Getting your feet wet as a content creator means that you will, at some point, receive feedback that doesn’t sit comfortably with you. This is a fact of life and one of the first challenges you will encounter, after trying to set and keep your own deadlines and maintaining a consistent or predictable release schedule.
As a content consumer, it can be frustrating to make your favourite content creators aware of the burning questions you have, or the sticking points you’re running into with your hobby or passion of choice. Sometimes you may just want to voice your disagreement, or make a dissenting opinion known.
This article is for both of the above, content creators and content consumers, and focuses on how to receive, and provide, quality feedback so we can continue to grow the reach and audience for great games.
“Never read the comments.”
That’s the first piece of advice that a lot of content creators receive when they first explore creating content for YouTube, Twitch, and other services. This suggestion isn’t strictly restricted to video content, either. Columnists, editors, and authors of fiction have experienced their own challenges with feedback.
I disagree with the above advice because no one benefits from a lack of dialogue. I also dislike the idea of ‘agreeing to disagree’ because neither party involved learns anything from the exchange, and no positions are changed. So how should content creators respond when they receive negative feedback?
This is where, as content creators, we typically run into one of two threads of problems; one pedagogical and one sociological. The gist of which is to – when given negative feedback – determine whether the feedback is either one of critical inquiry or negative criticism, or alternatively a comment meant to incite response.
“It’s usually negative criticism, not trolls or flaming. I see a lot of that other places… I think it speaks to our quality of reader. If a reader frames it as criticism and not just dirt throwing, I really try to address it.” – Lekly, INN staff writer
It can be difficult to separate whether you have someone who is asking, “What does this mean and how do I use it to benefit myself?” or someone who feels slighted or derives amusement from negative posting. This can be compounded by the problem that the two are not necessarily mutually exclusive.
Make sure you have a clear ask.
“Can you tell me why the Anathema is better than the Heron for ninja hacking?” is a better request than, “I don’t understand this,” or, “This is a bad video.”
If you can’t communicate to the creator what you’re missing, they can’t help you. As I’ve told many, many people in my work career, “I can’t fix what I don’t know is broken.”
Be honest about your frustrations.
If you’re upset that a key point has been missed, or you feel a content creator isn’t communicating clearly, be honest about your frustrations. Be as specific as possible. When you state your frustrations clearly, it gives other people a chance to provide feedback to you, or help you to learn, or to express solidarity with you if a content creator has dropped the ball.
If you’re going to comment on a piece of content, whether written or video, it’s a good idea to start by asking yourself if your ask is as clear as you think it is. There’s a great article on Forbes about writing clear emails, and a lot of the same rules apply to writing clear feedback for content creators, with the subtle difference that brevity is golden and there is zero expectation of privacy because you’re posting in a public forum.
Remember the human element.
I can’t speak to the experience of other content creators, but a lot of the time I’m recording videos and writing articles when I can find the time to do it. I work two full-time jobs, I’m married, and I have a kid. A lot of my content creation happens in the wee hours of the morning, and if I’m lucky I can get it all in under six takes. Editing, post-processing, and proofing takes another 8-hours of my week for two 30 minute videos, or a few articles.
No matter how good my notes are or how much coffee I’ve had I will make mistakes, and I will forget things. Keeping that in mind when you’re providing feedback will guarantee a kinder response.
Establish a patient dialogue.
Keeping in mind that content creators are often busy (volunteer) people, it’s almost always easier to get a response if your asks are pleasant and not attached to a timeline. Some content creators are brilliant about getting back to people very quickly; some I know respond within the hour. Others, however, will respond when they can. If you treat content creators like a friendly colleague, you’re far more likely to get a quick response because they will feel invested in answering you.
For example, “Hey, Rhivre, do you think the fighter mechanic nerf rollback goes far enough? No rush” is way more likely to get a response than, “Why haven’t you commented on the nerf yet?”
Fair warning, if your feedback doesn’t take advantage of some of the above advice, the chance of getting a response drastically falls off. Most content creators simply don’t have time to feed the trolls.
Responding to your Audience
I try to answer or a least acknowledge every comment I get on YouTube. I usually do pretty well, averaging a same-day response. Even if it’s a summary reply addressing the different points raised by respondents.
Answering the friendly, clear questions and acknowledging good feedback is easy. Conversely, as I touched on above, it can be really tough to separate and unfriendly or exasperated query from outright trolling. That said, I don’t think that you should be too quick to dismiss negative criticism.
As I provided above, I’ll give (present and aspiring) content creators the following suggested guidelines for replies to the audience.
Thank everyone, even the trolls.
Don’t be snarky, or sarcastic, or smarmy – unless of course that’s who you are and what your audience has come to expect. Then, please do. (Changes in discourse can be jarring.)
Exercise your utility.
Like anything in life, people only want what you can do for them. It isn’t personal. It isn’t about you. It’s not a bad thing, and you can use it to grow your audience. This includes potentially converting negative posters and trolls. If someone says they’re missing something, give them immediate support: provide links to resources, explanations in your replies, suggest videos by other creators to watch. Meet them at an honest level and be as helpful as you possibly can. It’s hard to shit on someone who’s going out of their way to help you.
This one should be tattooed on everyone’s forehead, in reverse, on their graduation day from secondary (high school). That way they’ll be reminded every time they take a selfie or look in the mirror. It goes without saying that this applies in replying to comments, too. Treat every respondent as someone who’s genuinely grateful or seeking assistance. Even if you suspect they’re trolling you. They could just be having a bad day, or afraid of feeling or seeming ignorant of information they’re struggling with.
Don’t be afraid to poke fun.
At yourself, or at your audience. If a respondent is being snarky and unspecific, but genuine, poking fun at them for not being clear can sometimes help jog them out of a funk and give you more to go off. People love to talk about themselves; give them a reason to believe you’re listening.
Ask for help.
Ask for help from your audience and other content creators. It’s okay to answer a negative comment or creative criticism with, “How can I add to this to help you?” Or “What topics or game mechanics would you like to see me cover?” Even if the answer is “I don’t know, but I’ll find out,” or it makes more sense to refer them to another creator who you know is more experienced with that subject, you’ll win credit for having the bravery to admit when you’ve got room to expand the depth of your knowledge and your content.
These are, of course, general guidelines and suggestions but they’re behaviors which are easy to adopt and take just a little effort to implement. Sometimes, however, someone crosses the socially agreed-upon boundaries of good taste or acceptability and you have to act to curtail their posting or censure their posts. This will inevitably happen to every content creator, unless they’re really, really lucky.
“Adding to the conversation is fine, opposing viewpoints are okay, but ultimately you the content creator owns the space and you can moderate it as you see fit.”
– Porkbutte, INN staff writer