When I speak, as I did today, to an audience of business people curious about blogging, this is a statement that often turns a light bulb in their heads.
Yes. You can moderate comments. Yes. It's okay to decline a negative comment. I recommend to all businesses to moderate comments. I also encourage those same businesses, though, to analyze the opportunity and risk associated with a negative comment. If it's a constructive criticism that's actionable or has been resolved by your company, it opens an awesome opportunity for you to show transparency and prove that you're not only listening, but acting on your visitors' criticisms.
It's ironic that we all sit around telling people how open and transparent we wish businesses and our employers are… but when we're in a position to be transparent, we often give it second thoughts. I believe there's a scale to comments and user-generated content that needs to be closely monitored and analyzed:
Some visitors will be downright mean, sarcastic, cynical and/or degrading. I'd encourage your business to respond to these people directly to defuse the situation and let them know that you simply won't allow content like that on your site. I don't think anyone would blame a business for declining a comment that has potential to do their business harm. It's not about transparency at that point, it's about protecting your business so your employees can continue in their livelihoods.
That said, don't ever decline the comment and move on like nothing happened. If a person had the audacity to insult you on your own website, they'll have the audacity to insult you on their website, too. The opportunity for a business is to talk the person ‘off the ledge'. Even if you can't rectify the situation, doing your best to defuse it is in your best interest.
Some visitors will be critical of your opinion, product or service. This is a gray area where you can choose to decline the comment and let them know, or better – you can deal with the criticism publicly and look like a hero. You could also allow the comment to sit… many times people feel glad that they vented and move on. Other times, you'll be surprised at the number of readers who will come to your defense!
If it's valuable criticism, perhaps you can have a conversation with the person that goes like this…
Doug, I received your comment in my moderation queue and it really was great feedback. I'd rather not share this out on the site – I hope you understand – but your opinion means a lot to us and we'd like to get you on our customer advisory board. Would this be something you're interested in?
There are rewards and consequences for hiding negativity. Though you think you're insulating your blog from negativity, you risk losing credibility with your readers – especially if they find out you're consistently avoiding the negativity. I think it's a careful balance but you'll always come out on top when you can resolve the issue, or honestly explain your way through it.
Positive comments will always be the majority of your comments…. trust me! It's amazing how pleasant people are on the web. In the ‘young days' of the web, the term used for writing a terrible email to another person was called ‘flaming'. I've not heard as much about folks being ‘flamed' but I'm sure it still happens.
The problem with ‘flaming' is that your outburst in anger and negativity has a permanent place on the net. The Internet never seems to forget… someone, somewhere will be able to dig up your dirty comments. I'm sure I've left my share of negative comments out there, but these days I'm more in tune with maintaining a healthy reputation online. I believe most (sane) people are cognizant of their online reputation nowadays and will do their best to protect it.
Case in point is John Chow's unveiling of a maniacal, though shallow, plot of a blogger to use comments to dishonestly push business in his direction. John did a great job of investigating and proving the dishonesty of the blogger in question. John's naming of his post is perfect… this blogger destroyed his own reputation. John just reported it!
Personally, I've run into bloggers who've flamed me on some of my posts. The reaction was amazing, most people didn't pay attention to my criticism of them… they responded with disgust to the negativity of the ‘flamer'. On the other side of the coin, I've had a blogger (who's quite well known) who skipped on his debt to me for a product I developed for him. He also avoided the collections agency I put on him.
I won't ‘out' him on my blog even though it's very tempting. I simply believe that people will then look at me as a bully. I have faith that he'll get what's coming to him some day. The blogosphere tends to be a tight-knit network of friends and colleagues who cheer one another on. The ‘haters' seem to be on the fringe, and the ‘flamers' close behind.
Don't put a lot of thought on the negativity on the web… the risks associated with your transparency are far outweighed by the benefits of networking and building authority and a reputation. And never forget that it's okay to decline a negative comment.