3 Questions To Ask Yourself About Blog Comments
Having your own blog gives you the chance to hear directly from your readers as long as you’re willing to allow blog comments.
When you gather a group of bloggers — newbies and experienced — in a room and have them start talking about issues they face, blog comments are sure to be toward the top of the list.
Bloggers who do allow comments on their sites tend to fret over how to increase the number they receive since it generally seems that number has been slowly decreasing as conversations move toward social media.
Bloggers who don’t allow them sometimes wonder if they should rethink that strategy as they worry the conversations on social media may not always get people to their actual site.
But here are a few questions that are worth considering if you’re debating whether to add comments or remove them from your site.
1. Should you allow blog comments at all?
Over the past few years, we’ve seen well-known websites and blogs drop comments completely. The excuse for doing so, typically, is that much of the “conversation” that goes on happens on the blog’s Facebook and Twitter pages, so comments on the page tend to be “less valuable.”
I’ve long suggested that this may have more to do with keeping up appearances: as the number comments sites receive drops, some sites probably don’t want their pages to appear to attract zero commenters. So, feeling that appearance is everything, they drop them rather than allow a “small” number of them make it look as if no one cares about the subject matter.
My answer to this line of reasoning is that a reader who makes it all the way down to the bottom of a post where the comments are does care about the subject matter, but may not have anything to say in response right off the top of their head.
I think comments are a potentially important part of the blog, and I think it’s better that they be on the blog itself rather than on a third-party site. Not everyone, after all, is going to go to a Facebook page to read comments that might otherwise be read if the comments were on the same page as the post. Look at it the other way around: can you imagine browsing around on Facebook to see a post and then being asked to click a link to a site to read reaction to the post?
How likely would you be to do so?
And consider this: all of your visitors to your blog may well miss the great conversation happening elsewhere because it’s happening elsewhere and not on your blog where the post itself is.
Some will say that since those conversations already are, in some cases, happening on social media, some conversations are better than none.
While I wouldn’t argue with that, I have to wonder why you’d eliminate even the possibility that at least some conversation might happen on your blog by allowing people the option to comment if they wish.
But what happens if someone complains about a comment on social media and that platform decides to punish you by reducing the reach your content is getting or removing it altogether. If you’ve placed all of your eggs on that basket, you’re in trouble. If you’ve at least allowed for the chance for some of those comments to exist on your site, a social media platform can’t delete that.
2. Should you moderate blog comments before they appear?
Assuming you decide to allow comments on your blog, you’ll then be faced with the moderation question.
Do you allow people’s comments to appear as soon as click the “Submit” button, or do you force them into a queue so that you have the chance to review and approve them before the rest of your audience sees them?
For those of us who really, really hate spam comments, moderation seems like an attractive option.
But moderating comments means delaying the conversations that might happen organically. Social media like Facebook doesn’t even offer moderation as an option, and that should tell you something: allow the comments to flow. Otherwise, you have to have your blog’s comment system notify you of every comment received and be on top of it enough to allow them to pass through moderation quickly enough to keep the conversation going.
There’s an obvious follow-up question: what about spam and profanity? Plugins like Akismet can catch a great deal of comment spam. Other plugins offer alternatives to the universally-hated captcha but still allows you to weed out bots.
Plugins like WP-Content Filter allow you to block certain words that you enter in its profanity filter.
Nothing will ever be perfect, but you’re probably better off allowing the conversations to happen and periodically checking comments to remove any “bad eggs.” It’s worth noting that you can still set your WordPress installation to notify you whenever a new comment appears. That way, you’ll still see comments coming in as they actually do.
Moderation after the fact rather than before is something your real readers will probably prefer.
3. How should you handle trolls?
So let’s say that you decide you want to allow comments and that you’ll even moderate only if you have to when you see a spammy or inappropriate comment appear.
You’re still going to have to deal with so-called “trolls,” people who like to stir up trouble and insist on arguing even when there’s not necessarily anything worth arguing about. Sooner or later, you’ll have one.
So what will you do about it? Will you let them just have their say or will you step in and remove comments that you feel cross the line?
Don’t answer that just yet! Because you can’t decide how you’re going to handle people who violate your blog’s comment policy until you actually have a content policy. After all, you can’t expect someone to follow your rules if you don’t have any to begin with.
More than creating a comment policy, you need to post it for the world to see. Again, you can’t get upset with people for breaking your rules if there’s no place on your site where people can actually read them. A link to my site’s rules can be found right in the sidebar. From time to time, I update it.
But I’ve made it clear what I expect and that I’ll reserve the right to modify content that crosses the line — I’ll add an editor’s note in such cases to explain that the comment was altered from its original form and why — or that in some cases, if it’s too far across the line, I’ll delete the comment altogether.
This always has someone screaming to the heavens about their “First Amendment” rights being violated. That’s false. The First Amendment allows you the opportunity to free speech in public places. It does not, however, give you carte blanc to behave however you want on someone else’s property, real or digital. Even Facebook has a set of community guidelines and they can delete content — or cancel your account altogether — if you violate them.
Final Questions to Consider
If you’ve read this far, you have some decisions to make. If you want conversation and the chance to build community, comments are a good way to assist that. But you have to understand that you won’t receive as many comments as you’d like. Almost no one I know does these days. Is the potential for receiving a thought-provoking comment that adds to the discussion worth allowing comments? You have to decide that.
Yes, maintaining comments can be work. Sometimes, the work is in responding to genuine conversations. Sometimes, it’s deleting spam or blocking troublemakers. But you need to put that work into it or else your comments could degenerate into useless garbage. Are you willing to serve as a digital gardener, attempting to grow healthy discussions while pruning and weeding out the rest?
There’s that old saying about needing a “thick skin.” You will. You have to decide for yourself whether the potential of discussions that further the points you’re trying to make — and comments that might even challenge your own beliefs in a good way — are worth the extra work comments might cause.
But thanks to the people who’ll contribute meaningful insights and who’ll be kind and appreciative because of what you’re doing, it might be well worth taking that chance.