Be authoritative

Incorporate feedback

Comments on your content aren't always easy to read but expert creators must be open to criticism to improve.

April 7, 202220 min read

As a creator, receiving comments can be difficult. People can be unkind and hearing criticism of your creative work is never easy. But don't dismiss engagement — both to you and your audience there is valuable context (and content) in the comments.

Think about how you engage content online — if you're anything like me, before you even have a chance to react you're checking the comment section. Why? The comment section helps us contextualize. At times we're there for affirmation to find we're not the only ones who felt a way about what was expressed. In other cases we're looking for a call out. Collective outrage or consensus we engage in the comments to help form opinions, together.

“Viewers and readers may not know what to believe, but comments can help fill in the gaps,” - UGA Today

Surprisingly, sometimes the comment section is also where we'll find the sauce — additional facts, background, and sources. This information may enhance the content. You may even have experts show up with advanced analysis, critique, or correction. This additional conversation adds to the content. This is the social part of social media.

As a creator this engagement is vital — to building audience and gaining audience insight. Unless you're intentionally sowing outrage (don't do this), you want to build consensus and affinity with your audience. You want to get to know them. The comments a open dialog.

Of course, it's not always easy to parse comments for insights. As an authoritative creator you're certain to invite critique. Sometimes this will be hurtful (even when feedback is valid). It's never easy to be objective with something you've created.

It can also get much worse than critique. The audience isn't always kind, or right, and sometimes the wrong audience finds you. As a creator you may find yourself caught up in a cycle of outrage, or unfortunately, facing abuse. It's hard not to spiral.

Building a healthy relationship with your commenters requires we approach engagement with a certain objectivity. Comments are data, and as an authoritative creator, they are a vital input for an iterative creative process. The key? Maintain a process: control the conversation and gather audience insight you can action — while taking your time to avoid overreaction.

Take control of the comments

Put your point of view out there, and people will offer feedback (regardless if you’re looking for it). As an authoritative creator you must present yourself as open to commentary. However, things can get out of hand. To maintain control of the conversation, invite discussion, but be specific about the commentary you find useful.

The key is that if you are clear and specific about the type of feedback you're looking for, you're more likely to receive something on topic and within those bounds.

Set the rules

To start off right, set specific guidelines for acceptable discourse both for you and your audience. All feedback (and content) should follow these rules, as a baseline. Write these down, and even share these rules openly in your content.

Know your audience

What are some examples of what's acceptable? You decide, it's your comment thread to moderate. Consider your topic, and what you're audience expects. What does your shared knowledge tell you about how they might react to different types of discussion? How will members of your audience react to negative comments? Your rules will be specific to your niche.

You might decide you don't accept hateful comments or comments that are clear attempts to start a debate in bad faith. Consider substance, tone, and intent. You may be sensitive to how certain comments might trigger you, and your audience. Consider your audience and how certain content and comments will be perceived by them. Also, consider your brand. How does limiting (or inviting) certain discourse reflect on you and what you're trying to convey? How would certain comments or discourse effect your reputation? Do the topics you cover attract detractors and negative feedback (and is that what you want)?

Prepare to respond

While not everyone follows rules and you won't always be able to moderate comments (removing those that break the rules) you'll be better poised to determine appropriate response when you know for yourself what you consider to be out of bounds. Consider your responses to violations of your rules. Do you even want to engage someone who explicitly breaks the rules? Are you inclined to inform individuals when they are out of bounds as a teachable moment? Setting the rules, and knowing how you respond will help you own the discussion, especially since trolls are rarely operating with their own rules of engagement.

Be explicit when you solicit

In practice feel free to be explicit about your rules, say "I'm not looking for this type of feedback", or call out those who offer feedback that you consider out of bounds: "To this commenter, I would appreciate it if you avoided this type of feedback in the future". Make an example of what is not appropriate (without shaming), and make the rules explicit so when you ask for feedback your audience knows what's expected. Looking to take it to the next level? Publish the rules somewhere and formally set your own terms of engagement.

