Dealing with legitimate online criticism
It’s rare for me to devote two consecutive ‘big thoughts’ to the same issue, but it’s worth reflecting on how Superhuman has responded to concerns about its location-logging feature. Read yesterday’s newsletter
first, if you missed it.
Late yesterday, Superhuman addressed the problem directly and appropriately in a blog post
. The company will delete all stored location data, remove the location-logging feature, and switch off read receipts by default.
CEO Rahul Vohra has been widely praised for the response, so let’s look at what we can learn from the episode. These tips don’t apply to every PR crisis a startup might face, but in the face of valid criticism these steps are worth reflecting on:
Listen, don’t impulsively defend: unlike the Silicon Valley folk who rushed to defend Superhuman against what they saw as an ignorant attack, Superhuman’s staff quickly went quiet when the online debate kicked into gear. This one response when the storm first began indicates where Superhuman’s thoughts lay beforehand, but then they began to listen. Understanding what people are complaining about — and challenging your own existing beliefs against new information — is an important first step.
Think about the future of your business: does addressing this issue seriously affect your business? And does not addressing it affect it more? What’s an appropriate balance that also makes sure you 'do the right thing’ on a human level? From a business case point of view, Superhuman clearly saw that while some users found useful context in knowing where email recipients were, there was much more risk to the business in swimming against the tide of a greater public conversation about privacy, not to mention the risks of almost certainly breaking data protection rules like GDPR.
Agree clear, decisive, timely action: 'we’re thinking about it’ (a common response from Twitter in the face of criticism, for example) might occasionally make sense in an extremely complex situation, but often there’s action you can take right away. Be honest with yourself — is it meaningful action that makes a difference, or are you just hand-waving to make the problem go away? If it’s the latter, you will be called out on it.
Communicate with empathy, clarity and authority: Vohra’s blog post does all of this. In addition to satisfying many critics, it may have won over some new fans, too.
You’ll never please everyone, but recognising genuine criticism and acting on it in a timely, clear way is a strength worth nurturing.