I’ve been reviewing the reviews. Occasionally there seems to be some misunderstanding about what reviews are and what they are for in the WordPress community.
I keep coming back to this topic in the review sub-forum so I thought I’d put this down for commentary.
Reviews are feedback, nothing more and nothing less
The reviews have always been about someone’s experience with a plugin or theme. As long as it comes back to their experience and is related to the plugin or theme then their commentary is fair game.
Everyone should leave reviews for themes of plugins and I’m going to make more of an effort to do that. I’ve only left 7 myself but it’s easy to do and I like to think that I’ve contributed by leaving them.
If you are leaving a review
Please try and be courteous and helpful to the author and the people reading your review. These two often referenced posts may help people who want to leave feedback.
Every plugin and theme in the WordPress repository is a gift to the community. The developers offer that gift and sacrifice their time and effort for free. If you are fortunate, and that happens all the time, the author will make the additional effort and support you as a member of the WordPress community.
Think about that for a moment. Someone is going out of their way to provide you with quality code for free and they want your feedback. So please consider leveling up and meet the author half way. Provide “good” reviews. A 1 star review is allowed but make the effort and turn that bad review into something productive.
- Do start a support topic before you leave a review. If you have a problem with a theme or plugin please start a support topic about it before leaving a review. Give authors a chance to help you first. Just like the code, their support is offered for free.
- Do share your experience with the plugin or theme and the author. If the author is upselling then feel free to discuss that as well. If you went from the free version to the “pro” or “premium” version then let people know how that was for you.
- Do offer advice on how you think your experience can be improved. It could be as simple as “make this icon bigger”. Not all suggestions are accepted but many are.
- Do reciprocate and work with the author. If you get a reply and the author is interested in your opinion then take the time and engage the author. Plugins and themes are updated all the time due to user feedback.
- Don’t make reviews personal and attack the author. Offer an explanation of why you left a bad review. Include what you see as ways to improve the experience for you and other users.
- Don’t leave reviews such as “If you fix my problem I’ll update my review”. Extortion is an ugly word and if your review comes across that way then you’ve left a bad review.
Other users will read your review and make decisions based on the words you’ve written. Make that feedback count and help the community.
Just be aware that a user of free software is not a “customer”. A customer relationship is something different and anyone leaving reviews with the idea that an author owes them support or even a reply is misinformed.
A free software user is not owed anything. It is fantastic when an author engages users but that’s voluntary and optional. Providing support is not a requirement to host code in the WordPress repository.
Don’t be discouraged by that lack of entitlement. The fact that someone is hosting code in the repository means that at least at one point they were open to the idea of sharing with the community. Engage them in your review as if you had a chance to sit with them across a table and talk to them. Your review should be like the beginning of that real life conversation.
Authors who reply to reviews
The majority of authors understand that WordPress is a community effort for an open source project. They get that it’s not an online store but some people need reminding about the reality of community reviews.
If you are relying on the WordPress review system to generate sales leads then you are ignoring the man in the lookout yelling “ICEBERG!”
You are making a Titanic class business mistake if those reviews are part of your business plan.
Do not rely on WordPress.org for sales. For a variety of reasons those reviews can be deleted or modified without any notice or warning. The reviews are not the property of the plugin or theme authors. They belong to the community, they are part of the forum and the forum moderators do their job.
Reviews can be used as a sales supplement and it can enhance an author’s reputation. Good reviews from satisfied users should be held up like a badge for good community service. Having satisfied users can only benefit an author’s reputation.
The WordPress forums do not have a relationship with authors such as Famous Online Bookseller™ does. There is no incentive to generate more downloads or sales leads for WordPress.org. Nor should any such incentive exist, it leads to a system that is skewed from the beginning.
The only incentive for the community is to obtain productive reviews that are informative to the users and authors. Informative reviews can lead to better code and a better experience for everyone. Unvarnished feedback is the goal for the community based review system. How you respond to a 1-star review is often far more valuable than any 5-star review.
There are successful companies within the WordPress ecosystem that do not have any code in the WordPress repository. They rely on creating and maintaining their own community and provide a quality product. It’s not easy but their business plan relies on their user’s direct feedback. They do not use the WordPress forums except possibly to provide some support for the community.
That’s a good model. It’s not an easy one but removing community reviews as a leg for their business strategy means more stability for their customers.
An author’s reputation has value
Many plugin and theme authors are trying to make a living and represent themselves or their company. That’s admirable and having a good reputation in the community IS a business advantage.
But be aware that “wrdprezzuser678”, who just left a stunningly acidic review, does not have a reputation to risk. Replies to reviews are like everything else on the Internet. Your reply will be available forever and when you or someone on your team replies poorly it may become something you regret. It will not impact the anonymous person posting on the forums.
It’s not fair: nameless people on the Internet can leave feedback without risk. That’s just how it is. Any author or support person needs to be aware that their reputation has value and is a thing to be protected. It’s easy to say “Well, I don’t care what other people’s opinion about me is” but there may come a time when you do.
What are you as a software author trying to accomplish by leaving a snarky or angry reply? Abusive reviews and spam are deleted but the ones that are pressing up against the line are not deleted. If an author later comes to the Support Team and asks for their unfortunate reply to be deleted then then they may be in for a shock when it is not redacted.
Replying to bad reviews
If you do reply to those users then consider viewing this presentation from Rob La Gatta. The slides for that talk are located on Slideshare. Look at the replies to the 1 star reviews for The Event Calendar plugin as an example.
If there is a gold standard for handling reviews then this would be it. Many of those replies turned unhappy users into people who not only appreciated the effort but have updated their reviews. Anyone reading those exchanges will see that the authors care about their feedback.
Another take on reviews can be found via Mika Epstein’s WCUC talk titled “Reviews – The Good, The Bad, and the Stalker” It’s a great talk and that advice is very pertinent. That talk is focusing on a plugin author’s point of view but that advice applies to theme authors as well.
Reviews are nothing more than an exchange of feedback between the user of a free theme or plugin and the developer of that code. Users can help developers by providing polite and detailed feedback, even for a 1-star review. Developers can help both users and their own reputation by not replying to negativity with further negativity.
In the end, we’re all in this for the community as a whole, or we wouldn’t be leaving a review or offering a free code in the first place.