We often like to think of the internet as a magical candy land of pure imagination (circa 1971 Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory). It’s a hop and a skip to delight. A jump to the left for inspiration. Just a tiny scamper for the things that fill our heads and warm our hearts.
As a brand who has leveraged the power of the internet to slingshot ourselves towards our dreams, we know how incredible this unfathomably enormous sprawling network of energy, knowledge, magic, is.
But, we’re going to be real with you: The interweb is not all sunshine and rainbows.
It’s not just chocolate fountains, giant lollipops and accounts like @tinygentleasians (trust us, that insta account is better than any edible teacup).
In business and in personal life, online and offline, there is always going to be the Slugworths. The Veruca Salts. The remarks that come with a full set of sharpened teeth and the negativity that can, even for a moment, feel like it’s kicked your legs out from under you.
So, as a business owner, how do you deal with scalding 1-star ratings and the online equivalent of someone blowing a raspberry in your face?
You’re in luck fam, because in this blog, we’re going to dive into exploring exactly that.
First though, that’s dissect the difference between constructive criticism and destructive.
Whether your business is just finding its feet, or it’s an all singing all dancing showstopper, there will always be people ready to critique you and your brand.
But let us make this crystal clear:
There is a BIG difference between constructive criticism and destructive criticism.
Constructive criticism is based on valid perspectives and observations. It’s not always dipped in powdered sugar and presented with a big shiny bow, but it’s the truth – or, at least has some semblance of truth to the person expressing it. It usually comes from someone who feels they ought to pass on their feedback on, so you can improve.
Theatre Critic Albert Williams illuminates the driving force behind critique, with his insight:
“Critics believe the creators of the art really want feedback, of any kind. They see their role as a teacher, and teachers challenge the material they’re discussing. They see themselves as reporters, boosters, and skeptics, all to create better art.“
Constructive criticism is steeped in a desire to make things better.
Destructive criticism, however, is steeped in the desire to make things worse.
This brand of highly toxic troll fuel is designed to cause harm through ridicule, embarrassment and damage. Unlike it’s more reasonable counterpart, destructive criticism isn’t born from altruistic values – it’s straight up nastiness.
If constructive criticism is a Facebook review – it would say:
“I like the product but I wasn’t happy with the service I received. To date, I’ve sent off 3 emails with no response”
Then destructive criticism is a review – it would say:
“I am SO embarrassed for this entire company. A stupid concept led by someone without the slightest clue, you’ll be closing your front doors for good within the year”
If you’re struggling to separate the poison from the nectar, follow our cheat sheet:
Being able to identify the difference between types of feedback is imperative to guiding how you deal with them.
You wouldn’t try to tame a lion with a bouncy helium balloon, would you?
Now, that we’ve identified the difference. Let’s get into dissecting how one handles these two situations.
Feeling hurt by criticism is a normal part of being human. It’s hardwired into our brains. Some psychology studies even tell us that bad feedback is processed more thoroughly, and impacts us far more intensely than positive experiences.
But remind yourself – you are the driver, not the passenger. Every craptacular situation is another opportunity for you to grow into a version of yourself that knows just a little more than before. That’s progress – baby!
If it’s a Facebook review, an IG comment, anything in the eye of the public – this is not the place to work out the finer details of what has happened. Respond to them with a friendly comment saying that are sorry and that you’d like to talk about it by phone/email/private message.
We recommend talking over the phone, if the reviewer is willing. Not only does it facilitate connection, but it allows you to understand all the smaller details that are often neglected over online messaging.
The best way to deal with the comments is head on.
Put yourself in their shoes.
If you were the customer and you were leaving this feedback, why are you doing it and what resolution are you seeking from it?
Empathy is one of the most powerful pieces of equipment you can keep in your toolbox.
Through understanding their journey, their expectations and their experience, you can connect with the critic in a genuine, meaningful way.
Hopefully, with an genuine conversation, you can solve their problem and use their feedback to inform your business in the future. Maybe their issue is valid, and now that you are aware of it, you can shift your processes to ensure this doesn’t happen again in the future. That’s a business win, in our books!
Let us illustrate the right way to respond to constructive criticism:
If you’re left a review that reads:
“I enjoyed your blog post but was very disappointed that you didn’t include an example to illustrate the point. This was a let-down and totally detracted from the post.” (meta, we know).
You could say:
“Hey [name], we really appreciate you taking the time to leave us feedback. This is actually a super valid point and you’re right – we dropped the ball – we’re sorry! Would you mind shooting us a message at [email address] so we can chat about what you’d like to see more of in our blog?”
Online destructive criticism is usually perpetrated by two groups.
There’s the trolls, the ones who leave fake reviews and complain about everything that opens and shuts without having ever set foot in your store/e-store.
Then there’s the meanies. These ones are who are legitimate customers, except rather than voicing their concern in a constructive manner, they have gone for the jugular instead.
To handle the trolls, the best thing you can do is deal with it graciously.
Do: Make it clear that this individual is not a legitimate customer. Something as simple as: “We’ve just had a peek in our database and we weren’t able to locate you in our system. We take these matters very seriously and would love to follow up with you for more information” demonstrates to spectators that the reviewer is a random troll. Don’t: Argue back. Don’t ever feed the birds.
To deal with actual customers who have come out all guns blazing, we say this: BE NICE
A 2015 study revealed that a catalyst for rudeness stems from being surrounded by poor behaviour and imitating this conduct.
According to the research, those who exhibit rude behaviours experience a “lowest common denominator” social support. This makes them unfrightened of poor reactions and outcomes of their impoliteness.
To break the cycle of rudeness, harness the ever-underrated power of equanimity.
Equanimity (noun): mental calmness, composure and evenness of temper in challenging situations.
Refusing to fight back is a testament of bravery.
Keep it cool, keep it calm and let these questions guide your response:
Try to cut away their poor communication and understand what they are actually upset about.
Using empathy, even when dealing with meanies, is an important step to reaching a resolution.
Consider what the optimal outcome for the commenter is. Fixing the commenter’s problem in a polite, gracious way defuses the situation and demonstrates to your audience that you aren’t what they’re saying you are. You’re calm, kind and courageous, even in the face of a bully.
If you’re left a review that reads:
“I really hated your post about online criticism. It sucked and YOU SUCK”
You could say:
“Hey [name], we’re sorry that you didn’t like our post. We know we can’t be everyone’s cup of tea all the time. We’re always curious about what kind of content matters to our audience, so we’d love for you to shoot us an email at [email address] where we can chat more about what you aren’t impressed by”.
The interwebs isn’t all sunshine and rainbows.
Sometimes, it’s horrendously human.
It can be mean, cutting, selfish.
To destroy the destructive, we need to harness the power from the other end of the spectrum; empathy, equanimity and kindness.
So, enjoy the giant lollipops, use online space to inspire, excite and learn.
Be gentle in the face of anger and always remember: don’t feed the birds.
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