As your audience grows, and you find dedicated commenters, you may even find thread participants who know these rules and help you moderate, as they get to know your rules so well they begin to advocate them.

Ask what you want to know

Your channel is your space. However, your content is your entry to a conversation with your audience. You are the host. You set the topic and as an creator it's you're job not simply to broadcast but to solicit informed or informative discussion. This is the most powerful feature of social media: what you create (your content) will be subject of the social interaction of others. So how you solicit discussion matters, as it **sets the topic and tone for what will be discussed.

Don’t antagonize

There are a couple of avenues approach that solicit discussion. You could antagonize your audience "This might be an unpopular opinion", for example, may solicit agreement but also detractors (people who do not agree). Many creators do this, though it is perhaps not the most recommended approach for authoritative content.

Ask questions

A much more informative method of soliciting discussion is asking questions of your audience. Simply, "What are your thoughts on this topic?" or “does anyone have a similar or a different experience they can offer?” While people won't always respond directly (threads do tend to meander) a question is a sure fire way to begin a conversation that is more two way. This is how you'll work to understand your audience. What do they need from you? It's actually as simple as that: ask them what you want to know — ask them for feedback, ask them how your doing, and you're more than likely to receive something back. With any luck and with careful solicitation that something be something you want to hear.

Be pointed

Of course, there is a nuance to this. You don't want to make yourself the topic of discussion. Avoid making it personal. Instead — open up conversation about the topic and your take inviting others to discuss the content, critique your ideas, or check facts. This can be as simple as saying "if I missed anything exploring this topic you can review my sources in the description, and let me know what I missed in the comments". Don’t invite general feedback on your channel — keep the conversation pointed and on topic.

Use shared language

Leverage your knowledge of your niche to approach your audience as peers. Have others in your audience experienced similar things or have similar understanding of the topic? Build an empathy with them, so that what comes back is less one way and more mutual. The trick is to get a conversation going about what your audience is looking for, interested in, and what they themselves have to offer (in terms of interest, content, or context). This is so important to knowing who it is your creating for: building a safe space (a community) for your audience to learn and be heard.

Be open minded

While we want to lead the conversation, we must also receive it. Listening to your audience is essential, even (if not especially) they disagree. To gain novel insight, we need to be open to discovering things we didn't know. To learn from our audience we need to invite their alternative points of view. If what people are saying is provably wrong and you have evidence — as an authoritative creator this is an opportunity. You might, for example, patiently explain what is true. Before you do, however — really listen. Try to understand an individuals point clearly (you don't need to agree, just understand). Approach your audience with empathy.

Maintain objectivity

When reading the comments you've solicited from your audience you'll need to be objective. Curb your bias. Often we have implicit bias and read comments based on what we expect to find. Try to avoid this. To objectify: we might simply, take our time reading — comment for comment, word for word. You might also take the comment and simply catalogue it. Treat it like a data point — don't focus on reading into meaning, simply copy and paste it in to a spreadsheet, with all relevant meta data (e.g., username, profile) so you can process comments for feedback.

Don’t rush to respond

If you're going to engage feedback, especially if negative, take your time. Wait. First, deconstruct the comments from a high level. Consider your content: was it incorrect? Was it off base? Did it follow my rules? Consider the commenter and context — are they authoritative? What's their experience? Are there patterns with other comments (i.e., is their some consensus in the group you are wrong)?

If there is something learnable for you it's on you to receive the feedback well. Approach with mutual understanding and respect. Consider how you might follow up calmly, yield to correct yourself, or ask question to gather more insight.

Take a second

When you note a thread of negative comments — take a second. Don't be reactive. Our goal is an authoritative approach which means we should remain open and objective to critique. Parsing audience input is an essential part of market research so start by calmly gathering data. Slowing our reaction time allows us to action feedback deliberately, and ensure our reaction is more appropriate.

