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WordPress Reviews: The Good, The Bad, and the Stalker

The following is the original notes on my WCEU talk about WordPress reviews. It’s more or less what I said, though the video will no doubt be up soon.

30 Months In Jail Over a One Star Review 30 Months In Jail Over a One Star Review

This is a true story. In late 2014, a man violently assaulted a woman who left a bad review on his self published ebook. He stalked her, sorting out her pseudonym, finding her real name, address, and work location. He traveled 500 miles, found her at work in Scotland and hit her over the head with a full bottle of wine. He received 30 months in jail for the assault and stalking.

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An Extreme? Not So Much An Extreme? Not So Much

Every day people leave hundreds of reviews on WordPress themes and plugins. They talk about how much they love or hate a plugin, there is rarely any middle ground here, and they are as passionate as the developers themselves. This passion leads to a large amount of confrontation on the WordPress Review Systems.

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Your Code Is Bad< And You Should Feel Bad< Your Code Is Bad< And You Should Feel Bad<

We are all going to get the bad reviews, and while you might want to dismiss the idea of being a stalker or a violent offender, because YOU would never do it, I promise you this. You will react badly to a poor review. It’s human nature. You’ve worked for hours on something and someone just said your code sucks. It hurts. And while I say this simply, it’s incredibly hard to do what I’m about to tell you…

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Learn: Reviews Are Lessons Learn: Reviews Are Lessons

You have to learn from the reviews. Even the worst review has something you can take from it. If you can put aside your own ego to try and see the world from their side, you can many times take the lessons, apply them to your code, and make everything better. Maybe it’s a fix to code, but more often it’s a documentation issue. There is no 100% perfectly intuitive system out there. Not even life itself. We all had to learn how to use a toilet after all. So what can we learn from reviews?

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The Points Don’t Matter; Everything Is Made Up The Points Don’t Matter; Everything Is Made Up

People concentrate on getting good reviews, on getting five stars. That’s the wrong approach. A five star review is useless for your ongoing improvement of your product and tells you nothing. All you can do is begin a humanization of your code, leaving a reply of ‘thank you’ perhaps, but you can learn little from these.

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Context Is Everything: Room For Improvement Context Is Everything: Room For Improvement

The review you want is the one that tells you they mostly like your work, but can see room for improvement, and they leave you suggestions. The review where someone has trouble finding information is another good one. That tells you what your FAQ is lacking, for example. These are people who are probably willing to have a conversation and just need you to begin it. Don’t be afraid to ask “What was it about the cowbell feature that bothered you?” or “I do explain this in the FAQ. Would it have helped you if I put an in-line note?” Engage them and learn from them.

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There Will be Anger: To The Pain There Will be Anger: To The Pain

The review you don’t want is the one where people are livid. Where they all you names and abuse you. No one wants that, and sometimes you can talk to them and get details, but you’re starting in a disadvantageous position and you have to fight to get answers. If you talk to this person, which I do recommend, be prepared for snarky replies and snide remarks. When you get to the troublemakers who complain they wanted to leave a ZERO star review, you have to be strong and not reply in kind. Sometimes there’s no salvaging the relationship.

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A Review Is An Experience, And It’s Not Yours A Review Is An Experience, And It’s Not Yours

The trick of all this is to remember that a review is not always a review on how a product worked. It’s also about how someone FEELS when looking at and using your product. A review is THEIR experience with your product, and the users experience with your code doesn’t necessarily start with them using your code. You need to understand who they are, why they feel this way, in order to properly handle their review. The experience begins with how people are introduced to your product, so if that’s an email marketing campaign or a website with a lower-case P, this will impact their experience and thus their review.

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Handling A Review… It’s Not Easy Handling A Review… It’s Not Easy

You’re going to get angry. If you’re like me and sometimes, when you’re mad, you feel your face heat up and you literally see red? Walk. Away. Don’t reply. If you cannot reply, in public, politely, DO NOT REPLY. Okay? Shut up, don’t do it. What you do in response to a review will be PUBLIC and you WILL be weighed by it. So don’t shoot yourself in the foot. Once you’re calm, you can process the reviews.

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The “Support” Review: “I don’t know how to use it.” The “Support” Review: “I don’t know how to use it.”

