How to tell a publisher you're unhappy with their website (and actually get them to consider making changes)

Sometimes I Get Angry
Photo by Thomas Hawk used by CC license.

Over the past eight years, I've dealt with thousands of complaints from readers… ranging from the completely baffling to the hugely helpful. I've noticed a few patterns in what makes the difference between constructive and helpful feedback vs extremely frustrating feedback. The next time you're unhappy with a publisher, here are my suggestions for how to make sure your feedback is heard and acted upon:

Email, don't comment

If you care enough to complain, care enough to email and start a one-on-one conversation. Don't fool yourself into thinking that comments will get more traction because they're public — if you were at a party, would you shout over the conversation to the host "THIS GUACAMOLE IS MOLDY!" No, you would not. You would pull them aside and let them know, so that they could get that gross guac off the table.

Be constructive

Constructive communication is really hard, but it's so worth it. Yes, you're registering a complaint, but theoretically you like the site enough that you want it to improve. Yes, you want to express your disappointment or concern, but you also need to be articulate about what the publisher can do to improve.

Ask for what you want

Don't waste your time just saying "YOU SUCK." Before you write, know what action you'd ideally like the publisher to take, and specifically ask for it. "You guys suck and the website has changed and I don't even like you any more" isn't actionable for a publisher. "I'm disappointed by the lack of posts about grooms with disabilities, and would like to request that you do more" is something I can actually work on!

Don't flounce

Don't threaten to stop reading or announce that you're leaving the community… if you've already decided to leave, what motivation is there for a publisher to accommodate you? Most of us want to invest our time in the readers we've got — if I've already lost you, why bother? If you're so frustrated that you're done with the site, just be done. Don't waste your time flouncing.

Open the door to discussion

For me, the most helpful and educational reader complaints are when people express concern about something on the site, provide additional resources about why it's harmful or hurtful, and provide clear suggestions about how I could fix it… and then they leave the door open to discussion. Let's have a conversation about the issue!

Be ready to accept solutions

Sure, it's frustrating when people leave a comment with a non-constructive conversation-ending flounce. But the very most frustrating thing for me is when someone complains about something, and I hear their complaint and offer a solution — AND THEY DECLINE THE SOLUTION. If you say a product isn't worth your money, then accept a refund. If you say you'd like a problematic word removed, then offer a brief acknowledgement when you see that it's been removed.

I'd love to hear from readers: what are the best experiences you've had with complaining to a publisher?

  1. My tip would be to not invite your friends–especially people who have no familiarity with the site in question–to repeat your message to the editors.

    To use the mouldy guacamole metaphor, you wouldn't pull the host aside to tell them about the guac, then call up your friends who aren't even at the party to tell them to show up and yell at the party's host for having such terrible guacamole.

    Many editors are totally able to keep a calm head, but in my internet experience, mobs actually tend to make the change you want less likely to happen. (In the party metaphor, this would be the host throwing the guac in your stupid, angry face.) This is because your friends have no interest in following the above rules, are probably much less pleasant/reasonable and really importantly, you're not as clever as you think you are. Editors can totally tell that this is the mob you formed. Your credibility is now zero. You lose. Good day, sir.

    18 agree
  2. *Email, don't comment*: I knooooow. See below!

    *Be constructive*: The lead image of this article doesn't show up for me when I click through from the main page to the subpage of this article. The preview picture (some graffitti) is displayed on the main page, though.

    *Ask for what you want*: I'd like this article to have a fully functioning lead image. Not only for my own sake, but for the sake of all homies.

    *Don't flounce*: I won't.

    *Open the door to discussion*: I think the author of the picture has deleted it from flickr. What do you think? …Let's have a conversation about the issue!

    *Be ready to accept solutions*: I'm totally open to any other image representing this article. It doesn't even have to be a photo, it could be an illustration instead. Best wishes and rock on! <3

    (feel free to erase comment if glitch is fixed.)

    P.S.: I tried to submit this via the "fix typo" feature, but at first I had more than 200 characters in each field. Then I redacted stuff and had less than 200 characters in each field (I counted in Word), however, it wouldn't let me submit and told me that the original text can't be more than 200 characters, whatever I put in there, even if it was only a 100 characters. I'm on Windows 7/Firefox v.37.0.2.

    1 agrees
    • I fixed the lead image, and I have two follow up questions:

      1. "*Email, don't comment*: I knooooow. See below!" So… why didn't you email? I get that the Fix Typo button was giving you grief (more about that in a second), but why leave a blog comment instead of email? In this case, it's sooooooo not a problem AT ALL (in any way — seriously!), but since you're being so thorough with following this post's guidance, I'm curious about the decision not to follow Step 1 and send an email.

      2. Speaking of the Fix Typo button, I'm not able to reproduce your issue, but can you email me (HAAAAAAA!) so that we can troubleshoot together? http://offbeatempire.com/contact

      Most importantly: thanks for flagging the issue with the busted image, and for cracking me up. 😛

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