There’s a tonne of recommendations on how businesses and brands should handle negative criticism online but there’s not a lot for individuals. Like brands, individuals have to put themselves out in the digital space too, and when they do, they open themselves to both positive and negative feedback.
I’ve had my fair share of negative criticism online over the years. In fact, I received some on Tuesday when I decided to test autoresponder messages for my Twitter account – which by the way I don’t recommend doing.
I’d like to think I’ve grown a thick skin but to be honest it still burns a little bit every time someone sends me a not very happy message. We’re rightly told that we can’t please everyone and shouldn’t try to. However, a lot of individuals take this idea and use it as an excuse not to bother responding to negative criticism and to completely ignore it. This is the wrong way to handle feedback. And you’re missing a massive opportunity.
I’ve responded to every piece of negative feedback I’ve received. I do this because I want to understand how people interpret and connect with my work. What I’ve discovered is people who take the time to share feedback do so because they really care about the issue or subjected I’ve written about.
If you think about your own habits for a minute, you’ve probably read a lot of stuff you don’t agree with online but you haven’t bothered to comment. You only comment or share a piece if you really love it or hate it. Right? So the people who give you negative (or positive) feedback are your most engaged readers. Why wouldn’t you want to talk to them?
I can happily say that I’ve turned every negative criticism into a positive experience. I’ve even become friends with those who have initially critiqued my work. I want you to see online feedback as a positive opportunity. It’s a chance for you to develop as an artist and grow your tribe. And the best bit is they won’t expect you to reply so when you do they’ll sit up and listen to what you have to say.
Here are my tips for how to handle negative criticism online:
- Stay calm
Read the feedback through in full. Then walk away and freak out, swear, cry or whatever helps you process what you’ve just read. But DON’T respond until you’re feeling level headed again. Responding in the heat of the moment will only turn the potential conversation into an argument.
- Be respectful
Being respectful means treating them like a person. Not an online avatar who doesn’t have feelings and beliefs. Use their name. Thank them for taking the time to read your piece and for commenting. Do this even if they have been aggressive and argumentative.
- Acknowledge their feedback
In most cases the reader would have told you why they are upset. For example, you didn’t acknowledge their views or beliefs. Or you disregarded research and a point of view they believe is important. Reiterate their compliant. By doing this you are acknowledging them and saying you are listening to their point of view. If they’ve made a good comment or suggestion then take it on board. Don’t ignore it simply because of the way it’s been delivered.
- State your intentions
I think honesty is the best approach. Say why you chose to exclude certain statistics or why you took a certain approach. People sometimes forget that you can’t tell a whole story in one piece. They just want to understand your rationale.
- Don’t apologise if you don’t have to
If you still feel confident and happy in your piece – and remember you’re entitled to have your opinion – then don’t apologise. Going through this process isn’t so you can say, you’re right and I’m wrong. It’s to turn an engaged reader into an advocate for your work if possible.
How have you handled negative criticism online? Share your tips in the comments to help your fellow readers.
Got your first negative critique online and not sure how to proceed? I’d be happy to help. I offer Digital Storytelling Coaching for this reason!