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Making Criticism Work For You

Making Criticism Work For You

Criticism is a part of blogging. It’s so much a part of blogging that you can almost gauge how successful you are at professional blogging by the type and volume of negative feedback you receive.

The most common advice for dealing with criticism is to ignore it. Stay positive — “don’t feed the troll.” Different bloggers interpret this instruction in different ways, and different bloggers have radically different ideas about what constitutes constructive criticism versus “trolling.” Ultimately, you will have to decide for yourself the best way of dealing with all forms of criticism, both on and off your blog, in a way that is consistent with both your personality and your brand.

Misconception: Ignore Criticism And It Will Go Away

Failing to respond to criticism is a mistake. If you are not prepared to respond to criticism, you need to consult with somebody who can help you because it will be damaging to your brand in the long term if you choose to pursue this route, no matter how ill-founded the criticism may seem in the short term.

For one thing, there are some people who complain (about bloggers, brands, whatever) who really just need to be made to feel as though their complaints have been heard. Once that happens, there is a good chance they will leave you alone. But if you make a point of not hearing them, they are likely to become bigger. If you have a 3-year-old at home, I invite you to test this theory out on them by ignoring one of their complaints for just about thirty seconds versus making a show of saying something like, “Is that right, sweetheart?” The results are telling, I assure you.

Misconception: Nobody Remembers The Critics

Nobody likes to make changes because changes are hard. So instead of making changes, sometimes people will instead pat themselves on the back, and explain that it is so much harder “to do” than it is “to criticize.” Maybe so. But what people forget is that criticizing should also be an essential part of the doing itself . . . it is what makes the “doing” better, and stronger, and more worthy of acclaim. That’s why most of the greatest “doers” were also critics. For example . . .

Joseph Addison — Publisher, Essayist, Critic
Alexander Pope — Poet, Critic.
Henry Fielding — Novelist, Playwright, Critic.
John Locke — Essayist, Critic.
Samuel Johnson — Essayist, Novelist, Critic.
Mary Wollstonecraft — Essayist, Critic.
Oscar Wilde — Poet, Playwright, Critic.
T.S. Eliot — Poet, Essayist, Critic.

(There are many more, but I think I’ve made my point.) Don’t assume the critics aren’t also doing. Because there’s a good chance that they are. And there’s a good chance you’ll remember them.

The Answer: Learn To Look At Criticism As A Gift

I know it sounds crazy, but the only way to deal with negative feedback is to start to treat it as a (kind of painful) gift that is going to strengthen your blog (or brand, or product, or whatever). Your friends and family will never give you the truth about your blog — they love you. The critic is not going to bother with varnishing the truth to spare your feelings, and though they will bring their own biases, they also might bring some insight into ways you can improve your blog.

Even the harshest piece of criticism, delivered by an anonymous commenter on a masked IP, might have some kernel of truth in it. Your job is to figure out what the useful information is: when you clear away the stuff that is unnecessarily harsh, maybe your content has been a little stale lately? Maybe you have been doing too many sponsored posts? Maybe your audience would be better served by full feeds instead of partial feeds?

How seriously you take the criticism is ultimately up to you, and there will inevitably be those times where you are just not able to respond to criticism immediately. There are times when criticism is too harsh to cope with, and the best thing to do in those circumstances, I think, is to take two breaths and then not do anything, like my sponsor used to tell me. Then, later, when you’ve calmed down, see if there is anything at all that you can work with. Your audience will thank you for it.

Comments (6)

  1. Jan 21, 2011

    I couldn’t agree with you more. It takes an incredibly strong, professional person to acknowledge criticism, especially mean-spirited criticism, and examine it for kernels of truth.

    But people who take the time to communicate with you in any way–whether in your blog’s comments, through e-mail or via blog posts of their own–on some level CARE about your blog. And if they care, then they have paid attention. And if they have paid attention, then they might have something valid to tell you. Not always! And not every object of criticism has the intestinal fortitude to separate constructive criticism from destructive criticism. But I applaud your suggestion that bloggers make the effort.

    And further, perhaps off-topic, I really intensely dislike the mommyblogger community’s tendency to brand any criticism or dissent as trolling. (Actually, lots of bloggers do this.) I find it intellectually dangerous–it encourages people to listen only to their admirers and ignore their critics. What exactly do we learn from sycophants who tell us we’re always right, all of the time?

  2. Jan 21, 2011

    I think this is really smart advice.

    It reminds of an art class I took in college. We were assigned a weekend sketching project, which typically took me four hours to complete, then at class on Mondays we hung up our sketches and everyone participated in critiquing the sketches. If you could manage not take negative criticism personally, the comments were incredibly interesting and helpful. It taught me a lot about what people “see” when they look at art.

    But it’s also possible to over emphasize criticism. For example, if you’re always adjusting your blog, your voice, to accommodate critics, you could not only lose your unique perspective, but alienate potential readers who don’t want to feel like they’re being manipulated into loving your work.

  3. Jan 21, 2011

    Excellent post. As an amateur artist, I see a lot of confusion about the value of critique from fans in general, and ocassionally from other artists even. There seems to be a notion floating around that critiquing something is inherently mean-spirited, especially if it is not expressly requested, which is simply not true.

  4. Jan 21, 2011

    How do you respond to critics who have no basis in reality? I’m thinking sites like Yahoo! News where commenters are seriously so out of touch with fact that having any rational discourse is almost impossible.

    Quite frankly I like dissenting opinions, mostly because it drives traffic, and well, that can’t be a bad thing! Though I have seen where dissenting opinions take over the blog comments and make it nearly impossible to write anything because they will argue every single point. (I’m thinking of http://fearlessformulafeeder.com.) In that case, I’m not sure really what the author can do to keep the discussion on track.

  5. ophelia
    Jan 21, 2011

    Great advice! Now, how to get some of the more moronic, self-absorbed, and negative-Nelly bloggers in our community to read it…

  6. drhoctor2
    Jan 21, 2011

    Very well put.

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