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How Does Your Comment Policy Affect Your Readership?

Comment-PolicyThis guest post was submitted by Elise Bauer, Publisher of Simply Recipes and Editor-in-Chief of Learning Movable Type

Read blogs long enough and one thing will begin to stand out is the varying tenor and quality of comments on different blogs. When I first started publishing my own blogs and reading others several years ago I wasn’t too surprised by the extraordinarily rude and baiting remarks that would often appear in comment threads. We’d all seen this with Usenet groups way back when, and flame wars were a constant problem on popular email listservs. Any place where you have anonymity of participation with practically zero social repercussions for misbehaving will lead to rude public behavior. Blogs are no exception. People say things in comments that they would never say to someone face-to-face.

What has been surprising to me is that even with the comment moderation tools available to bloggers, extremely rude and obnoxious comments are tolerated, allowed to post on many blogs. My guess is that many bloggers feel that in a democracy, everyone should have the right to be heard.

I disagree. I believe that our democracy gives you the right to publish your own blog, not to spit all over mine.

Who gets priority – your readers or disruptive commenters?

Providing a quality environment for the readers of our blogs is more important than giving a platform for a few people who don’t know how to play well with others. Let’s look at the numbers. Let’s say that your blog gets 1000 visitors a day according to whatever stat package you use. Let’s assume that a quarter of these visitors actually read your posts and the comments to the posts. That’s about 250 readers a day. Let’s say that your blog gets about 10 comments a day. Let’s say that 8 of the comments are okay, or even useful, but a couple of them are rude. They don’t pass the “would you say this to someone’s face, who you knew and respected?” test. By allowing those comments to post, you are letting a couple social nitwits color the experience of your site to your 250 readers. Why do you think bars have bouncers? It’s for the benefit of the rest of us.

Some might argue that flame wars and rude comments are entertaining. And to some, they may be. You need to know your audience. You may also be the kind of blogger who lives off of stirring up controversy and whose commenters are just reflecting the tone that you yourself set.

Some people have a much higher tolerance for rude behavior than others. They’ll call each other the most horrible names online one day and then the next act as if nothing happened. I assert that most people, myself included, do not want to hang out in environments, either online or in the real world, where people are getting away with being extremely obnoxious. Most of us do not want to chance being ridiculed by others if we make a comment on a site. We will steer to where we feel comfortable and safe participating, and stay away from places where we don’t.

You are in charge, you set the tone

How you choose to moderate the comments on your site will affect who feels comfortable to participate on your site, and who will want to come back again and again.

If you let rude, obnoxious, spiteful comments persist on your blog, you are basically telling all of your commenters that it’s okay with you to behave badly on your site. This covert permission can act like a magnet, drawing in hooligans and bullies, making the reading of and participating in your comment section uncomfortable for many. I learned long ago that people will give you as much crap as you are willing to put up with. If you tolerate abusive commenters, they’ll just keep coming back.

Have you posted a comment policy?

After the first couple of years with my blog, I finally got annoyed with dealing with the constant stream of rudeness, and instead put up this comment policy:

Comments are welcome on most of the recipes and articles. I would ask that if you would like to leave a comment that you think of this website as my family’s home and that you wouldn’t say anything on this site that you wouldn’t, as an invited guest, say in someone’s home. Constructive criticism is welcome, as we all benefit from such advice. Rude, mean, or obnoxious comments are not welcome and will not be approved to post (that’s me, gently escorting the misbehaving guest out of the house). Please restrict your comments to the topic at hand, for the benefit of all who may be reading.

Attempts to make obnoxious comments dropped immediately by 80%.

Michael Ruhlman (author, Next Top Chef judge, and blogger) recently posted this request of his readers, some of whom were spouting off a little too much over the judging of the last Top Chef challenge:

It’s my policy not to delete posts unless they are truly harmful in some way, but I urge commenters to post only words that you would say aloud to whomever it is you are addressing. Just ask yourself if you would before hitting the button.

