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How Does Your Comment Policy Affect Your Readership?

Comment-PolicyThis guest post was submitted by Elise Bauer, Publisher of Simply Recipes and Editor-in-Chief of Learning Movable Type

Read blogs long enough and one thing will begin to stand out is the varying tenor and quality of comments on different blogs. When I first started publishing my own blogs and reading others several years ago I wasn’t too surprised by the extraordinarily rude and baiting remarks that would often appear in comment threads. We’d all seen this with Usenet groups way back when, and flame wars were a constant problem on popular email listservs. Any place where you have anonymity of participation with practically zero social repercussions for misbehaving will lead to rude public behavior. Blogs are no exception. People say things in comments that they would never say to someone face-to-face.

What has been surprising to me is that even with the comment moderation tools available to bloggers, extremely rude and obnoxious comments are tolerated, allowed to post on many blogs. My guess is that many bloggers feel that in a democracy, everyone should have the right to be heard.

I disagree. I believe that our democracy gives you the right to publish your own blog, not to spit all over mine.

Who gets priority – your readers or disruptive commenters?

Providing a quality environment for the readers of our blogs is more important than giving a platform for a few people who don’t know how to play well with others. Let’s look at the numbers. Let’s say that your blog gets 1000 visitors a day according to whatever stat package you use. Let’s assume that a quarter of these visitors actually read your posts and the comments to the posts. That’s about 250 readers a day. Let’s say that your blog gets about 10 comments a day. Let’s say that 8 of the comments are okay, or even useful, but a couple of them are rude. They don’t pass the “would you say this to someone’s face, who you knew and respected?” test. By allowing those comments to post, you are letting a couple social nitwits color the experience of your site to your 250 readers. Why do you think bars have bouncers? It’s for the benefit of the rest of us.

Some might argue that flame wars and rude comments are entertaining. And to some, they may be. You need to know your audience. You may also be the kind of blogger who lives off of stirring up controversy and whose commenters are just reflecting the tone that you yourself set.

Some people have a much higher tolerance for rude behavior than others. They’ll call each other the most horrible names online one day and then the next act as if nothing happened. I assert that most people, myself included, do not want to hang out in environments, either online or in the real world, where people are getting away with being extremely obnoxious. Most of us do not want to chance being ridiculed by others if we make a comment on a site. We will steer to where we feel comfortable and safe participating, and stay away from places where we don’t.

You are in charge, you set the tone

How you choose to moderate the comments on your site will affect who feels comfortable to participate on your site, and who will want to come back again and again.

If you let rude, obnoxious, spiteful comments persist on your blog, you are basically telling all of your commenters that it’s okay with you to behave badly on your site. This covert permission can act like a magnet, drawing in hooligans and bullies, making the reading of and participating in your comment section uncomfortable for many. I learned long ago that people will give you as much crap as you are willing to put up with. If you tolerate abusive commenters, they’ll just keep coming back.

Have you posted a comment policy?

After the first couple of years with my blog, I finally got annoyed with dealing with the constant stream of rudeness, and instead put up this comment policy:

Comments are welcome on most of the recipes and articles. I would ask that if you would like to leave a comment that you think of this website as my family’s home and that you wouldn’t say anything on this site that you wouldn’t, as an invited guest, say in someone’s home. Constructive criticism is welcome, as we all benefit from such advice. Rude, mean, or obnoxious comments are not welcome and will not be approved to post (that’s me, gently escorting the misbehaving guest out of the house). Please restrict your comments to the topic at hand, for the benefit of all who may be reading.

Attempts to make obnoxious comments dropped immediately by 80%.

Michael Ruhlman (author, Next Top Chef judge, and blogger) recently posted this request of his readers, some of whom were spouting off a little too much over the judging of the last Top Chef challenge:

It’s my policy not to delete posts unless they are truly harmful in some way, but I urge commenters to post only words that you would say aloud to whomever it is you are addressing. Just ask yourself if you would before hitting the button.

Many bloggers fear that if they restrict commenters in any way, they’ll lose them and lose readership. Frankly, I would prefer to lose the misbehaving ones; it makes it so much more fun for those of us who are left. Simply Recipes has been steadily growing now for over 4 years. Every day more than 70,000 people visit the site. Each new post gets about 20 to 30 comments on average (some much more), which is a perfectly reasonable, manageable number. The comments are constructive, polite, fun, and thoughtful. We share ideas, stories, recipes. We learn from each other. This is a community that I am happy to be part of and proud to host. So, at least from where I’m sitting, it’s working.

