How to Defang Critics with the Power of Your Audience

A few weeks ago my business partner John was complaining about this Amazon review on his first book, Soft Skills: A Software Developer’s Life Manual.

A little backstory is in order:

This book has sold tens of thousands of copies, making it one of the best-selling titles for software developers ever published, and overall it has a 4.7 star rating on Amazon.

Yet when you’d scroll down on the book’s page on Amazon, the first review you’d see was this really nasty hatchet job.

The reviewer resented the fact that John linked out to his blog posts and paid products—it was to “market-y” for his tender programmer’s sensibilities.

Rather than try any of the advice John presents (which is rock solid) and report on his results, the reviewer decided that the promotions invalidated the entire book and made John an “incredibly creepy” snake oil salesman.

Some pretty serious allegations, actually.

Of course this bitter review soon attracted the attention of other success-haters who upvoted it as “helpful!”

And eventually it outranked the hundreds of 5-star reviews from readers who actually *tried* what John was recommending—and saw their lives change as a result.

Grrrr… Thanks, Internet.

When John was talking about how frustrating it was to see this ugly review promoted by Amazon like this, I had an idea:

If “helpful” votes pushed that review to the top, enough “not helpful” votes could bury that hatchet job so deep it would never see the light of day again.

Rather than continuing to privately fume about the review, John and I decided to spotlight it in an email to 41,000 of our closest friends.

The subject line of the email was:

“Incredibly creepy?”

In the (short) body, I pulled out a few choice quotes from the review and included a link for subscribers to read the entire review.

Then I asked them:

Do you agree with this?

And if not, I suggested that they vote the review as “not helpful.”

So did it work?

Well I’m happy to report that Amazon no longer promotes the review as “most helpful.”

In fact, it’s nowhere to be found on the first page of reviews.

And it’s not even listed as the “top critical review.”


I made one teeny weeny miscalculation in my email that turned the whole episode from a slam-dunk homerun into a bit of a dramafest…

(To be continued.)