No Comment

A few years after the dawn of the internet in the mid-nineties, vision for the world wide web shifted to the “2.0” version, which involved encouraging audience interaction, viewed as significant progress by marketers and communications experts.

Comment sections, message boards, chat and community discussion started off with great energy and excitement as we began to “engage” our audience. What better way to get them all to like us? After all, if they really got to know us, they would certainly love us and spend a lot more time at our site.

And just about everyone who opened up their website to free and easy access to interaction learned the same lesson:

Some people can be downright unpleasant.

Some were willing to express opinions out of ignorance and others willing to smack someone else down with a profanity-laced personal attack if they disagreed with anything.

We needed to pay someone to watch the interaction and delete offensive posts. Seemingly in an instant, audience engagement lost some of its luster.

Fast forward 15-20 years and maybe we have lowered our expectations for how some will respond to a blog or social media post. But it can still be a rude awakening when you find out how many people (even Christians) are guided more by the US Constitution’s first amendment affirmation of free speech than the first chapter of the New Testament book of James.

Audience interaction is not all it is cracked up to be. But it is what it is.

Every book needs an editor and every online comment section needs one as well.

This agency blog has a very engaged group of readers who respond appropriately, are supportive and even add to the conversation in constructive ways. That’s the way it is supposed to work and we appreciate it deeply.

In your blogging and social media, including a comment section may or may not be in your best interest. What was thought of as some sort of communication “panacea” back in the 90’s has for some become an ugly reminder of the fallen-ness of humankind.

Even online reviews for books can become a forum for diatribes or personal vendettas. The internet has become much more like the busiest time at the DMV rather than a quiet invitation-only party for friends. In other words, you never truly know what will happen next.

When you open the doors and make it free and easy to enter, you are asking for it, whatever “it” is.

I have read some very well written articles or blogs online and when I scroll down to the comment sections, it looks like it should be labeled, “If you are mad at the world, can’t take it any more and don’t know what you are talking about, comment here.”

And that doesn’t even count the spam messages about earning extra money working from home and any number of others placed by companies who pay someone to wander around and post advertising on comment sections in an attempt to lure people to their business.

Honestly, you don’t need that on your blog or website. Audience interaction is great, until it isn’t.

Make it easy and clear how readers can contact you through email or a contact form and you might be able to eliminate the comment section. It won’t hurt a bit.

 

 

17 Responses to No Comment

  1. Avatar
    Carol Ashby March 1, 2016 at 3:31 am #

    Dan, another thought provoker. Almost everyone else is saying taking comments and responding is a vital part of building that rapport with your blog readers that leads to interest in reading your books. That’s especially true for unpublished or debut authors.

    I’ve thought about this since I’m about to bring up two websites. One is my author site with a historical emphasis for the period of my novels. I was considering unmoderated comments there, but maybe that isn’t the best idea.

    The other is a science-and-theology site where I hope to provide a place for science/engineering people (or anyone with a strong logical bent) who are curious about the Christian faith to learn more and have a place to raise questions that they don’t have anyone to ask. A major point of the science site is conversation with those who visit, but I’m thinking of having a moderated comment section to encourage questions but where a comment doesn’t post before I see it. I’m going to have a clear description of what style of comment is acceptable (a variation of THINK- true, helpful, inspiring, necessary, and kind) and how noncompliant comments will either be edited to comply or deleted. Maybe I’d be wiser to start with a “send your question and I’ll post it and try to address it” communication option.
    What are your thoughts on that? Would it work well for an author site?

    • Dan Balow
      Dan Balow March 1, 2016 at 6:37 am #

      As long as you are continually monitoring the comments, it is certainly fine to keep them, just don’t put it on auto-pilot and assume everyone will play nice.

      Giving readers options is good as well. Allow comments (monitored of course) but also questions submitted, posting ones you feel would be helpful to the group.

      Everything needs an editor. Even best-seller lists are edited. Comment sections need to be controlled as well.

      • Avatar
        Carol Ashby March 1, 2016 at 7:47 am #

        Thanks for your insights, Dan.
        Are best-seller lists edited other than by classification by the type of work?

        • Dan Balow
          Dan Balow March 1, 2016 at 9:18 am #

          Yes they are. Best-seller lists are intended to reflect widespread trends. A book that sells only in one city or even one retailer will be removed from the list.

          This is prevalent in the Christian market where a pastor of a large church or leader of a ministry will sell a lot through their own bookstore and nowhere else.

