Hearing Critics...But Staying Focused
My friend Scott Jeffrey has a great post on his blog today titled "Ignore the Critics" where he lays out eleven highly successful books next to a dissenting opinion from a critic.
Manuscript: Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne FrankOops.
Literary Opinion: “The girl doesn’t, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the ‘curiosity’ level.”
Beyond the novelty of reading through dissenting literary opinions on some of the greatest literary works of our time, Scott's blog post makes a very important point about how focused we have to be in today's "everyone is a critic" atmosphere.
Reviews aren't just for authors anymore. Sites likes Yelp.com, blogs, Twitter feeds, Facebook pages and other social media platforms make it possible for readers, customers, competitors, even friends, to post an opinion on anything from coffee shops to books to passers-by.
The anonymous nature of many internet reviews can lead people to be much more scornful with comments than they would dream to be in person. Such reviews often have a domino effect when the reviewed read them and let themselves react emotionally. The often out-of-line response then becomes the story rather than the product or service that the review was about.
The power-to-the-people aspect of social media is what we love about it, but it also presents some challenges to our psyche.
When you hear criticism of your book, your speaking, your publicity work, your job, etc...what is your first instinct?
Do you take it personally and get defensive or do you hear the opinion and remain confident in yourself?
Let me give you an example of someone who was pointedly criticized, responded gracefully but remained confident in the face of that criticism.
Kick Butt Coffee is a new coffee shop in Austin, TX. As many of you know, our city is known for it's "Keep Austin Weird" vibe and this coffee shop--complete with live music, mocha martinis, martial arts decor and offer on its website to "get a black eye next time you visit"--is everything but run of the mill.
The owner, Thomas R. Gohring, decided that if he was going to stand out from the crowd in a city full of stand-out acts, he had to be different.
Gohring's Kick Butt Coffee has generated mostly positive reviews on Yelp.com, with many customers calling it their favorite coffee house in Austin. However, like anything that is out of the ordinary, the coffee shop has also had a couple sub-par reviews.
A recent review, from Ellyn E. called it "her worst coffee house experience ever," before saying the "insanely loud horrible grunge band" drove her and other customers away. She also cracks on the Americano.
Put yourself in Gohring's shoes for a minute...you've invested in a new coffee shop--in the midst of a recession--and someone has written a biting review, where they seem to go out of their way to be a bit dramatic about the (bad) experience. It would be easy to respond with a "you don't know what you're talking about" tone or even question your own logic in including live music at your coffee shop.
But Gohring does neither. Here's his response:
"Ellyn...sorry to hear you had a bad experience at our new shop. The bands myspace music samples are nice and not too loud. I will address this with them. We are known as a huge supporter of local musicians, live music venue at night. But it is not a good thing for customers to leave because of the music. I appreciate you bringing that to my attention. I am surprised about the americano. Sorry yours wasn't to your satisfaction. (Update, even though it is brand new the decaf grinder's burrs were bad.) The flat screens are my idea, sorry you didn't like it."He acknowledges the issues that can be improved and lets the customer know he appreciates her feedback, but remains confident in the vision he has for his coffee shop.
We need to do the same thing with online chatter. You have to hear it and, at times, respond to it, but you certainly don't have to let it get you off track and you never have to respond emotionally.
Stay focused and above the fray and let your idea...your book...your service...whatever it may be...make the impact you meant it to make.