I was disappointed to hear a tech show I enjoy receive one-star ratings and negative reviews in response to a brief discussion they had following the US Supreme Court's decision to re-criminalise abortion in many states throughout the US.
On Upgrade #413, the hosts made a short statement encouraging people to donate to abortion funds. Here's an excerpt from co-host Myke Hurley:
Abortions are healthcare. This is not, and should not be a political issue. It is the right for everyone to have autonomy over their own bodies.... I believe it to be a fundamental human right. Any less is wrong. If you are now opening Twitter or your email to try and disagree with me or tell me I shouldn't be talking about this on a tech podcast, do us both a favor – close the app.
The "you shouldn't talk about this on a tech podcast" argument is paper thin when it comes to human rights issues. But that didn't stop reviews like these:
"I never understand why podcasters insist on alienating half or more of their audience by adding divisive material... As a podcast listener, I don’t have to listen to you two sanctimonious and presumptuous people... I am unsubscibing to [sic] not only this but all other Relay FM podcasts that feature these woke individuals."
This demonstrates a fundamental aspect of human discourse: we only label stuff as "political" or "divisive" when we disagree with it.
"I don’t care what their opinions are on political topics but they choose to continue to give them so just like the many others that do the same I unsubscribed."
I want you to hold that point in your mind. If your work makes a statement you know to be true, and people label that point as political or divisive, they are not your people.
It can feel hurtful to see negative reviews, or to feel you've lost a follower. It can feel damaging to your reputation to have negative comments visible to the public. But those people don't align with you. They're not on your side. They won't be in your tribe. Their hearts aren't aligned with yours.
Of course, this doesn't mean every piece of negative feedback is worthy of dismissal, even if you don't agree with it or think it's fair. I think it's worth taking those to mind if not to heart. However, those negative reviews from the wrong side of history can often do more damage to our creative souls.
Let's fix it
If you're a YouTuber, you can remove those sorts of comments (although I'd urge you to leave up negative feedback that shows respect and an attempt at being constructive).
If you're a podcaster staring down the barrel of a bunch of one-star Apple reviews, you can't remove them, but you can ask your audience – as the hosts of Upgrade did this week – to help turn the tide.
If you have a smaller audience, you likely have fewer reviews, so those negative ones will stick out far more. In that scenario, it's time to bring out the big guns. Take to social media (Facebook, Tiwtter, and LinkedIn are your best bets), and ask people to flood Apple Podcasts with positive reviews to reflect the true makeup of your audience.
Don't be afraid to add this to your housekeeping for an upcoming episode. Mention you'd received some poor reviews and that – although ratings and reviews don't influence rankings – they don't truly represent the listening audience.
Oh, and also, definitely give your own show a cheeky five-star review if you haven't already.
Don't hide from the negativity
You're going to feel what you're going to feel, when you encounter negative feedback. Don't try and hide those feelings or shove them down behind the sofa cushions.
Instead, visualise spending some time with a good friend – someone you know to be compassionate, patient, and non-judgemental. You don't have to ask them for advice, just to listen. You might be surprised at how effective just imagining a conversation like this can be. It's more effective the more you can immerse yourself in the world, and really see your surroundings.
Having compassion for ourselves is far more effective than trying to shut out negative thoughts.
I'm here to help if you'd like to do this in realtime.
Let it fuel you
Which is your favourite band ever? Coldplay or U2? What do you mean "neither"? They're objectively among the most popular bands in the world, so why aren't they your favourite?
You take my point.
Even if you like a few of their songs, I doubt their catalogue really resonates with you. Coldplay and U2 will of course have their superfans, but they had to start from such a wide base to get there. You don't have to. You can start by defining who you don't want in your tent from the get-go.
You can use negative reviews to help you define who you're not for, which is almost as important as defining who you are for. Youtuber Madilyn Bailey knows exactly who she's not for – she took a bunch of negative comments from them, and turned them into a stone-cold banger.
Keep it up
The most important thing to do is to keep going. Keep putting out into the world the work you want to see. Listen for feedback, absorb it, sit with the good and the uncomfortable, and treat it all with compassion. Keep doing that and you'll see a subtle change in your work.
But never lose sight of your principles, or shy away from putting your beliefs into your work. Any negativity you get back as a result is from people who aren't part of your tribe, and never were. Each unfollow gets you closer to your true audience.