Updated: Dec 2, 2020
Podcasting, like acting, writing, dancing, and myriad other things, is an art, and part of what makes art special is sharing it with other people.
The thing is, those other people aren't always going to like what you created. If they don't like it, they likely won't care that you cut open your heart and presented it to the world. Some of them will shrug, scowl, unsubscribe, and move on. Others will want to vent their distaste, and they will do it via email, social media, or a formal review -- often in the form of the dreaded one-star rating and accompanying scathing paragraph.
If you're lucky, these reviews will be few and far between, sandwiched among glowing comments from people on the other end of the passion spectrum: those who have encountered your episodes and been so moved that they simply could not stop themselves from shouting their love of you and all you add to the world from the rooftops, crowning you with five stars and a write up that you could give your parents to hang on the refrigerator. Yet, for some reason, those kindnesses are often not what we remember while the ones that pick us apart kick us in the stomach over and over again.
Here are some tips for reading, assessing, and moving on from any kind of listener review on a public platform like social media or a podcast app:
Do Read Them. Not everyone will agree with me on this, and I'm okay with that. I believe that every review has worth, but it is up to us as creators to determine how much space we allow it in our heads and hearts. Ignoring all reviews can, in some cases, be as harmful as reading them all and taking every criticism as Gospel truth. I know there are many performers who prefer not to read reviews, and for some people that is incredibly valid, but in my particular situation -- as an independent podcaster who values feedback from listeners -- I think burying my head in the sand would be detrimental. If you aren't willing to receive criticism, you probably shouldn't have a podcast in the first place. Have confidence enough in yourself to put out your work, and also to hear what people have to say about it.
Do Not Engage with Haters. It is perfectly normal, when receiving a negative review, to feel defensive and to want to tell the reviewer exactly where they can put their opinion. When you are struck by this feeling, walk away for a few minutes. It will likely be hard, but do it anyway. If the review is polite but negative, that is one thing, but some will be unfairly cruel in their word choice and certainly could have made the same points in a more constructive way. Ignore it. If you lower yourself to the standard of your attacker by publicly arguing with (or yelling at) someone who has already proven themselves to be confrontational, it won't look good to anyone else who comes to read the reviews. You don't want to lose new listeners before you even have them by appearing angry and antagonistic. Trust that the people who see your reviews are smart enough to identify a troll when they see one, and don't put yourself into a position where the first encounter a potential listener has with you is you arguing with someone who isn't worth your time.
Do Admit When You are Wrong. I may not want you to argue with haters but not all negative reviews are brutal. If someone leaves you a negative comment because they have found an error in your work, and they are correct, admit it if at all possible (Apple Podcasts, for example, doesn't let you reply to reviews). People respect someone who can admit their mistakes, and you get nowhere if you don't embrace your errors and correct them. If the person shouting error is wrong, and you want to use your sources to correct them, that's okay too -- just be nice about it, even if they are a jerk to you. Take the high road, it'll serve you better in the long term, especially in a public forum.
Do Appreciate It. As absurd as this sounds, I mean it, though I don't think you need to go and offer to take someone who hates your work on a coffee date. When I say "appreciate it", what I mean is, realize that someone out there, that you don't know in the real world, found your podcast and chose to listen to it. You may not have had the impact you hoped on the person, but you did stir a strong emotion. You can't please everyone, but the fact that you are being found and selected is a step above a lot of other people, so take pride in that.
Do Put it into Perspective. The vast majority of your listeners might never be moved to leave you a review. Much like with Yelp or Amazon or other review websites, people usually only comment if they love you or hate you. Just because one person leaves you a negative review doesn't mean that person speaks for everyone. Most podcasters can gain an idea of their listener numbers from consulting the analytics for their download and subscriber numbers. How many negative reviews have you gotten in comparison to the total number of people who have listened to you? Think of how often you go somewhere or buy something and don't review it. That doesn't mean you hate it. If you are receiving vastly more positive reviews in proportion to your listener base than you are negative, that's a good thing. If you're only hearing negatives, it might be hurtful, but it isn't the end of the line because, as you will see next, they CAN be useful.
Do Use Reviews to Improve. Not every review is going to be useful, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't look for trends. If every negative review you get says the same thing, pause for a minute and consider it. These listeners don't owe you anything. They aren't your friends or family and your personal feelings aren't necessarily going to mean a thing to them. That means they are likely to be more honest than people closer to you. This is like having your own personal focus group, and there are definitely times it can help. Are a lot of people saying your episodes are too long/too short? Have you had a flurry of comments about your tone of voice or vocabulary? One bad review or one specific gripe might be an anomaly. Sometimes, someone is just in a grumpy mood. You have to let those roll off your back, but be careful not to write off everything everyone says all the time. If you truly care about your podcast, you want to grow and improve, don't you? Even if you ultimately decide you are happy with your product and don't want to alter anything, mull over what you are told. Do people dislike your accent? Conclusion: That's their problem. Do they complain repeatedly that you talk about modern politics when they were seeking history? Next step: Consider how you categorize yourself-- many people will want to hear modern politics, but they won't like thinking they're tuning into one thing and finding something else. Maybe you could improve how you present your podcast through name, description, logo, etc. Is it common that you get accused of rambling often, or sounding too stilted? Maybe streamline your scripts or work on your presentation. All of these can lead to improvement, if you let them. Turn negatives into useful tools for self-assessment and potential growth.
Do Not Quit. Whenever I read a book that I hate so much I want to throw it against the wall, I remind myself that somewhere, this is someone's absolute favorite book in the entire world. It helps, honestly, to remember this because podcasting is the same sort of thing. Much like with the current onslaught of television programs, it is often necessary to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your podcast prince. No one has to like your podcast and you don't have to like anyone else's, but just as important: no one can tell you to stop. Step away, take a walk, or a shower, or read a book, or do whatever it is that helps you decompress. Then, when that is done, make a new episode, because someone out there can't wait to listen to it.
Oh, and in keeping with this theme, enjoy a song from [title of show]: