The Art of Responding to Feedback from Your Community

Matt Mickiewicz
Matt Mickiewicz

At the SxSW 2009 conference last week, I caught Patrick O’Keefe, author of Managing Online Forums (and known as iFroggy in the SitePoint Forums), present on the Adobe Day Stage about the importance of managing and responding to user feedback.

His four steps to success?

1. Show appreciation. Genuinely thank the person who took the time out of their day to provide feedback to you. For every one person that responds, there are 99 others that don’t, so the best way to encourage feedback is to be grateful when you receive it.

2. Pause and consider. Rather than just blurting out the first thought you have, take a breather and lay out a well-crafted response. Being blunt, direct, or outright saying “no” is often the worst course of action.

3. Consideration. Useful nuggets of feedback are often hiding in otherwise unpleasant messages. Take some time to consider the feedback being given, and see if there’s a useful, actionable “take away” that you can salvage from what you might otherwise have dismissed.

That said, it’s a waste of time to let trolls paint your worldview, let alone become involved in heated arguments with anonymous online identities.

4. Respond. It’s important to acknowledge and respond to every piece of feedback that you receive. And it’s vital to be honest in your response, while carefully balancing that against a person’s expectations.

Never use harsh criticism when responding to feedback, for example, “That doesn’t make sense — it’s something that we would never do.” Instead, respond with “After consideration, we’ve decided that we’re unable to pursue this at this time, but we may come back to it again in the future.”

When it comes to setting expectations, Patrick notes that his own forums are without a Feedback and Suggestions forum. This is simply because they frequently evolve into dozens of community members supporting an idea, only to have their hopes dashed when action fails to happen. It can be because of competing priorities, or the administrator thinks it’s not in the best long-term interest of the community.

Ultimately, how you respond to feedback will greatly impact loyalty and the sense of community around your content and brand.