Many bloggers fear that if they restrict commenters in any way, they’ll lose them and lose readership. Frankly, I would prefer to lose the misbehaving ones; it makes it so much more fun for those of us who are left. Simply Recipes has been steadily growing now for over 4 years. Every day more than 70,000 people visit the site. Each new post gets about 20 to 30 comments on average (some much more), which is a perfectly reasonable, manageable number. The comments are constructive, polite, fun, and thoughtful. We share ideas, stories, recipes. We learn from each other. This is a community that I am happy to be part of and proud to host. So, at least from where I’m sitting, it’s working.

What about you? Do you have a comment policy in place? If so, what is it and what has been your experience with the effect of your comment policy on your community of readers and commenters?

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Being a blog about fitness and bodybuilding we get a LOT of BIG EGOS sending some pretty mean comments our way.

    Comment policy is a great idea.

    RT

  2. This was a great post.

    I do have a commenting policy in place. Sometimes when I go on others’ blogs, if the comments are especially vile, I will leave the site… and not return. This has happened a few times.

    Regrettably, I don’t have enough commenters on the site for my commenting policy to matter. LOL. My site is fairly new.

  3. Sockmoney says:

    We created an additional forum for such problem posts. We then asked our users if they wanted to discuss things off topic, or argue, to take it to the new forum.

    They now respect that separation and just talk on topic on the site, and go off-topic in the forum.

  4. Patrick Burt says:

    This article definitely assumes I have some sort of readership in the first place. :(

  5. Jamie Harrop says:

    Fantastic post, Elise.

    It’s a topic that is close to heart for me because I moderate several forums, where moderation tends to be much more apparent than on blogs, although sometimes even forum moderation is lacking.

    Personally, I’ll moderate my blog in a similar style to my forums. I haven’t had any insulting comments on my posts yet, but if I ever get them then they will be deleted. It doesn’t matter whether the insults were aimed at me or other readers, the comments will not be welcome.

    Like you, I would much rather lose five idiots and have 250 quality readers, rather than lose some of those quality readers.

  6. Great post! I make it so the user has to have one approved comment and then I subscribe to my feed so I can read the comments. I completely agree with what you are saying though. There are so many people out there that want to ruin the blogging experience.

  7. Robert says:

    My comment policy is simple – if I don’t like it, I delete it.

    I do ask commenters not to swear or make personal attacks, but I also remind them that it’s my blog and “I reserve the right to edit your comment for humourous effect”.

    I’ve got quite chilled out about comments now. There was a time a few years back when I first started experimenting with blogging that a bad comment would have got me all worked up. I even went as far as reporting abusive or offensive comments to the commenters ISP. Although that was a bit extreme, it is a weapon to hold on to if you get a particularly nasty post. If someone is acting like that on your blog, they are probably doing it on other peoples blogstoo,so a little shock to the system might just help the whole blogging community.

  8. Dan Schawbel says:

    Just put up a moderation system to handle comments so they aren’t automatically posted.

  9. coolthought says:

    This is the most thoughtful blog post I’ve ever come across. Good job!!

    In my opinion, I think this is a subtopic on democracy or freedom. Freedom really does lets lots of things to flourish. This also allows undesirable behaviour or act to appear too. Do you want to live in a place where people are allow to do anything they want?? It depends… if these people are thoughtful and responsible, yes but if these people are obnoxious, thieves, etc, you would want to move out of the neighbourhood as soon as possible and maybe come back occasionally for only the essentials.

    In another words, democracy and freedom has to be tempered with thoughtfulness and responsibility.

    It is a very thoughtful way to use your own home as an analogy to illustrate why and how you would control such situations.