What about you? Do you have a comment policy in place? If so, what is it and what has been your experience with the effect of your comment policy on your community of readers and commenters?

About Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
  1. A timely post… Just this week I put up a comments policy, but it wasn’t because of bad comments it was because some were trying to take advantage of the dofollow linking that went back to err… unsavoury places.

  2. casaflora says: 12/01/2007 at 8:43 am

    So, what do you think about Blog Commenting as a way to drive traffic to your own blog vs. Spam? James D. Brausch has a good post on this (http://www.jamesbrausch.com/?p=836), He says they are NOT one-in-the-same. I’m wondering how others feel about this…

  3. John Beaty says: 12/01/2007 at 10:23 am

    So I went to James Braush’s website and all I saw was an advertisement for a $100 CD. Looks like casaflora’s post was just driving traffic.

  4. That James Braush site seems pretty spammy doesn’t it?

    But the commenter casaflora does bring up an interesting issue.

    As long as a commenter on my site is leaving a useful comment, something that is adding value to the site, then I’m happy to drive traffic to their site.

    The thing that truly drives me nuts is when people leave the name of their blog in the “name” field of the comment, and then add the link to their blog in the comment itself. This seems to me to be disrespectful self promotion. It’s disrespectful of me, because if I have to email this commenter for any reason, or if I need to respond to them in the comments, I don’t have a real name to use. I have to refer to them as “CrunchyCooking.com” or “FabulousChef” or something inane like that. It’s demeaning to have to refer to someone directly like that. Also, blogs don’t leave comments, people do. This behavior comes across as a blatant plug for their own blog. I give people a place to put their URL, and that should be enough.

  5. This is an intriguing and important discussion indeed– thanks for writing, Elise.

    I think another side to this is that computers/ email have become the new best way to communicate, so the “unruly” class, as it were, are oftentimes merely being themselves because it’s rare that we have the opportunity to explain “what we really meant” by that sentence/ email/ post/ comment.

    Blogs are authored by people as are comments, and both serve to help make us feel closer to those behind the typed words. Some are more needy than others– in wanting to be heard and seen and without an actual face or tone of voice being physically heard, we tend to sound different on screen.

    It has been interesting to watch the ebb and flow of comments on my own blog. I thought in the beginning that I would keep all comments, regardless of how their opinions strayed from mine, but since then I have come to other conclusions.

    Few people I know virtually or in person are capable of:

    1. having an argument about a subject without turning it into a lobby of personal insults.

    2. taking responsibility for their actions and inactions.

    3. thinking about the consequence(s) of their words and actions before publishing them.

    My blog is me, and I’m pretty tough, but you’re right about something I have forgotten– if I allow the ickies to take over my house there won’t be room for the lovelies.

  6. It amazes me that commenters, or any reader for that matter, think that they have some inalienable, god or government given right to comment on my or any other blog. I invite comments to my posts, I moderate them, and I decide what’s worth letting through, sometimes based on language, sometimes based on content – but ultimately, I feel that any commentary is an integral part of my blog, and if what’s being posted doesn’t fit with how I want to present things to the online world, it’s not going up. If someone wants rights to post whatever they want, let them start their own blog, pay for it, and make their own decisions.

  7. it’s our choice what we let on our blogs. if i think it’s spam, it gets marked as such and if it’s a stupid comment or something inappropriate i delete it. it shouldn’t affect readership the commenters should just learn to behave.

  8. I have been debating as to whether or not I need to approve comments before they are posted. I want to keep the site clean and professional. At the same time, I don’t want bloggers to have to wait for me to approve their post.

    Which is better?

    a. Approve all comments before they post
    b. Allow comments to post immediately and risk having to cleanup any inappropriate messages on the back end

    Thanks for the feedback!

    Doyle Slayton
    Executive Director & Sales Strategist

  9. My approach is to allow comments to post as they are written. I only turn on moderation if I have to (eg excessive human-spam or inappropriate/scorched-earth comments). I do monitor comments posted, so human-comment-spam gets deleted fairly quickly.

    The thought behind it is that it’s more reader friendly and it encourages more discussion/comments if there’s no wait.

    Of course the answer depends on various factors, eg subject matter, amount of traffic, type and volume of comments and commentators, etc, etc, etc.

  10. I agree in some way, but I really think a lot more can be said on the subject. Anyway, I appreciate you post. I usualy don’t bother commenting on other people’s posts, but time wasn’t pressuring me and I had a good felling on this site. Thanks!

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