Handling Negative Reader Feedback

My newsletter from April 21st (“Running To The Finish Line”) included the following sentence:

“… I’m sure I also got you thinking about the next obvious question: When do I write the damn thing?”

Newsletter reader Lori Buffum, Website Writer/Editor at the Texas Heart Institute, responded with the following comments:

“As one of your faithful readers…I enjoy the chatty, honest, and very human nature of your newsletter. There is always a smile tucked in with little (fat-free) nuggets of wisdom. This last issue…was true to form with one small disappointment:

“I’m offended by your use of ‘damn’ when use of a different colloquial term would have had just the same impact without cheapening the message.”

“Damn,” I thought to myself, “What’s the best way to handle this?”

OK, not really. But it did raise an important question: What do you do when you receive negative feedback from a newsletter reader?

Some thoughts…

  1. First, pat yourself on the back. Reader feedback is something we all strive for, and receiving it is a sure sign that you’re doing something right. Not only is it an indication of reader interest (good or bad, people don’t react to things that bore them), it also means that you’ve successfully made readers feel part of a two-way conversation. Both are important steps towards having readers move down the path to ultimately hiring you.
  1. Respond nicely. I know this ought to be obvious, but many people become indignant with readers who send critical feedback and reply with nasty rebuttals in return. I understand the temptation, but believe me, you’re missing out on a golden opportunity. The negative feedbackers, if genuinely engaged in a friendly, “I’m interesting in hearing what you have to say” conversation, will often become your biggest and most vocal fans.
  1. Don’t feel obligated to change anything. Remember that while a journalist may be compelled to air opposing points of view (cable TV “journalists” not withstanding), and while the head of an association may need to act on feedback from members, our newsletters – coming from the professional service providers that we are – are marketing tools. Sure, if done properly they feel like “real” publications, but we don’t publish for the sake of publishing — the point is to attract future clients and more business.

    That means you should feel free to politely decline any and all reader suggestions. Consider them as the marketplace data points that they are, and use them if you like certainly, but filter them through the lens of whether or not implementing the suggested change will make your newsletter more effective as a marketing tool.

And in case you’re wondering, the end of the story goes like this. Here’s (a portion of) the e-mail I sent back to Lori:

“I make no apologies for writing ‘damn’ (and would write it again the same way) since that’s the way I speak and my goal in writing my newsletter is to attract clients who want the authentic Michael Katz package. If you’re offended by that (which I don’t fault you for) you’d be offended by plenty of other things as we worked together. So like everything else I try to pack into the newsletter, it serves to filter out (and filter in) the people who match up with me. I’ve found that those who match are the ‘perfect’ clients.”

To Lori’s credit, she didn’t quite agree with me, but her comment at the end of our e-mail dialogue — “I believe we can respectfully agree to disagree… my small disappointment will certainly not cause me to abandon the ‘best dang newsletter’ in a world of many voices” — reflected the delicate reader/marketer balance I was hoping for.

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