Gather data

How should we best parse critical comments? Take the feedback aside — out of the context of the comment thread. Copy and paste comments in a spreadsheet or document. If you are more tactile you might print comments out and cut them into cards for sorting. Gather all of the comments good or bad from a thread or similar threads (for context). Treat the data holistically — build a set.

In gathering a set of comments we can look for common patterns of criticism. We can gain objectivity from the bad comments by seeing them in relation to the good. Seeing things in a set can give us an overview perspective (rather than honing in on a critical comment).


Data processing, is where we get micro again. In the process of taking inventory of comments we've likely noted patterns we want to focus in on. Create a sub-set. Read comments deliberately. Rank them in terms of sentiment (use a scale like “cold” to “hot”). Build a good understanding of a meaningful subset of comments, until you feel like you understand (even if you strongly disagree with everything they say).

Figure: comments from an Raptors highlight video on YouTube, with analysis of sentiment, and a summary of the reaction to the content.

User nameCommentsSentimentReaction
P Wdon't get his name wrong or you're hearing his whole life story from uncle jack lolhotStrongly agrees
DomJack is the best announcer in the NBA. The guy randomly becomes unhinged and Matty D just cringes beside him lol. HELLOOOOOO!hotStrongly agrees
Andrew DeckerLol did he just call him "a noobie"warmAgrees

Identify issues

Read comments carefully — what can you take away? What are the key insights? If comments were negative, what was the issue? The comments likely call this out. Was there a factual error on your part? We're you somehow off base? Offensive or harmful?

If comments were positive (as in the comments agree) how did people respond: were they excited? Happy? Enraged? What is the general sentiment? What might you take away for creating future content?

Consider your approach

It can be helpful here to begin categorize comments for potential response: for example, some feedback may be very clear in terms of it's feedback: "you're wrong, here is why" is very easy to action, so you might log that as as an "error" on your part.

Other comment might simply be mean spirited, harmful, or even against your rules (or the terms of use for the platform). Flag abuse as abuse and try not to internalize it: it's just another data-point. While you may not want to respond (you will want to report abuse) it's useful to consider why it's coming your way. Is there something about your niche that attracts this kind behavior? If so, it is worth considering how you might niche in to marginalize that audience, or, even double down and go on the offensive to call out abuse.

Of course, some audiences are simply argumentative. They don't want to like you, they do want to comment and enrage. It's not easy to dismiss and you shouldn't. However — some audiences will also be coming at you in the comments with valid and frequent criticism. As a creator, you'll trigger someone (or a group) and they will call you out. You'll use a word which is problematic. Take note of these constructive points and don’t be dismissive — be willing to change your approach.

Direct message

Part of our audience research should be communicating directly with our audience. Our audience, is (at least in part) made up of people you can reach out to. In market research, one-on-one interviews offer all kinds of insight into customer needs and concerns. While as a creator this will likely be more interpersonal the methodology is the same: engage your audience, one-on-one: ask questions and listen.

Identify helpful critics

In data gathering we identified patterns and likely took note of individual commenters who generally represent the negative or positive feedback we wish to analyze. These individuals may be the most vocal in the group, or represent an certain average sentiment (they may even be a vocal minority). While we may not want to engage any obvious trolls, there may be some individuals who express that kind of negative sentiment, but, seem more invested in seeing creators get things right.

These are individuals we should reach out to in advance of a more general feedback response, not to preemptively respond (i.e., to confront them or the feedback) — but to gather additional insight to inform our response.

Prepare yourself

Don't wing it. Prepare the questions you want to ask in advance. What do you want to know? Following a process reach out respectfully, requesting commenter’s time: "Hey, I noticed your comment, and I appreciate the feedback. Would you mind if I asked you a few follow-up questions to ensure I have a clear understanding?"

Also consider your medium: Direct message works but you can also take a conversation off platform. Get on the phone, do a video call, choose a method of communication which best allows you to safely and comfortably see eye to eye.

