For some bloggers, they are the fuel that keeps their content creation engines running. For others, they are a nuisance and a hassle — something they try to deal with quickly in order to get to the “real” business of creating content.
As a content creator, dealing with comments is part of your job. And I believe that comments are an incredibly important part of creating (and growing) an engaged online community.
But how do you maintain healthy boundaries on your site while still encouraging lively and engaging discussion? What are the best ways to manage comments in the blogging world today, and what do you need to think about when creating your own comment policies?
1. Moderate your comments.
All of the big blogging platforms allow you to moderate your comments. Adjust your blog settings so your comments come straight to your email inbox, so you can approve them before they get published on the site. That’s the easiest way to keep strict control over the conversation, and make sure things stay civilized.
We’ve all seen sites where the comments are clearly not maintained or controlled in any way, and we’ve seen how quickly the conversation can go from civil to disrespectful, and unwelcoming to flat-out abusive.
Moderate your community conversation, so your blog is a safe and respectful place for people to give their opinions or ask questions.
2. Use a strong spam filter.
Make your job easier by using a strong spam filter. Spam filters keep the creepies and spammers out of your blog (and inbox) and sequestered in a spam folder. Filters don’t catch everything, but they’ll snag most obvious spam comments. Use one, and your comment moderation life will become infinitely easier.
Akismet is my favorite spam filter plugin for WordPress, and it’s built into every default installation.
3. Have a comment policy.
Decide what you will and won’t allow in the discussion on your site, and write it down. Even if the document is just for you, take the time to sit down and write out your thoughts before you open the floodgates.
We also have a published blog comment policy here at Copyblogger, and those rules are enforced by the editorial team monitoring the comments on each post.
You can also choose the short and concise route — as Tim Ferriss does — and add a short “be cool” section in the footer of each post. Of course, you need to add a line or two describing what “being cool” means to you and your community.
4. Do your best to respond to questions from your audience.
I’m still working on managing this, but Sonia Simone is an absolute pro at it.
She seems to manage to answer every question in a timely and interesting way, and I love reading her comment responses.
She even takes the time to pull out interesting and relevant comments and puts them in standalone Q&A posts — a fantastic way to serve your audience with even more content .
Do you need to respond to every single comment? There are different schools of thought on this question. Some say it’s important to acknowledge every single comment you receive, even if it’s just a quick “Thank you” as a response. Others say it’s okay NOT to respond to every comment, unless the comment includes a question or other remark that really begs a response.
You need to decide what your policy is on answering comments. Keep in mind that your thoughts on this subject may change as your blog audience grows — as you get more comments, you may find you don’t have enough time to respond to every single one.
5. Have limits on what advice you’re willing to give away for free.
If you’re a coach, consultant or other service provider, you need to be clear about how much advice you’re willing to give for free when someone asks a how-to question in the comments section of your site.
You may decide that you’re willing to address questions that dip into your service provider knowledge, as long as the question is relevant and useful for your entire audience. Or you might decide not to give away any advice that your clients would normally pay for.
But either way, you’ll need to figure out a diplomatic way to refer people to your “Contact” or “Services” page when it’s time to take the discussion offline (and possibly set up a consultation or coaching appointment with you).
As with everything in comment moderation (and in life) — decide what your boundaries are, and stick with them.
6. Don’t put up with trolls, bullies, abusive language or threats.
It’s your site, and you decide what you will and will not allow someone to publish on your posts. You are under NO obligation to publish every single comment that people submit, and you needn’t allow anyone to bully, harass, or push you around.
That said, a little healthy discussion is a good thing, so you shouldn’t arbitrarily delete any commenter who disagrees with you. If they make their point in a respectful way, it’s okay to have a little contention on your site. It might even be a good thing.
In other words, embrace thoughtful, respectful criticism.
Our post on grammar mistakes, 15 Grammar Goofs That Make You Look Silly, received a healthy amount of debate and discourse in the comments — and it’s also the all-time most popular post on our site. So don’t be afraid of a little heated discussion on your blog.
7. Take care of your guest authors.
Set each guest up as a user in WordPress, and have WordPress email that guest each time one of their posts receives a new comment. It’s an easy way to let your guest writers engage with their posts (and keep track of which comments they have replied to).
When you invite guest bloggers to publish posts on your site, it’s also your job to make sure no one abuses them. One of the things I love about Copyblogger (especially back in my guest posting days, when I was nervous about answering hyper-critical or trollish comments) is that Brian and Sonia would jump in on the rare occasion that a commenter was disrespectful or rude.
Your policy should always be to militantly protect your guest authors — they are your guests, after all.
Over to you …
Hopefully you’ve gotten some ideas for coming up with your own policies and rules about managing the discussion on your site (and I’ve made it a little easier for you to moderate your comments in a way that works for you AND your community.
Some popular bloggers have recently decided to drop public comments from their posts. Others keep them open, but employ a strict moderation policy that leaves no room for bullies or trolls.
What are your rules about comments on your site (and what stories do you have to share about commenting gone awry?)
See you in the comments?