How to ask for feedback

I was in a conversation on Facebook recently with a woman I’ve known for a long time.

This lovely lady has a new venture she’s working very hard on, and she’s wondering if she can send it over to get my feedback.

(Incidentally, IttyBiz is on Facebook! Please come and click Like and validate our existence! Ahem. This was done for many reasons, most prominent among them that my mother and my kids have been nagging me for years. You’ll be happy to know that now IttyBiz is on Facebook, they have moved on to nagging me about Pinterest and YouTube, respectively. I believe this has been the plan all along.)

Anyway, feedback.

If you are involved in any type of creative or innovative enterprise, you undoubtedly find yourself in a similar position. We’re all desperate for feedback.

We ask our friends and family but they’re non-commital. Or their answer is so pathetically simpering that it wasn’t worth asking. Or, upon hearing their answer, you realize they were the wrong person to ask because they’re utterly unqualified to even have an opinion.

Or the last time we asked, one of those things happened, and we’re not going to do THAT again, and now we’re in an echo chamber.

We ask critique partners, and colleagues, and mentors, and consistently, we don’t get what we’re looking for, or sometimes, we don’t get anything at all.

In my chat with the lovely lady, I was able to put words to something I’ve been trying to articulate for a long time, and I thought I’d use the power of push button publishing to share it here today. Perhaps it will be useful to you.

Your best bet is to consider specifically if there’s anything you want my opinion on. Like if it were a novel – what questions would you ask your beta readers? They can probably answer, “Do you think the protagonist is a self-obsessed jerk?” or “Is scene three remotely believable?”

If you just ask, “What do you think?” they’re not going to know if you mean “Did it make you cry?” or “Do you think it’ll sell enough in the next 24 months to enable me to quit my day job?” or “Can you please look for typos and plot holes?” And if they don’t know what you want to know, they’re going to avoid answering you in fear of getting it wrong.

“Give me your feedback” usually means one of two things:

1. “Please, for the love of God, tell me I haven’t wasted my time.”

2. The polar opposite of that, “Please, for the love of God, tell me if I’m wasting my time.”

If the asker is in the first camp and you treat them like they’re in the second camp, congratulations – you’ve ruined someone’s life and probably your relationship along with it.

If they’re in the second camp and you treat them like they’re in the first camp, congratulations – you’ve completely annoyed them and now things are awkward.

But to make things more complicated, almost everybody who says they’re in second camp is unconsciously in the first. They honestly believe they’re in the second camp because they are fully confident they have created something near flawless and can therefore happily take whatever minor constructive criticism you dole out.

They say, “Be brutal. I can take it. I honestly want your feedback.” (I know. I’ve done this.)

This is probably not the time to tell them they’ve wasted six years of their life and you’re pretty sure nobody on earth will ever buy this thing.

And to make things even MORE complicated, an opinion is just an opinion. So if I think they’ve wasted six years of their life and I’m pretty sure nobody on earth will ever buy this thing – I could be wrong. That’s pretty much exactly what I thought about Steve Jobs and the iPad.

So.

How to ask for feedback… and get a decent answer.

Put the burden of responsibility on yourself to figure out the job requirements in advance.

Imagine you were hiring this person from a freelancing site, and you were paying them by the hour.

You would be very clear in your job requirements. You’d tell them exactly what you were looking for and exactly what you were not.

We would never go to a freelance editor and say, “Tell me what you think.” We would not go to a marketing consultant and say, “Tell me what you think.”

Instead, we would say things like, “Is my offer clear?” (Not, “How can I make my offer better?” because “better” is subjective and has different definitions for different people. If you say better, do you mean “clearer” or “more appealing”?)

We would say things like, “Does my pricing sound fair and reasonable?” (Not, “Does my pricing sound good?” because “good” is subjective and has different definitions for different people. If you say good, do you mean “more attractive” or “more premium” or even “more intuitive”?)

We would say things like, “Is my About Page boring?” (Not, “How can I make my About Page better?” What do you mean by “better”? Do you want to sound like a bigger deal? Do you want to sound more qualified? More professional? More approachable? Do you want more calls to action, more jokes, fewer “coffee aficionado” references?)

“I’d love your feedback” is far too vague a question to ask somebody because what you mean and what they think you mean are almost impossible to match up.

Tell them exactly what you want to know. You may not know what you want to know, but that is not their problem. You cannot expect people to answer a question you yourself cannot articulate.

So if you want your feedback to be better (ha! better!):

  • give a list of very specific questions,
  • make sure none of them require psychic abilities, and
  • none of them require the use of the Subjectivity Rosetta Stone to answer.

Last? The art of giving feedback, according to Jack, aged 7.

My son, Jack, says this on the matter:

If they ask you “what do you think?” and you think it’s terrible, you should probably pretend you thought they just wanted you to check the spelling. Then you can answer, “Well… it’s spelled perfectly.”

So… your key takeaway?

Come and Like IttyBiz on Facebook, of course!

