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Defining The Conversation

Posted by on 18th Apr 2008 | 1 comment

While fostering conversation is one compelling reason to begin a blog, it should be recognized that bloggers have the ability to define the discussion and steer the dialogat least on their own sites. Beyond that, it can be argued that they have a responsibility to their readers to make sure contributions by others add value and insight to the online conversation.

Not everyone agrees with the idea of moderation and filtering of comments. Some feel that the “censoring” of discussion is against the spirit of the blogosphere. Whilst I commend their idealism, i find that unmoderated discussion is generally not a practical strategy for a business-oriented blog.

One way to think of your blog is as a virtual conference room in which you’re hosting an open meeting. In that setting, a certain amount of civility, relevance, intelligence, and decorum is expected. Guests who stand up and pontificate on a subject should show respect for the other people present.

This is why I like having a system in which all comments are previewed before they go live. On my blog, many comments go up and a few don’t. I think that if people want to write graffiti, they should find a different setting than my conference room. If your blog system doesn’t allow preapproval, a far-distant second choice is to delete unwanted comments when they appear.

Most of my clients and partners are primarily concerned with how to deal with critical comments. But when you keep in mind that even Mother Teresa had her detractors, it’s hard to believe that a blog representing a for-profit venture won’t receive some negativity from a few readers. With that in mind, the question is what do you do when you get comments that are far from complimentary?

First of all, I don’t believe that criticism is necessarily a bad thing. Since blogs put a human face on a company, when a savvy blogger takes on a critic, it diffuses the negativity that could have been focused and amplified in a different venue. It’s a bit like a lightning rod. Compared to other structures, a building with a lightning rod does stand a greater chance of taking a strike. But it also deflects and diffuses a bolt that could have been devastating elsewhere.

Constructive criticism is easy to deal with; Boeing improved their blog in response to negative comments a while back. Things like “I find your manuals hard to read, because the print is too small” merit a thank you, and may require further investigation and could result in beneficial changes. Random insults that don’t contribute are also easy to deal with. “Megacorp sucks!” is an example of something that would never go up on the site.

Dealing with critical comments that may highlight an embarrassing and/or accurate representation of a company’s shortcomings takes a little more effort and finesse. You can often win at this game by responding with an honest, frank assessment of the situation as you see it. Most employee bloggers are to some degree insulated from the brunt of corporate criticism because they are not the corporate entity itself. Emphasizing the long hours you and your teammates put in toward the goal of creating quality products can help steer the conversation to the good things the company is doing.

A calm, polite, and noncombative stance is essential to taking control of the conversation. It minimizes the chances that you’ll end up in a protracted debate, and taking the high road enhances the odds that another reader will step in and come to your defense by commenting on your behalf.

So what do you do on your blog to try and steer the conversation? Do you moderate comments? which type of comments would and wouldnt go onto your blog, and why?


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1 comment - Leave a reply
  • Posted by Sue on 18th Apr 2008

    Whilst I commend their idealism, i find that unmoderated discussion is generally not a practical strategy for a business-oriented blog.

    Andy, thank you for saying that! I've been blogging for years and I *still* struggle to make myself recognise that I should moderate non-constructive rudeness, especially in a business setting. The right to free speech means that people can go start their own blog, not that they have the right to pour out vitriol on mine.