Thoughts on blog comments

This morning, I saw a tweet from Mike Figliuolo where he was sounding off about an anonymous comment on one of his blog posts, indicating that he'd left a "scathing reply", and asking for reactions.

As so often is the case, I started to leave a comment on his blog, but as it grew, I figured I might as well make a post of its own about it.  There are a number of core issues going on here, in my opinion.  If you've got a blog, or even if you just comment on others' blogs, it's worth considering how you feel about these issues.

Do you want comments?

Chez Castel
Image by @rgs via Flickr

If you've got a blog, it's your baby and you can do what you want with it, but I think it's important to be clear about your objectives with respect to comments.  If you're really interested in a public discussion of the thoughts presented on your blog, then you're somewhat obligated to embrace and foster an open exchange of ideas.  If, on the other hand, you're not really all that interested in an open discussion, then turn off comments.  I suppose a third possibility is that you want to see comments, but only the ones that agree with you.  In my opinion, this also really defeats the purpose of comments.

Whatever your objective, it stands to reason that if you respond to a negative comment by going nuclear, you're not going to encourage an open exchange of anything at all.  Sadly, it's a given that people behave more rudely and abusively on the web than they would in person (especially under the veil of web anonymity), and this shows up in comments.  When you see a comment that strikes you as truly abusive or destructive, you've got every right to moderate it, but in the case of Mike's anonymous commenter, that's not what I saw.  What I saw in Mike's response, though, was Mike suggesting that the commenter hadn't read his post (or, apparently all of Mike's previous posts) carefully enough to form a well-reasoned opinion.  That's not a great way to encourage more discussion.

How's the weather in your little echo chamber?

If you blog, why do you do it?

Although there are any number of reasons, I suspect that every blogger at some level wants to make an impact on people.  We want to share our opinions and, hopefully, sway some readers to consider our opinions, and hope against hope, maybe to even adopt our opinions.

So how much are you really accomplishing if you're only reaching people who think just like you?

But that's not what I said...

If someone reads your post and comments in a way that makes it seem like they read a different article than you wrote (which, I believe, would be Mike's assessment in this case), it may be because they just weren't paying attention.  It might, however, just mean that they're reading it with a different bias or perspective.  Contrary to your first reaction, this just might be your target audience.  Here's someone with a different opinion than you, and they're sharing their thoughts on your blog.
Everyone's experienced conversations where we've said something that just didn't come out right, or perhaps it came out sounding just fine, but someone ended up hearing something completely unlike what we meant to say.  We call this communication.  Any time you utter a thought, it's just a stream of lonely, disembodied words until it comes to roost in someone else's noggin.  Here's the crazy part, though -- your listener / reader is going to interpret your words on the way into their grey matter, and they just might find meaning in your words that's a little different than you intended.
You can find volumes of material about this, but again, as a communicator, if you see that this is happening, consider the following:
  • Be thankful that you're aware that you can see the impedance mismatch.  Most of the time, if someone doesn't get what you're saying, they'll just tune you out, and you'll never know it.
  • Review your message to see if there's any way you can change the delivery to clear up misunderstanding.
  • Engage the reader to try to understand why they interpreted your message differently than you intended.  Telling them that they're not too bright doesn't count as "engaging".

If you're looking for an example of open discourse done right, Robert Scoble is the best I've ever seen.  There are plenty of people who disagree with almost everything that comes out of his mouth, but Robert will engage any of them in an open conversation about what he's said, and he does it without taking negative comments personally.  As a result, Robert has made a name for himself as a communicator, and I suspect he may have even learned a thing or two along the way.

Who have you seen that manages comments well?

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