Receiving a negative podcast review flat out stinks. It has the power to send even the most seasoned podcast host into a spiral of overthinking and self-doubt. Why? “Negative reviews can be particularly painful because podcasters put their heart and soul into their work for the world to see,” says Dr. Wyatt Fisher, a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, and Marriage Counselor who runs his own show Marriage Podcast. Research shows that around 95% of shoppers read online reviews before purchasing. For podcasters, reviews are often the gateway between a hungry listener and a new fan.
Anyone putting creative work into the world is in a similar boat. Eric Schumacher, an actor, filmmaker, and the president of Seelie Studios says, “A film I played a principal role in just released to about 60% extremely negative reviews and about 40% extremely, sublimely positive reviews.” Fortunately, the podcasting world is a little more friendly. Some of the audio creators I reached out to said they thankfully haven’t had a ton of troll activity. One host even apologized for not having a better “asshole story” to share. Shows with relatively non-controversial topics will yield fewer trolls. But, like it or not, opinionated listeners exist. As your show grows, so will the feedback.
Learning to manage negative feedback early on will set you up for a happier podcast journey.
Learning to manage criticism early on will set you up for a happier creative journey. So, I believe a change of mindset is in order *cue Dumbledor changing the flags from Slytherin to Gryffindor.* What if I were to tell you that negative reviews aren’t all that bad? What if I were to suggest they may even have their place in becoming a better podcaster? Are you giving me the side-eye? I thought you might. That’s why we called on therapists, podcasters, and artists to put together a step-by-step guide to coping (and growing!) from negative reviews. One podcast duo even turned their worst review into their best-selling t-shirt.
Step 1: Feel the feelings
This is not one of those articles advising you, in a very cool and calm way, to wave off your haters. In fact, Nicole Arzt, Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, serving on the advisory board for Family Enthusiast, suggests the exact opposite. “We’re often told the trite, ‘don’t let the haters get to you’ as if it’s so easy to turn our feelings on and off,” she says, totally hitting the nail on the head. “Allow yourself to feel the rage or sadness or insecurity or shame. Just be with it for a few moments. You’re a human being, and you are entitled to have reactions,” she adds.
Hi, yes, you are a HUMAN with FEELINGS, which are VALID. So throw a tantrum around your living room or curl up in a ball. Let your reactions have a safe space to rise and release. Working out is another easy option. Mentally, remember your podcast is here to serve a niche audience, not infinity and beyond. “While you can try your best to avoid receiving negative reviews, they are a part of life; you can’t please everyone,” Dr. Patricia Celan, a Psychiatry resident at Dalhousie University in Canada reminds us.
Step 2: Talk it out
Shelly Johnson, co-host of the Latter-Day Lesbian podcast, is a divorced mother of seven dealing with leaving the Mormon church and learning about her sexuality for the first time. Her co-host Mary Rutt is helping her produce an honest, funny, and hopeful show. Together they cover a lot of brave topics that have harbored some not-so-nice commentary. Before spinning their worst review, a snarky low-blow, into a success story, they talked it out.
“Initially, we felt a bit irritated,” explains Rutt. “But we also found it to be ridiculous and hilarious. We worked through it by talking about the review on our podcast (we talk about all of the bad ones because we think it’s funny [and it takes the sting out of them]).” Take a cue from this duo and call up your co-host to have a constrictive wrap session about the negative feedback. Gas each other up about the episode. What did you do well? What were your favorite parts? Did your audience respond overall well to it? What were some positive comments? Would it make for a compelling segment in your next episode?
No co-host? “Sitting in emotion is different than dwelling in emotion. This is where reaching out to your support system helps,” advises Dr. Arzt. “Who can help perk you up? Who is going to be there for you when you feel like you’re a failure? Go to those people.” Your IRL support team will make you feel like a shiny star in no time. Because, after all, you are. Oh, and one quick tip from an introvert: Before reaching out to friends and family, consider asking if they’re in a place to offer support and time. It’s always good to be mindful of everyone’s mental and emotional capacities!
If no one’s answering their phone, Dr. Arzt recommends writing down 10 things you like about yourself. Seriously. Compassion is so important when being in the public eye. Jot down what you loved about the episode, what went well, what your fans said, and what you can realistically improve on. Still fuming? Open a file and do a brain dump for five minutes without stopping or censoring. Just get the words out!
Step 3: Respond or delete
I’m a big fan of the “sleep then decide” rule. So after letting a quick 24 hours pass, it’s time to qualify the negative review (unless it was horribly offensive, in which case delete upon reading). Was the negative review constructive or just plain rude? A critic or a troll? “Learning to discern which voice is speaking to you and keeping your ego in check is part of thrusting yourself into the public eye,” explains Meredith Atwood, author of The Year of No Nonsense, and host of The Same 24 Hours podcast.