It can be intimidating, but when we engage in private it often makes for a more empathetic exchange (especially when compared to a more public and immediate response). Often you'll find people quickly become less reactive and more conversive. While it at times it means you'll face criticism directly and it may be hurtful, if you take the opportunity to ask questions, listen carefully, and take note (without taking abuse), you'll deepen your actionable insight about a critical subset of your audience.

Take action

Collect your insights, and make a general summary of the comments. What feedback was positive? What feedback was negative? What can you take away? Having given yourself some time to process you should now be equipped to incorporate that feedback and tender your response.


In processing the comments, we've identified insights. Before we respond, we want to put those insights somewhere so that they can be leveraged meaningfully to improve our content.

Internalize the feedback

First off, we should internalize the feedback — incorporate the it into you're thinking. How do you feel about the comments? Do you feel as though the general sentiment of your audience reflects well on your brand? Is this the niche you're looking for?

As an authoritative creator, we're aiming to build a relationship of trust with our audience. Do the comments reflect that? Remain objective, but candid. If we're off mission we need to re-evaluate, maybe fundamentally — we don't want to quit posting, but if we have a genuine interest in creating something of value then we need to change to meet the interest of our audience. That's only possible if we're able to internalize the feedback.

Keep doing what works

If feedback is generally positive, we can incorporate this as a validation that what we are doing is working — keep going, and focus on content that works. If your content strategy and practice is not already well documented, time to do so. What themes produced positive feedback? What was the format of the content? What steps we're taken to create this content that lead to such a positive response?

Stop doing what doesn’t

Constructive criticism is especially important to incorporate to improve our strategy and practice. Say we've made a factual error. How did this error occur? Did we misread, or did we just not do our research? If you're comments identify errors, you should update your research process (or adopt one) so that you avoid similar errors in the future.

It’s also possible you may have said something that is polarizing. Perhaps that is your point, perhaps it was un-intentional. In either case we can incorporate learnings from feedback — noting terms or topics to avoid (or leverage to stir discussion). Feedback can also help us hone our niche to topics we feel best poised to address, or that attracts the audience we are looking for.

Identify gaps

Of course, feedback isn't always polarized or about right or wrong. Sometimes people just have questions. Incorperate this into your content strategy. Your audience has identified a gap: capture that for future content. As a authoritative creator you should always be incorporating new ideas — incorporate your comments for content inspiration.


As we incorporate feedback, we may begin to consider outcomes beyond changes to process: actions to take, content to make; corrections, apologies, or clarifications to issue to your audience.

Think of it as Public Relations — to be professional as a creator it's good to frame response to feedback as a part of the job. Temper your response and be considerate before simply biting back in the comments (though sometimes that might be exactly what is necessary).

Moderate your response

So how do we match the right response to various issues? Approach with nuance and stick to the rules you’ve outlined. In some cases, you may feel perfectly entitled to go off on someone, for example, if they are causing harm to others with their comments. However, you also don't want to make thing worse.

Don’t feed the trolls

Perhaps better put: don’t reward aggression with aggression. Take a second to consider your brand, rules, and audience. Assuming you've taken time to process negative comments, identify issues, and consider your response — simply respond appropriately. Report abuse and let rule offenders (especially those causing harm) know what isn’t tolerated. Otherwise don’t give non-constructive criticism undue attention — instead invest time creating content that rewards constructive feedback.

Own your errors

Of course — if the issue is an error or issue with your content, own up to it. Provide explanations but not excuses. Be sincere. Don't act like you care — care genuinely. Be appreciative of the feedback. When you can incorporate constructive criticism it's an improvement. Admitting what you don't know also makes a teachable moment. This is learning in public and it can be powerful in building affinity with your audience.

If your error hurt someone (for example you posted something insensitive) a genuine response demonstrates empathy even if ultimately you're not admitting and promising to never offend again. Comedy for example can be offensive to some and funny to others. Regardless to those that are hurt the appropriate response (if any) includes empathy.