  2. Avatar
    Barb Raveling March 1, 2016 at 5:19 am #

    The other problem is which commenting system to use. I’m committed to comments but am trying to decide what commenting system is best. I’ve used Disqus in the past and right now I’m using Jetpack. Thinking of switching back to regular WordPress commenting system. Is that what this is?

    • Avatar
      Steve Laube March 1, 2016 at 10:59 am #

      Barb,

      Our blog uses the default commenting mechanism provided by WordPress. I do believe the “Theme” used by the designer simply created the various buttons and formatting to have its customized look. But there isn’t a special plug-in. However, we do have two plug-ins as part of our site. “Stop Spam Comments” and “Subscribe to Comments Reloaded” are two plug-ins that help keep things work. We also use “Askimet” to filter out spammers. It catches dozens of spam comments each day.

      Steve

      • Avatar
        Carol Ashby March 1, 2016 at 12:53 pm #

        Thanks for the details! Your site is a very user-friendly model.

  3. Avatar
    Susan Mary Malone March 1, 2016 at 6:04 am #

    Very insightful, Dan. Decades ago, when I began my writing journey, I joined a writer’s workshop (yep, the old-fashioned kind–where you met in person :). And it didn’t take long to see that while a lot of the critique was sincere and helpful, so much of it was quite self-serving–the one giving the critique trying to look good.
    FF to the era of social media and online book reviews by, well, just about anybody. And the funny thing–what was once true in writer’s workshops has carried over not only to our websites, but to venues like Goodreads, and sales outlets as well. While most reviews of my books are nicely done, now and then you get a wahoo with an ax to grind. These days though, I mostly laugh at those.
    My blogs get a lot of responses, and those are almost always respectful.
    That’s one of the main reasons I love reading y’all’s blogs–your community here is engaged, and is respectful, and is here to glean your wisdom.
    That speaks to who y’all are, and all the great info you give.
    Great post!

  4. Avatar
    Jaime March 1, 2016 at 9:13 am #

    I very much appreciate this post, as people’s thoughtless comments have left a bad taste in my mouth for social media. I once did a guest post for a major christian blog. It was about how as my children became old enough to start school, I realized they would not be little forever, which then spurred me on to find other callings from God that complimented being a mom but were separate from motherhood. The first three comments came: one criticized me for not homeschooling (even though I didn’t say what kind of schooling my children were receiving in the article), the next criticized me for not having more kids, and the third let me know in no uncertain terms that I should be doing nothing but adopting and fostering if I still wanted small children. Of course the rest of the comments were wonderful, but it felt like those first comments were sort of derailing the whole point of the article. And when I went back to check previous guest posts, I realized these same commenters were first on all of them, and they had been kinder to me than most others! One literally typed a large “BOO!” on a very popular author’s story of her personal experience. I now have to try my best to refrain from reading the comments, to keep my frustration away. And I’m finally wading back into the social media thing, but with comments to be moderated before they become public. Because some people apparently feel because they are physically able to say something, they should, even if they haven’t actually thought it through. I am so glad to hear I am not the only one who has an issue with this. And to hear that there is a way to keep on social media without allowing my writing to cause a brawl in the comments below!

  5. Avatar
    Jeanne Takenaka March 1, 2016 at 12:06 pm #

    Dan, this is a thought-provoking post. Maybe my blog is insignificant enough on the big, wide web to avoid most of the crazy commenters, but I haven’t had the really negative comments happen YET. I know it’s likely I will write a post at some time that will draw the ire of one or more people.

    I enjoy the engagement that happens when I post. Having the chance to interact with others, hear their thoughts, and to respond has made blogging enjoyable for me.

    I’ve set up my comments so that new commenters have to be moderated by me before they go live in my comments section. I also have a spam detector widget which has been very helpful in preventing spam from littering my comments section. I’m sure there’s more I can be doing, but I haven’t figured those things out yet.

    All this being said, it’s good to read your thoughts and to know that if (maybe when?) I ever feel the need to turn off comments, it’s okay to do that. I hadn’t really considered that option before.

    Thanks for making me think about this.

  6. Avatar
    Nora March 1, 2016 at 12:30 pm #

    If you can’t say nothing nice, keep your big mouth shut (paraphrased). Grandmothers, mothers, and aunts were correct. Be nice….or else….be deleted. (Wouldn’t that be grand and lovely).