About the author: Naomi Dunford started IttyBiz in 2006. In her free time, she likes to… ha! Free time. You’re adorable. Learn more about her here and catch up with her on Twitter or Facebook.

robin-williams

Imagine you’re at a party, and you’re watching a football game.

Every time the Broncos score, a riotous cheer breaks out. Drunk 40-somethings trying to recapture their inner frat boys scream “YEEEEEEEAH!!!” a lot. Everyone’s loving the game.

In calmer moments, people are tossing around stories. They’re cracking jokes. There’s a lot of good-natured ribbing.

Then something terrible happens. Let’s say somebody has a seizure.

The paramedics come. They get the guy onto a gurney. The ambulance drives off into the night.

The door closes behind them. There’s a few moments of stunned silence. And then the conversation explodes.

“I can’t believe that happened.”

“I hope he’s okay.”

“Has somebody called his family?”

The Broncos score again. Nobody’s paying attention. Then somebody shouts from the kitchen, “YEEEEEEEAH!!!”

Oh, man.

Last night, the news broke that Robin Williams had passed away, and that his death is presumed a suicide.

Twitter was awash with shock, and grieving, and very public pain. You couldn’t keep up with the hashtags. When I checked, eight out of the 10 trending topics were Robin Williams RIP, or the title one of his movies.

People were posting quotes, and movie clips, and pictures. A lot of people were in a lot of pain, and they were grieving and mourning among their friends. Even Lindsay Lohan and Miley Cyrus found something decent to say.

For a few hours, almost everything you saw was Robin, or a link to a suicide hotline.

Either that, or a scheduled marketing tweet.

  • “I’m featured on XYZ today!”
  • “You can’t risk outliving your retirement savings. Growth investing is a necessary response to longevity risk.”
  • “[BRAND] is about helping people find out who THEY really are, then BEING THAT unapologetically, without guilt. Follow [BRAND] and RT” [that means retweet]
  • “How Social Media Changed The Hiring Process”
  • “COME TO OUR FREE WEBINAR.”
  • “If you’re planning a trip to [town] you don’t want to miss our [guide to the town]!!”
  • “I’m offering FREE coaching sessions!”
  • “We’ve got a great podcast coming out tomorrow! Watch this space!”
  • “Is delivery included in your book print quote? We include all foreseeable costs.”

At one point in the process, Peter Shankman (kind of a Twitter big shot) said this:

“That this still needs to be said is ridiculous. Brands: PAUSE YOUR DAMN SCHEDULED TWEETS.”

If you’re unfamiliar with Twitter, he’s referring to the fact that most of those tweets I listed up there were not written and posted live. They were scheduled far in advance through software that lets you post updates to social media platforms while you’re not online.

At the time of this writing, 35 people retweeted his comment, and 65 marked it as a favorite. But some people weren’t so sure. Some responses:

  • “I was going to say that, but I’m torn. I know how I personally feel, but is this a national tragedy on par with, say, Boston?”
  • “Legit question… why? Sure pull any inappropriate or awkward ones, and it is very sad, but should commerce stop for a death?”
  • “agree with [person up there]. Very very sad and tragic loss but too subjective to make that kind of definitive call.”
  • “this is NOT anywhere near that level… Life goes on.”

“That level”? Oh, man.

Automated social media updating is a big thing.

It has been for quite a while. There are a lot of people quite happy to take your money – sometimes a lot of it – to give you the opportunity to look like you’re active on social media when you’re really not.

Hootsuite calls itself “the #1 Social Relationship Platform.”

Buffer is “the easiest way to publish on social media.”

With Edgar, “you can finally break the never-ending cycle of writing and posting new updates”. They’ll charge you $600 a year – or $5300 if you’re a business – to let you schedule and repeat the same tweets, over and over, forever.

Letting you tweet when you’re not tweeting is big business.

For a lot of brands, this is how the world works now. This is what social media is to them. And they are entitled to that. You can use social media however you want to.

(One person responding to Shankman’s comment said, “last night local cbs affiliate in stl was auto posting about Miley Cyrus during the looting and riots… multiple times…”. Even news outlets do it.)

But it’s probably prudent to look at social media like a social gathering.

When somebody dies and everyone finds themselves at a social gathering, the feel of the party changes.

When somebody dies and people are crying, ads don’t feel nice.

That doesn’t mean it’s immoral to advertise when somebody is dead. It doesn’t mean your brand will collapse. There is no official line before which marketing is okay, and after which it’s verboten.

I don’t think anybody likes the people arguing in public over whether somebody was a “big enough deal” to warrant a flag flying at half mast, and the same applies here. The aftermath of someone’s passing is not the time to engage in public debate.

Let’s not argue. Let’s have a bit of empathy.

Empathy is defined as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.”

That means understanding grieving people don’t really want to think about your webinar. Should doesn’t matter. They’re hurting, and they don’t want to see it.

Part of succeeding in parties is reading the feel of the party. It’s hard to do that when you’re not there.

I don’t really blame brands for not getting “the rules”. “The rules” are subtle and ever changing. They apply here, but not there. Then, but not now. Corporate is breathing down everybody’s neck to “get on social” and corporate has never really been all that great at feeling the pulse of the people.

