Blog comments can be very gratifying but also stressful. You want comments that are thoughtful and (let’s be honest) that make your business look good. Not in a shallow, flattering manner, but because a great discussion makes people feel positive about your brand. Conversely, a negative discussion makes people feel negatively towards your brand and even changes their opinion of the post that contains negative comments.
The Good and the Bad
In a study of 1,183 people by Ashley A. Anderson, Dominique Brossard, Dietram A. Scheufele, Michael A. Xenos, and Peter Ladwig and published by the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, it was found that the tone of comments on an article affect the positive or negative reader perception of the article. The New York Times wrote about it here. The study asked participants to read a fictitious technological news article and the comments afterward. Some of the participants saw positive comments, some saw negative comments. The results:
The results were both surprising and disturbing. Uncivil comments not only polarized readers, but they often changed a participant’s interpretation of the news story itself.
In the civil group, those who initially did or did not support the technology — whom we identified with preliminary survey questions — continued to feel the same way after reading the comments. Those exposed to rude comments, however, ended up with a much more polarized understanding of the risks connected with the technology.
Simply including an ad hominem attack in a reader comment was enough to make study participants think the downside of the reported technology was greater than they’d previously thought.
That’s one piece of the comment puzzle.
Comments are content
Let that one sink in for a moment: comments are content.
I’d spoil this by talking about it too much. It’s simple enough.
Comments are an Investment
Why do people comment on your blog posts?
- Because they enjoy it, because they’re stimulated by the discussion and they have something valuable to share.
- Because they’ve become emotional and they’re reacting.
- Because they have a question, suggestion or want to point out a mistake.
- Because they’re on the prowl to “generate traffic” or backlinks and they’re engaging in SEO spam.
- Because they’re trolls and think you’re easy prey.
There are many reasons, but the above are some of the biggies. Knowing why someone comments can help you decide how to manage their comments or their presence on your blog. Repeat commentators are making an investment in you: they enjoy your blog posts and enjoy engaging with you. They’re not just about getting traffic for themselves. They value their relationship with you. Do you value your relationship with them?
Comments are work
When your blog is new and you’re not getting much traffic or comments, all your work goes into building your network and creating content. Once the ball gets rolling, what you’ll find is that managing comments is a lot of work. It can easily take just as much if not more time than writing blog posts. It doesn’t matter how you decide to manage them (moderated or not, you reply to all of them or not). Because comments are valuable content, and because they represent a valuable investment in you from your readers, you can’t phone this in. If you’ve decided you want to respond to your readers’ comments, I believe you should put as much work into your responses as they did in their comments. I believe in meeting people halfway.
Comments are community
Your frequent commentators are just as much a part of your brand as you are. Visitors to your site are going to be affected by what they read in the comments on your blog posts. An impression will be made. Hopefully, it will be a positive one. Your frequent commentators are your highly visible core community. Treat them with respect. They’re also likely to be your best customers. Not only will you get to know them, they’ll get to know each other, too. Never take them for granted.
Choosing a system
There’s nothing wrong at all with WordPress’s native comment functionality. I like the features and functionality of Disqus and choose to use that service. Some people really like Livefyre or Facebook comments. Triberr comments are another alternative you can use. Various plugins can enhance WordPress comments very nicely, such as providing an easy way for people to have new comments to the post emailed to them and subscribing to your newsletter at the same time. A quick search of the WordPress plugins directory will reveal all kinds of goodies you can use if you want to. The reasons why I like third party comment services is that they combine what would otherwise be a Frankenstein’s monster mish-mash of other plugins and a lot of work into a seamless interface.
Moderation in all things
One important decision you need to make if you’re going to allow comments (not everyone does) is whether or not you’re going to moderate them. Moderating blog comments means no comment is published to your post until you’ve read it and approved it. I don’t moderate comments in this way because I don’t want to hold up the discussion if I’m not free to approve comments. I’d rather come in afterward and clean up the few spam or unintelligible comments that make it through. What can happen if you don’t stay on top of comment moderation is that you’ll get like five people who all think they’re the first to respond to the post. You can choose settings in WordPress that will cause some comments to be held for moderation based on criteria such as containing links or certain words. If you place a link in your comment text on Remarkablogger, your comment will automatically be held for moderation until I can take a look at it. If someone is offensive enough (whether in language or tactics such as spam), you can ban them entirely from your site. This is easily done with Disqus, which I’m using for my commenting system as of this post. It can also be done in “regular” WordPress. Here’s some information straight from WordPress on combating comment spam. There are also plugins for dealing with comments. I will moderate comments that are inane or nonsensical. Empty flattery does not contribute to the discussion at hand. If I can’t even understand what is written, then that person’s English is so bad there can be no real conversation… or they’re using a “spin” program or a translator program to spam worthless content.
Responding to comments
I try to respond to every comment I receive. I want you to know your efforts at commenting are acknowledged. That you’re not just speaking into the void.
If you put a lot of effort into your comment, I will likely put a lot of effort into my reply. If you don’t, I’ll still acknowledge you.
Do this enough, and you’ll begin to feel like you’re repeating yourself. Most people don’t like that feeling. But each person who comments deserves their reply and often that means you’re saying the same things over and over, like “Glad you liked it,” and such. There are only so many ways to say these things, it’s inevitable.
Don’t take your commentators for granted, if you don’t like feeling repetitive, too bad. First world problems, and all that.
Suck it up.
People will always debate whether or not it’s okay to swear on a blog. I swear here all the time and if you swear in the comments, I’m fine with that as long as you’re not being lazy or trying to shock people for its own sake.
But swearing and being nasty or mean to people are two completely different things. As soon as anyone gets nasty and becomes insulting or engaging in personal attacks, they’re gone. Argue about ideas and facts and opinions. Don’t allow personal attacks.
You’ll also run up against arguments and disagreements. These can degenerate into unpleasantness because often people don’t know how to debate without employing logical fallacies or getting overly emotional–and then they start to get personal. Make sure you can recognize and deal with logical fallacies. The same wisdom people apply to email applies to blog comments: don’t respond in kind, and don’t respond when you’re angry.
What works for you?
I’ve shared a lot with you about how I manage comments in order to give you a good overview of comment management. What works for me won’t always work for you, but at least you’ve got a framework for understanding comments and managing them. What’s your approach to managing comments? photo credit: premasagar via photopin cc