Criticism hurts, but at the same time it’s usually valuable. Had my friends not brutally mocked my terrible goatee for six months, for example, I’d probably still look like a wannabe Richard Branson — and I am eternally grateful to them for correcting that.
Related: How to Spin a Bad Online Review
When it comes to criticism of your startup, however, bad reviews are a big let down for you and for your team. And when they come from a professional, they could mean the end of your startup.
So, what happens when your brand new product or service gets a snotty write-up from a reporter? Should you take to the web in defense of your brain child? What’s the best way to deal with the fallout from a bad review?
1. Evaluate the review and listen to your community.
If someone can describe the Eiffel Tower as “a big lump of metal” and the Sydney Opera House as “a pretty awful 1960s style concrete building” and “nothing special at all” — your product can get knocked, too.
Gaming giant Nintendo experienced a backlash of criticism of its new social media/game hybrid app Miitomo in 2015 — and faced a near 10 percent fall in share price as a result. However, critics were proven wrong after the app was downloaded more than 10 million times.
So a one-off bad review — or even a catastrophic series of bad reviews, like the one Nintendo saw — isn’t the death knell for your product or company. In fact, it is often a blessing in disguise. Whether you think the critics are right or wrong, you should treat the reviewer like a dissatisfied customer and use his or her advice to look at your product with fresh eyes.
Identify the problems outlined in the review. Was it a product flaw, a customer service issue, mishandled expectations or a combination of all three?
Once you know where you stand, you can start taking back control. Do this by engaging with your existing customers, your social media communities and your backers and garner their insights. You can run surveys and focus groups. Ask questions. Call them up if need be and get their honest feedback. If your product is tech focused, pitch it to a Product Hunt moderator to get even more opinions.
If the consensus follows the critics, it’s time to start doing some serious damage control.
2. Thank the reviewer and don’t offer excuses.
It might not feel great, but you have to bite the bullet. Thank reviewers and tell them their feedback was invaluable and that you are addressing the issues that they highlighted. Don’t offer excuses; that won’t do you any good. Instead, show them you are taking their feedback seriously. Not only will this make reviewers feel that they are being listened to and that their words have had an impact, but they may even review your product again (more positively) once it has been updated.
The last thing you should ever do is to complain, troll reviewers’ social media accounts or bad-mouth them or their articles online. The reviewer will not change his or her mind about your product. And worse, this person may even print your words. Stay polite, professional and avoid conflict. These are the steps toward receiving better press in the future.
3. Update your product and make it count.
Before you seek press coverage again, you must ensure that your product is up to scratch and that your community and user base are satisfied with your updates. If you contact the media prematurely, you could well receive more negative press — and that is something you most certainly want to avoid.
Keep in mind that the bad review you received pertained to an old version of your product. For better or worse, people have short memories, and a new version of your product or service almost serves to wipe the slate clean. In this regard, rebranding as a “version 2.0” is a key tactic that shows your product is new and improved. The second review, or second series of reviews, is the real test.
You can pitch out the new version to journalists who cover your industry niche. Also write a press release highlighting the improvements and send this out to relevant media professionals and, of course, the original journalist who caused you all these problems in the first place. While you’re never guaranteed coverage, any positive reviews or write-ups you receive as a result will go a long way toward neutralizing the bad press you received in the past.
Bad reviews often arise because a company attempts to run before it can walk. When you love what you’re doing, it’s only natural to assume everyone else will be just as enthusiastic. But the reality is often quite the opposite. Make sure you have a product that does what you claim and never try to oversell your offering to a journalist. While you can always implement damage control, it’s better to start out on the right foot to begin with.