It happens to everyone eventually (really!)–your first negative review. That sinking feeling in your stomach? Totally normal, don't worry! With all the emphasis podcast creators put on getting rating and reviews, it can feel especially awful when you get a negative one. But every review is a learning opportunity–and that's actually even more true for negative reviews. I asked Team Simplecast members Espree Devora, and Aaron Dowd how they handle their negative reviews, and how other podcast creators can turn them into actionable insights.
Who's leaving a bad review?
The first thing you should look into is–who's leaving the review? Do they give any context clues? Are they a long-term listener, or have they just started? Do they seem like your target demographic or are they far outside of it?
Espree Devora, Simplecast's Director of User Experience and host of We Are LA Tech says, "Sometimes the negative reviewer is a competitor feeling threatened, sometimes maybe someone who wasn't the right fit for your show is now disgruntled so this is how they choose to express their frustration. Sometimes it's a casual listener getting irked at the topic."
Contextualizing your negative reviews this way isn't an excuse to brush them off, but it can definitely help you figure out how much weight to assign to an individual review (do you want to get new listeners more than you want to retain listeners who have been with you for the long haul?), and also refine your target demographic.
What are they actually saying?
While reviews are important for potential listeners to decide if a show is worth their time, reviews are also a great chance for you to assess how your show is working! Even (and sometimes especially) negative reviews can hold some really valuable pearls of wisdom–that is, if they're not just negging.
As Aaron says,"First off, you have to ask if there’s any truth there. I’ve been lucky, I’ve only ever had one negative review and it was half true. The other half was just a difference of opinion and maybe someone being a little bit of a jerk. Which by the way, if you’re out there being a jerk, you should stop. It’s not doing anyone any favors."
There's a big difference between constructive criticism, critique, and straight-up insults. Chances are you'll be able to know what a review is when you see it.
Espree advises you to learn, but not let it bug you: "With the negatives, assess if they are sincere and with those learn from their critiques, people invested time to write them then discard all the rest."
A note on brigading.
Before we wrap this up, we should touch on brigading really quickly. What's brigading? It's a harassment and trolling technique that, hopefully, you'll never have to deal with! A brigade is a group of trolls who coordinate an attack of negative reviews on your show to tank its rating. The internet is a touchy place, especially towards more progressive content creators–brigades are normally coordinated in places like 4chan and some of the scummier Reddits.
The reviews that come out of a brigade are not indicative of the quality of your show–we recommend reporting the comments, and also reaching out to your supporters and on social to ask that they rate and review in order to offset the troll comments. Keep your chin up–it means you're bothering the right people!
While ratings and reviews are important, don't worry too much. As Aaron says, "Word of mouth is still the most powerful, I think. Some people will check out reviews to learn about a show, but we’ll all listen to—or at least give a chance to—the show our friend recommends to us." Espree agrees–"Focus on the fans. They are who matters."