Whip out your magnifying glass and get to work. Here are some questions to ask yourself: Who wrote the comment? Have they listened to the show before? Was it about your subject or setup? Were they communicating a valid albeit opposing viewpoint? Was there a misunderstanding? Or are they just an internet bully?
Engaging in constructive conversation can be a brand-building exercise.
“If something is an aggressive character attack with no constructive feedback, then simply delete it,” advises Dr. Celan. “If it warrants a response, be very careful to be friendly and professional, as other people may see your reply.” Engaging in constructive conversation is actually a bit like brand-building. Hop on any popular company social media page, and you’ll see friendly, well-informed responses to almost all customer comments, even if they aren’t kind. Dr. Celan adds, “the way you handle yourself in a reply will influence other people much more than the review itself.”
“Unlike Google reviews, podcasters have no way of responding to reviews on Apple Podcasts, which can feel even more vulnerable,” Dr. Wyatt points out. If you can’t respond directly to the review, and you feel strongly about engaging the writer, search for an email or social media handle. Or, take a page from The Latter-Day Lesbian podcast’s notebook, and talk about it in your next episode.
Step 4: Flip it into a positive
Most seemingly negative reviews actually have value tucked into them. “Thankfully, the negative review I received was minor. It critiqued my microphone quality because they couldn’t hear me well,” Dr. Wyatt explains. “That same day, I purchased a better quality microphone to remedy the issue.”
Constructive reviews sting just like negative reviews, but they push us to grow.
“So far, I would categorize the feedback that Lisa and I have gotten as constructive criticism rather than negative comments,” explains Lynda Crotty, one half of the Fix Your Chit podcast. “Things like ‘shorten your episodes’ and ‘less intro chatting,’ which we totally agreed with and were like, done and done.”
Constructive reviews sting just like negative reviews, but they push us to grow. And without honest feedback, it’s hard to see our show clearly. “If several reviews start critiquing the same issue, it’s time to take notice and make some changes. View patterns in feedback as opportunities for growth,” says Dr. Wyatt.
For the duo of the Latter-Day Lesbian podcast, flipping their worst review into a positive took some creativity. “Our story of tragedy to triumph is hilarious. We didn’t change anything about our show as a result, but we did add some new things to our merch collection!” says Rutt. “We turned our worst review into our best-selling t-shirt!”
What better way to show the humor and humility of their show than using opposing negative reviews as a branding tactic? It’s a funny, clever way to quickly showcase their topic and tone.
All in all, Dr. Celan says, “If the reviewer was harsh, try to detach emotionally and think of it as a helpful lesson to improve your work. Most negative reviews will help you become better at podcasts in the long run.”
Step 5: Be proactive about feedback
To reduce negative feedback, April Sciacchitano, co-founder of Mix+Shine Marketing and The Corporate Dropout podcast, creates a line for listeners. “My co-host and I ask what they want to see in the future, rather than asking for critique. This helps us give our audience more of what they want while keeping the conversation positive.” Sometimes their feedback is submitted anonymously through Instagram polls, but more often, Sciacchitano asks for detailed feedback publically on their social posts, which works for their community. In this way, it’s almost like an audience engagement tool!
“Many people fear asking for feedback because they think it will be negative or critical, but more often than not it’s good or helpful,” says Lisa Diers, RD, ERTY, and the other half of Fix Your Chit podcast. “We invite any and all feedback at the end of every episode. We say, ‘If you love it, give it a fiver, if you don’t, give it whatever you feel it deserves and let us know why. It helps us improve’,” Crotty adds.
Sciacchitano also seeks out opinions of mentors and colleagues who understand their show’s objectives and our style. “Their insights and advice will be more relevant to us.” Reaching out to qualified mentors, and even other podcasters will garner smart and friendly criticism needed for growth.
If you’re still new to podcasting, join podcast Facebook groups or Reddit threads for feedback. These communities tend to be kind and knowledgeable. When asking for honest feedback, Sciacchitano suggests pointing someone to two very different episodes and asking which they prefer and why. “People can be more candid when you ask them to respond to two options, rather than asking an open-ended, ‘What do you think?’”
Next time you receive a negative review on your show, take a breath, feel all the feelings, call your co-host or Mom, qualify the review, and start playing offense. Seemingly harsh reviews are often flags from your fans that something could be better. And isn’t that why we podcast? To grow, learn, and improve?
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