Updated: Nov 18, 2018
I want to talk about bad reviews today.
When I was in college, I studied Communication, specifically Media & Technology. It was an interesting time – early 2010s, a plethora of research being done about social media, the potential for sales online well-known.
We talked about Amazon, Yelp, TripAdvisor, and how people tend to review.
The short of it is, people who review tend to give a lot of biased opinions – one-star reviews or five-star reviews influenced mostly by their attitudes as human beings and having little to do with the business or product itself.
Their reviews don’t usually offer a lot of substance, just a “This restaurant was amazing! Delicious food!” or a “This book SUCKED. Waste of money.”
As a business owner, these reviews aren’t going to give you enough depth to actually apply those comments to what you do. Great, my book stunk. Why?
When you look into these users’ other reviews, most of them are going to rest on the same plane.
1.) The Praisers. They rate everything 4 or 5 stars. They’re easily satisfied. 2.) The Meh-ers. They rate everything 3 stars or average - I personally fall into this plane. 3.) The Criticizers. They rate everything 2 stars or below. They’re never satisfied.
The Internet developed the term “troll” for the third group because they tend to needlessly complain a lot, but there are no terms that I’m aware of for the first and second groups – probably because they’re definitely not divining to hurt anyone. Not that "trolls" necessarily want to hurt people, it's just that, well, you know... They do.
So many people fall into this third group that Yelp (among other websites, I’m sure) created an algorithm that makes these sorts of reviews drop or not automatically show if the reviewer has a history of providing consistently bad reviews.
Recently in a writing group, a high-profile user called me “unprofessional” for being dismissive about a reviewer who roasted an author because she thought her book was going to be longer. The author made the book’s length public and broadcast it wherever possible in order to avoid confusion about what the reader was actually purchasing.
Bottom line? This customer didn’t do research into what she was purchasing. When she realized she made a mistake, she took it out on the author. Her other reviews were all one and two star. She is, almost by definition, a troll.
That’s right, they do. If you only have five reviews and get a one-star review that sullies your overall rating, that stings. Consumers make mistakes and they’re not always responsible about them. That definitely impacts authors. There's no question about that.
However, you can't make things better for these kinds of customers. Surly, negative people cannot be changed. You can confront them, but it's generally a waste of time and makes matters worse.
So, we learn to live with them and accept the things we cannot change.
Not all reviews are equal. Not every bad review should be taken seriously. While this customer’s one-star review may have had a small impact on the product’s rating, it isn’t the end of the world. There’s no need to respond to attempt to vilify the customer. It won’t work, anyway. She’s made up her mind.
Look, reviews are important. They impact customer decisions about whether they should purchase or not.
The reviews are ultimately for other customers, but customers know well enough to investigate what other people think. After all, if a review just says "don't buy. This book sucks," the reviewer is really doing his peers a disservice by not offering details.
It’s not reasonable to think that customers will all look into a reviewer’s past ratings to determine which of the three planes they fall on (if any), but think of previous times you’ve looked into reviews before purchasing something…
You focus on the detailed reviews, don’t you? Not always the star counts.
If someone is really passionate and inspired to review something, they’re going to offer some substance – whether they loved something or hated it.
Rating something one-star or five-star and then disappearing one sentence later does not mean a reviewer is passionate. It’s more the opposite, really.
People are busy — that’s the world we live in – but it’s not hard to scale a review down: “Plot disorganized. Too fast. Choppy language. Don’t buy.” See?
The only time I think worry is necessary is when there are a lot of bad reviews with little information. It then makes sense to start asking, “What aren’t my reviewers saying?”
Don’t make excuses for your reviewers so that you can read more into their opinions. As writers, there is only so much we can do to improve ourselves and knowing what feedback to take seriously is critical. Once we publish something, the reviews are mostly beyond our control.
As in any industry, the customer is always right... But not really. Do we want them to know we feel that way? Nope. That's why I was called unprofessional. I took off my padded shoulder blouse and put on a T-shirt and said, "This is a load of crap."
Some authors don't want to be publicly associated with anyone who speaks these truths. I guess what's sad about this to me is that I'm not just hypothesizing - a writer in this community told me that that was why this comment was made about me, and why writers flee from the community.
Writers spend so much time marketing to other writers that they forget they're also peers. Writers don't just buy from you, they learn from you.
And they often get taken advantage of. Don't be the jerk writer who takes advantage of other writers.
It's very, very hard to find a genuine community that will take a moment to take off their PR hats and say, "Look, this is how it really is. Here's how I handle this..."
I was quite surprised that a conversation about how to perceive bad reviews took that turn, but there are always surprises in the publishing industry.
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