    I will often read an article and then scan the comment section. Some of these people need some lye soap to do what lye soap does.

  7. Avatar
    Lois Tverberg March 1, 2016 at 1:04 pm #

    Thank you, I completely agree. A well written blog article takes time, research and thought. Comments come from people who have spent no time thinking and take no responsibility for their words.

    A blog is like a Mona Lisa painted on a sidewalk. The street painter walks away and leaves all the brushes and paints sitting there so that it can get covered in obnoxious graffiti. Very frustrating.

    Blogging, for me, has been a detriment to writing because moderating my comment section intensifies my stress over a negative audience reaction. After a bunch of inane comments I completely lose perspective on the fact that they don’t represent the audience as a whole.

  8. Avatar
    Lisa Taylor March 1, 2016 at 1:12 pm #

    grrrr… ye lilly-livered, flea-ridden…Er… I mean, nice post Dan.

    I use “Discus” for my blog comments and they get forwarded directly to my in-box (though they are marked as being related to a different email address so they are easy not to confuse with my regular mail).

    Perhaps because of my subject matter (sexual betrayal) I’m not inundated with comments (despite a healthy number of visitors from around the world) and almost all are very positive, or are at least intelligent. In over a year of operation I’ve only had one negative comment… and it was about the site being too Christian (the tone was negative but not bashing). A series of articles I wrote for another larger site (300,000 visitors/month) also got one troll response, but the site editor dealt with it immediately — pointing out that the comment made no sense.

    I suppose a day could come for some of us when the number of comments on our blogs becomes difficult for one person to moderate (and trolls slip in)… but that seems like a nice problem for some future day (speaking for myself anyway).

  9. Avatar
    April Cassidy March 1, 2016 at 7:33 pm #

    Comments are certainly not for everyone. They are time-consuming. They can be emotionally and spiritually draining, at times. And it can be frustrating trying to moderate and make sure the tone of the comments doesn’t take on a lot of negativity and godless chatter/contention/character assassinations/divisions/hurt feelings, etc…

    I can see why many bloggers choose not to deal with comments. But for me, comments have been the life-blood of my ministry. They are how I formed friendships with believers around the world. Comments showed me how people took what I wrote in ways I didn’t expect and helped to refine me as a believer and as a writer. The negative comments often sharpen me and help me look at things from a fresh perspective, forcing me to examine my beliefs and the way I explain things so that I grow, my writing grows, and my other readers grow.

    Of course, the really nasty comments, I just delete. But sometimes when I respond to a negative commenter with grace, dignity, respect, and godly love – that person comes to know Christ or repents and begins to walk more closely with Christ. I have also learned that it is such an incredible opportunity for other women to watch the way I handle negative comments and criticism. Many women have told me they have learned more from the way I respond when I am attacked or misunderstood or when someone is angry with me – than they have learned from the posts on my blog.

    I do spend a crazy amount of time on comments, easily 1-3 hours per day. But this is my opportunity to disciple other women. I can’t believe that God allows me to be a “missionary” to over 200 countries from my living room!?!? What an incredible honor. I love building relationships and watching God work miracles. I love walking beside women on the baby steps of the process of sanctification. Then, as the women grow, they share updates and I often get to use their comments as posts or as fodder for posts (with their permission, of course).

    There is the most amazing community of believers on my blog for married women. It is a place of love, prayer, encouragement, exhortation, and healing. Kind of a “spiritual ER” of sorts. It is also a place for other women to begin to learn to minister to those who are hurting. I have seen a number of other ministries spin off from my blog commenters.

    My husband has a blog – comments are not for him. I certainly respect that it takes a large emotional and spiritual investment to keep up with comments, especially when there are 200+ comments on a post in 2 days or something, which happens sometimes. I try not to let anyone slip by without me responding to them if at all possible. To me, the comment section has been where the connection, relationships, and discipling happens. I love it! For me, it is my calling from God and it is a primary ministry.

  10. Avatar
    Iola March 1, 2016 at 8:48 pm #

    I’ve seen the phrase, “web 2.0” loads of times, but this is the first post which actually explained it – thank you!

    I understand what you mean about comments. One major blogger did remove comments from his blog, but then reinstated them, so comments are obviously valuable, even if so many of them are, um, a little opinionated and ill-informed.

  11. Avatar
    Beverly Brooks March 7, 2016 at 7:03 am #

    This was a thoughtful post and helpful … thank you.
    Likewise all the comments were quite informative.

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