Maintain candor

Being candid, is to be transparent with others. As creators, being transparent with our audiences is what makes individual brands different than companies. As individual brands we are ultimately putting ourselves out there and so we should interact as authentically as possible. When responding to feedback be honest with yourself and with others. Gain the self awareness that comes from accepting criticism but also be willing to have people see you as you are.

Be thankful, keep going

And when there is no issue — only questions, positivity, and engagement? Perfect. Keep doing what you're doing. But also, keep gathering, keep processing — capture audience data and use it to inform your strategy and always respond with gratitude for your audience in their ongoing engagement.


So does every comment merit a response? Or course not. However — as we should have clear guidelines for what content we consider constructive or out of line we should also be clear on what we can simply ignore.

Know the line

This might be simply that certain comments bend your rules but fall short of causing harm and you have no interest in calling each out. Ignoring trolls can sometimes be the correct strategy. At times these individuals will stop commenting (if repeatedly engaging your content negatively) when they fail to get the response they hoped for.

If you have a loyal audience, and engaged peer network of creators, you may even have others come to your defense against these kind of commenters. Ultimately, how you engage individuals commenting in bad faith depends on your niche. Consider the feelings of your audience — if someone is doing something that might trigger others acting as a moderator may be important to maintaining a safe space. In general, have a clear sense of what crosses a line and when to escalate response.

Dismiss unactionable feedback

Some negative comments may fall short of trolling but still fall into the category of non-constructive criticism. These comments are often those that knit-pick the details which have little to do with your content and focus on composition or other aesthetic concerns. Commenters who focus on your physical appearance, voice, or wording, for example are perhaps not all that invested in your success.

A good filter to consider: does the comment provide anything which could be immediately actionable (i.e., the next time you sit down to create content)? If the feedback is simply too complicated to incorporate or would require some fundamental change you can safely dismiss it. Of course, it’s always worth taking a second look and comments that keep coming up — but don’t entertain feedback that offers you no possible approach.

Keep things on topic

Similarly, when a commenter’s concerns seem outside the scope of your focus it may be impossible or unproductive for you to action or engage. If this isn’t obvious always consider an individual comment in it’s broader context — if doesn't fit a general pattern of comments you’ve received you're unable to corroborate their feedback.

For example: say you're a creator rating the best pizza in New York. If someone comes in the comments as say Chicago pizza is better, while they may be trolling they are also simply off topic (and in this case completely wrong). Of course, again — if there is a pattern of people offering similar feedback, for example saying you need to try a certain pizza place in New Jersey you might consider expanding your horizons (and your niche) — though no one could blame you should you choose stick to New York pie.

Keeping things in niche

This brings up an interesting point: often you’ll find individuals in your audience — who watch, comment, and engage with your content but aren’t exactly who you are trying to reach. As a creator you have a primary segment, people in your niche, but sometimes our content will attract detractors (or even haters).

At times these secondary audience members are innocuous — they’re interests are adjacent, they are curious, or simply allies to your cause. However, at times especially for topics like race, gender or sexuality that invite controversy marginalized creators invite all kinds of ignorant commentary from undesirable audiences, often persistently.

Most of this is dismissible feedback, however, as an input for content strategy you might consider: is there a way to niche in to avoid drawing in these more general audiences? Speak directly to the people you want feedback from — the people you hope to reach. Keep the conversation to your niche and dismiss any feedback that comes from bad-faith outsiders.

Report abuse

Of course, some rude or ignorant commentary, might also rise the the level of abuse. While it is not on you to police the platforms for harmful activity, to protect your audience merits a certain commitment to moderation of the comment section.

If you are witnessing hurtful, hateful, or violent language against you or other report it. Every time. Read the terms of use, and what counts as abuse on each platform (often called community guidelines) Block users who are bullying, delete comments that might trigger others, and in general do your best to do so objectively — as an outcome of processing, and analysis, and of following the rules (both your and of the platform) — and not merely in reaction to negative comments.

Article by Sean Rioux