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This chapter is from the book

Comments and Responding to Them

Having a comments section on your site lets your readers know that their input is just as valued as the information you are presenting. However, you will receive several types of comments. You need to be prepared for whatever might be submitted.

Comment Forms

Most standard comment forms request the user's name, e-mail, and Web site for authentication, which is a good idea if you want to know about the person leaving the message. If your blogging platform contains these options, you can activate or deactivate them at any time. For an extra measure of protection against spam, you can request that commenters complete a captcha form (either an image or text) before their comment can be submitted. Captcha generators can be found online and pasted into your platform's settings. These scrambled images feature letters and numbers that need to be typed before the message can be sent. This level of authentication ensures that human beings and not spam-generating computer programs are leaving the comment messages. Captcha authentication might seem like overkill, but if you are having problems with spam comments, it's an option you should consider.

With all these fields in place, you can determine who is visiting your site and how best to reply to comments or follow up on an issue. When replying to comments in your own thread, it is courteous to direct your response to the message's original author. Some blog sites use the Twitter "@" reply method to target their replies (for example, "@John Smith, thank you for the feedback!"

When to Moderate Comments

Comments are an option on most blog platforms, and the commenting tool usually includes the option to moderate. Moderation is when a completed comment form does not get published automatically but sits in a queue awaiting your approval. Learning when and how to moderate enables you to maintain control of all content that is published to your blog. This section describes some of the types of comments you'll receive.

Levels of Moderation

There are various levels of moderation available on most blogging platforms. The first, and the simplest, is to allow all comments that are submitted to be published. The next would be to allow all comments from previously approved authors. So for example, if a reader has already left a comment before on your blog, you can automatically approve the rest of their comments going forward. The next few levels of moderation depend on the author's preference and the settings they would like to put in place.

Anonymous Comments

Anonymous comments can come from anywhere (for example, from someone who was unable to properly complete a form, a malicious spam attack, or simply someone who does not wish to be identified). Having required fields helps to prevent anonymous comments, but you can also set up your blog so that anonymous comments are held for moderation. This means you will need to approve them before they go public.

Spam

When it comes to spam, most blogging platforms have ways to prevent these comments from being published automatically (especially if you have moderation settings in place). These comments can include multiple links, or simply unpleasant content you don't to share with the public on your site, so it is recommended you monitor your comments to find these. Once you have identified comments such as these, you can moderate them (unapproved them for publishing) or delete them entirely.

Overloading sites with links to spam sites is one of the goals of spam marketers. Having more links on your site boosts the spam site's ranking, and you don't want your site to be a vessel for this type of behavior. When moderating comments, use your best judgment to determine whether the comments should be held for approval. Comments can be set up so that any new message is moderated or you can leave them open to be posted automatically (see Figure 4.5). Moderation settings vary based on the platform you're using, but common features include indicators such as IP address tracking, holding a comment if there are links in the body of the text, or giving approval if the author is a returning user.

Figure 4.5

Figure 4.5 Comment moderation on WordPress (WordPress.org).

If you receive a comment that is hateful or simply not publishable because of questionable content, you can use your statistics-tracking program to log the IP address of the user. An IP address is a unique location marker for the user's access point to the Internet. You can then flag this IP address or set up features to automatically hold future comments from this user in the moderation queue. When a comment thread ceases to set a professional and respectful tone, negative messages can be deleted or held in moderation.

In some circumstances, you can contact the author if he has left an e-mail address. In this contact, you can let him know why you have held his comment (for example, foul language or defamatory content). Doing so lets the author know you are paying attention, and it enables the author to write something more concise and tactful. Commenters might not enjoy seeing their comment being held for moderation; however, this is a way to maintain control of the content on your site while still being approachable and reasonable.

Negative Feedback Can Help You Grow

If you receive a comment on a blog post that is less than complimentary, the manner in which you respond to the post reflects on your company. Participating in a flame war, or back-and-forth battles with an aggravated commenter, is not the most productive way to address an issue. Negative comments might not necessarily need to be deleted unless they are defamatory, libelous, or anything similarly malicious. However, if comments contain negative but productive feedback, you should respond in a courteous manner.

For example, suppose you are a clothing distributor and you have just published a blog post about a new pair of pants. A complaint is then received in the comments section from a customer who says she recently bought a pair and they already have a tear in them. You can approve the comment and reply directly, saying that it's unfortunate and you will be happy to have customer service follow up. You can then send the commenter's information to your customer service department; you'll have the customer's name and e-mail from the comment form. You can also link to the appropriate section of your site where customer concerns can be submitted. By dealing with this matter publicly, your audience will know you are attentive and you truly care about your customers.

Dealing with Negative Feedback

The saying "no news is good news" applies to the blogging world, too. When posts are positive and your readers are pleased and informed, they may not always leave a comment. However, when readers write something congratulatory, be sure to respond promptly and thank them for their participation on the blog.

A large part of blogging for your business is being personal and approachable (for your customers and readers) in your posts and within your comments section. Responses should be professional and respectful. (And so, grammar, punctuation, and common conversational courtesy should be adhered to.) You want to be informative and transparent and never immature in your replies, even if the original comment has set that tone.

Dealing with negative comments is a bit trickier, however, so here are some tips:

  • Address negative comments on your own site as soon as possible so that they do not fester in the mind of the author and cause any adverse effects if they do not receive some type of response.
  • If the comment is negative yet constructive or is conducive to a productive discussion, by all means feel free to approve it. Publishing negative feedback, and the way a company deals with it, can truly reflect on your brand in a positive way. Your readers come to your site for information and valuable content.
  • Should the comment be destructive and critical of the blog post itself, your options are to hold it for moderation, delete it, or to take things offline.
  • When a comment is libelous, allowing it to be published and responding publicly is not the best course of action. You can e-mail the commenter privately about sincere concerns (if they provided a valid e-mail address). Although the subject of being responsible for allowing libelous comments made by others to be published on your blog is technically a legal "gray area," it may still be deemed as slander. In severe cases, threats may need to be dealt with on a private/personal level. In most instances, however, the Delete key is all you need.

It is also important to protect other members of the community. Therefore, you should also monitor the discussions in your comments section for attacks between commenters.

In October of 2009, a ruling was made to settle a lawsuit between a group of plaintiffs and 30 people who posted anonymous and derogatory comments about them on an online message board called AutoAdmit. "According to the plaintiffs, the suit was necessary because the discussion board, a site designed for law school graduates, was often monitored by firms looking to hire. Because the comments were associated with their names, the women claimed that it would hurt their chances of being offered a job" (source: ReadWriteWeb http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/watch_out_trolls_your_menacing_comments_could_lead_to_fines.php).

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