So what do we do about the Broncos fan?

Should he be tarred and feathered? Should we boycott him? Should we ban him from all further gatherings?

Of course not.

But we might want to view him as a cautionary tale and do our best to avoid cheering and joking and laughing when something has gone horribly wrong.

Canceling our scheduled tweets might be a good place to start.

About the author: Naomi Dunford started IttyBiz in 2006. In her free time, she likes to… ha! Free time. You’re adorable. Learn more about her here and catch up with her on Twitter or Facebook.

You are not late
I was reading a blog post this morning on a blog that had comments enabled. The writer asked a question at the end of the piece, and asked readers to give their opinion in the comments section.

The answers were all pretty chummy – you could tell that the commenters were all regulars and they seemed to all know each other – but one particular response really stood out to me.

“I’ve already addressed this on Facebook so I won’t answer it here.”

She went on to give positive feedback on other peoples’ answers, but she didn’t give her own.

There was a very humble feel to it, like she doesn’t want to bug people or make a nuisance of herself.

I see this a lot. Not all the time, but often enough that it bears talking about.

This commenter is making a reasonable seeming assumption and it was really hurting her chances at expanding her reach. She was making the assumption that everybody had already read her thoughts and wouldn’t want to read them again.

She is making the assumption that everyone who might be interested is a.) on Facebook, b.) on HER Facebook, and c.) reading this in real time.

The unconscious assumption is that because her whole world is on Facebook, that means THE whole world is on HER Facebook.

But I’m reading her comment on a website that is not Facebook, 10 months after it was written. And now I don’t know what she thinks, because I can’t see it and I can’t find it and I’m a little sad, for her and for me.

This is the same thinking that led me to take my first product off the market, losing me several thousand dollars in the process. “Everybody’s already seen it,” I thought. “I’d feel annoying if I kept talking about it. Everybody would get irritated.”

My email list at the time was 1/40th the size it is now. 2.5%. But I took it down because “everybody” had already seen it.

What I meant, of course, was “my current everybody”. It just didn’t occur to me that “everybody” might get bigger.

This is totally understandable.

It’s normal. Human animals are animals, and we give more weight to our senses than we do to our predictions. We sense these people, so we give weight to them. We don’t tend to think of people we can’t see.

But we forget that these interchanges are not private conversations. We feel their intimacy, their camaraderie, and their closeness, and our brains mis-associate intimacy with privacy.

If they were private conversations, our instinct to avoid repeating ourselves would be correct and genuinely self-protecting. Yes, if you say the same thing to the people who already know it, over and over, you’re going to look like maybe there’s something wrong with you upstairs.

“Hi. I’m Naomi. I run IttyBiz.com, a marketing training website for very small business owners.”

That is a very reasonable thing to say at a networking luncheon.

It’s not a very reasonable to say it at the beginning of my next BIG LAUNCH Office Hours session, seven months into the course. Or at brunch with my brother. Or when my son comes in looking for a glass of juice.

So, no. You don’t want to state the obvious to people who are already well aware of it.

But in a public forum, not everybody is well aware of it, and it is therefore not obvious. Maybe everybody the writer could SEE was well aware of it. All the other commenters who they see every day may be well aware of it. But what about the few thousand people who aren’t?

I assume the comment writer wanted them, too, or they wouldn’t be using the website field to link back to a squeeze page. (A squeeze page is “a landing page created to solicit opt-in email addresses from prospective subscribers.”)

If we want to expand our circle, we must learn to compose ourselves publicly in a way that does not presuppose everyone present is already in our circle.

You are not late. And they are not late, either.

Kevin Kelly, writer of the famed 1000 True Fans, wrote a new piece lately called “You Are Not Late“. He’s talking about how everybody thinks they’re too late to “do something” on the internet.

“Thirty years later the internet feels saturated, bloated, overstuffed with apps, platforms, devices, and more than enough content to demand our attention for the next million years.”

He’s referring here to innovation, but let’s apply what he’s talking about to audiences and reach.

“But, but…here is the thing. In terms of the internet, nothing has happened yet. The internet is still at the beginning of its beginning.”

Let us consider the implications of this.

If we are still at the beginning of the beginning, there is lots more to come.

So people discovering you today – people who are reading you or friending you or hanging out with you – are really only the beginning of the beginning of the people who will come.

That means you might want to practice learning to say your piece, even if you’ve said it before.

So! Thinking assignment for the day:

There are two variations of this assignment.

Variation one, for people who read that story, cringed, and thought, “Oh my God, I SO do that.”

How would you act if you didn’t assume everybody already knew you? Think of behavioral changes, not philosophical ones. How do you act in social media? Your blog? Do your sales pages read like everybody already knows the story?

Variation two, for people for whom this is not generally a problem.

How could you include newcomers more? Could you make it a little easier for them to not be newcomers anymore? See if you can stretch yourself a little here.

About the author: Naomi Dunford started IttyBiz in 2006. In her free time, she likes to… ha! Free time. You’re adorable. Learn more about her here and catch up with her on Twitter or Facebook.