, which is hardly the sky-high income we were promised.”
The Disdainer. “All of you on this site are lazy loosers. Stop being jealous of successful people and get a life.”
The Gossip. Need to know any dirt on any of the higher-ups and company celebrities? “I was at the annual conference and heard Cerulean Manager Tiffany Newton talk about how she got to the top of this company. But the truth is that she got all her downlines by running off her Cobalt and Indigo Managers and lying about why they left. No wonder her husband left her for his secretary.”
The Snarker. “Tiff Newton thinks that if she says ‘hydropower’ enough, people won’t notice her terrible taste in clothes and flabby arm skin.”
The Partyliner. Similar to the Disdainer, the Partyliner comes on to rebuke the VoT—but elaborates with familiar catchphrases and buzzwords. “Just because you couldn’t be true-blue to your sky-high dreams, you don’t have to drag down the rest of us who swim in the ocean of motion! Don’t just stand on the shore, jump in and get some real hydropower going!”
The Irrelevancer. This person posts long comments, usually a single paragraph, speaking forthrightly on topics that don’t have a lot to do with the original post. Sometimes they don’t even have much to do with reality.
In most comment threads, the Disdainer is good for at least seven replies, ranging from lightly sarcastic to downright hostile. The Snarker engages in meticulous spelling/grammar lessons, apparently assuming this discredits the other side’s points. The Irrelevancer is a rare point of agreement between both sides: everybody pretty much ignores him. Which doesn’t stop him in the slightest.
But the Partyliner is the one who can lure the Voice of Truth into the comment section. Those catchphrases and buzzwords drive the VoT, Reporters, and Cheerleaders up the wall, bringing on the verbal equivalent of a nuclear arsenal. Minutes after the comment appears, the Partyliner is long gone; but everybody else fires rockets, cheers the explosions, and coughs on the smoke for a while.
This is all a pretty familiar storyline. If you somehow missed this drama on the four million internet forums that ran last week, just stick around. It’ll happen all over again next week.
*This isn’t an indictment against any friends or family who sell. I avoid the people who feign friendship to get my business. My real friends are good about separating business and pleasure.
**I made up this company. It sells patio umbrellas in different sizes and patterns. Once you’ve bought your basic umbrella, you’re encouraged to buy matching furniture cushions (new patterns ever six months); charms to hang on the edges of your umbrellas (ten to a set, all sold separately, new sets issued every six weeks); and picnic sets in coordinating patterns (26-piece, each sold separately). Having trouble affording everything you need? Have you ever considered selling for Azure Blue Life? You get a 30% discount (if you manage to sell $400/month in products… you can always order a little extra on your credit card to earn your discount). Even better, work your way up through the true-blue ranks to earn bigger discounts, commissions, and probably within six months you can retire to spend the rest of your life relaxing beside the pool under your Azure Blue umbrella. (Not that I, your recruiter, am there yet, but commissions on your orders will get me closer!) Just pull out your credit card, and never stop reaching for the dream!***
***If you don’t consider your company to be one of these pernicious MLMs, then I’m not talking about yours. But replace the products with “spiritual” standards and promises of world-changing opportunities–keep all the suggestions to pour money into the company–and you’ve got the cult I spent my teen years in.