This one drives people nuts. A review that should have been a support ticket, or maybe it could have been solved by looking at the FAQ. While you can’t make them do the right thing, you can offer help in the review. Explain how they should report this next time and try to find a solution. These suck. A lot. I hate them. But they happen everywhere, even Amazon. Try to fix the issue, but don’t give it any more attention than you would a normal support post. Be careful not to let these become the next kind of review…

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The “Blackmail” Review: “You don’t have a feature I want.” The “Blackmail” Review: “You don’t have a feature I want.”

This is my least favorite. One star review because a plugin didn’t do something they wanted. It feels unfair, too, because you’re being judged on something you didn’t do and weren’t even planning on doing. It makes me seethe. And there isn’t a fix here. You have to be able to say “no” and not feel guilty, which is hard. Your trick here is remembering it’s okay to not have your code do everything. If your theme changes colors based on photos, it’s okay not to want to support changing for animated gifs. Speaking of reviews of the wrong things…

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The “Commercial” Review: “I bought the pro version and it sucks.” The “Commercial” Review: “I bought the pro version and it sucks.”

The reviews on WordPress.org should be for your free product on WordPress.org. Sometimes they’re not. If you’re upselling your products from the free version, if you have ads on your plugin and tell people “for more features, use the pro version!” then you’ve opened yourself to the painful review of how that upgrade process goes. The best you can do is offer to help them via official channels, but if someone’s upgrade to your pro version goes poorly, you’re going to get a bad review. You cannot ask people to upgrade and give you money and not expect them to have an opinion.

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The “Way Too Angry” Review: [CENSORED] The “Way Too Angry” Review: [CENSORED]

Oh boy. This one. The review that you read that is insane. You know this one, right? It’s filled with language so foul and so appalling you can hardly process. Don’t reply. Don’t. This person is a lost cause. If you say anything, keep it to “I’m sorry you feel this way” but frankly I wouldn’t.<

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The “Mistake” Review: Spam, sockpuppets, wrong plugins, and more! The “Mistake” Review: Spam, sockpuppets, wrong plugins, and more!

I actually like these reviews. They’re easy to deal with because all I do is have them deleted. Tag the post ‘modlook’ and then spam or sockpuppet or wrongplugin and walk away. I wish they could all be this way…

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Learn: Mistakes Will Happen Learn: Mistakes Will Happen

The biggest takeaway from this, if you want to distill this entire talk into a tweet, it would be this: Don’t post angry. Don’t attack anyone. Remember we are, all of us, humans. And really, this should be simple for everyone and every thing. This is humanity at work, we can be nice and respectful in the face of adversity, thinks would be be better all around. But maybe that’s the wrong take away. The wrong drive. So let me say this a different way.

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Your Business Is Not Code, It’s You Your Business Is Not Code, It’s You

Read that. Your business is not your code, your product, your output. Your business, every business, is people. If you’re replying to the reviews, you are the face of your product, and if you’re here, I’m assuming your company. One or five people, ten or ten hundred, your company is the face and if you’re the face then how you act, in public, will impact your business more than any one-star review ever will.

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A Final Thought… Don’t Be The Bad Guy A Final Thought… Don’t Be The Bad Guy

Let me conclude with another true story. There was a plugin that had a troubling user. The user bought the premium upgrade and was disappointed. Nothing worked right. The plugin developers tried to fix it, but were unable. It was an incompatibility between their plugin and another. The user wanted his money back. The developer argued they’d gone above and beyond the call of duty and were not going to refund as per their policy. The user threatened to leave bad reviews if there was no refund and carried through this threat. The developer capitulated BUT held onto the money and said they would only refund if the reviews were altered. The user said no and things went even more downhill from there.

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You Can Say No; Defeat Does Not Mean Loss You Can Say No; Defeat Does Not Mean Loss

This is the hardest lesson of all. It’s okay to say no. It’s okay to walk away. It’s okay to tell someone “I’m sorry, but I can’t help you.” or “I’m sorry, but this is against our policy.” This hurts. It makes you feel inadequate and like you’re a faker. You’re not. It’s mathematically impossible to be perfect, so while you should try to be the best you can, it’s okay to concede to defeat. The trick is understanding that defeat, accepting you cannot help everyone, does NOT mean you lose. It doesn’t kill your plugin or theme or business. It teaches you what you can do better next time.