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.