  10. Siani says:

    Although my blogs are personal sites, making just a small amount of money, I get a moderate amount of visitors/comments. I introduced comment moderation, not just to screen out spammers, but because my main blog is family-friendly, and a small handful of individuals were leaving obscene and obnoxious comments. I also introduced a comment policy which stressed that personal attacks on myself or other visitors won’t be tolerated, and neither will comments which are racist, sexist, homophobic or bigoted in any other way. Nowadays, I rarely have to reject comments, although it was a common occurrence before I introduced the comment policy. I also tend to have more visitors and comments since making it clear that nastiness is off limits. I think the trolls tend to steer clear if they realize they’re wasting their time.

  11. David says:

    I think you hit all the nails squarely on the head Elise.

    And I’d also like to add that much of the tone of the comments can also depend on the tone of the writer/blogger. When I started my blog, I was doing a certain amount of ‘ranting’ which, of course, draws in similar responses. There were a certain amount of “Yeah…me too!”, then invariably there would be the back-and-forth in the comments.

    After I started being less-critical (actually I was still being opinionated, but was seasoning the criticism with humor and self-criticism…which was well-deserved, I might add…), I increased my readership and I’ve had some really great comments. And many of my commenters are pretty funny themselves, which is an added bonus for me.

    Great post and terrific tips!

  12. David says:

    I think you hit all the nails squarely on the head Elise.

    And I’d also like to add that much of the tone of the comments can also depend on the tone of the writer/blogger. When I started my blog, I was doing a certain amount of ‘ranting’ which, of course, draws in similar responses. There were a certain amount of “Yeah…me too!”, then invariably there would be the back-and-forth in the comments.

    After I started being less-critical (actually I was still being opinionated, but was seasoning the criticism with humor and self-criticism…which was well-deserved, I might add…), I increased my readership and I’ve had some really great comments. And many of my commenters are pretty funny themselves, which is an added bonus for me.

    Great post and terrific tips!

  13. Dom says:

    I don’t have any issue simply deleting rude comments – and if the person tries it more than once, then it’s an instant ban.

  14. Shana Albert says:

    Excellent, excellent post!!

    I don’t have a comment policy in place yet, but after reading this post I will work on getting one up right away. With every post I write I receive about 10 comments (give or take a few). This Blog is less than 2 months old and I have been fortunate that there hasn’t been any rude comments thus far. But, in the last few weeks I have seem some terrible comments on some of my favorite Blogs that I read. I really should have a comment policy in place now on my Blog…. maybe I will be able to stop some before they start.

    Thanks again for a wonderful post.

  15. Lin says:

    I also have a Comment Policy for my blog, and I created a post on that very topic with a link to the post on my sidebar. In the last few days, I’ve received a couple flaming, hateful, mean spirited comments, but I simply do not publish them. If anyone inquires as to why I did not publish their comment, I refer to my comment policy post.

  16. LC says:

    “I disagree. I believe that our democracy gives you the right to publish your own blog, not to spit all over mine.”

    What a great statement. That is what is wrong with the US today, especially with the Gen X/Y ers. Many tend to feel the right to free speech transcends civility, and do not react well to “no.” Sport-trashing is apparently one of the fastest growing hobbies in the US;-)

    I do participate on a local community forum, and find that when a new restaurant opens a certain group takes pleasure in wreaking havoc over the food, service, pricing, etc. Trying to explain to them that 1) these negative comments can hurt businesses more than the positives help, and 2) that when one berates a small business he/she is making personal comments about the business owner as that business is an extension of the owners does not seem to change the patterns.

    I don’t have a comment policy as I appeal to the trade and have not had a problem, but I would not hesitate to institute same if flaming started.

  17. This was a good post, and it was also very timely. Last week, our blog caught on fire inadvertently after I had left a poorly-worded comment on another blog. We had a vicious (thankfully shortlived) attack and were left reeling, wondering how on earth we should handle the situation of nasty comments – especially when the whole situation was a very small molehill that turned into a gas-soaked mountain lit by a flaming torch.

    We had commentators attacking other commentators and name-calling starting up. Snarks, insults, and condescension occured. In sudden need to moderate comments, we established a “play nice” policy – three strikes, you’re out.

    Had we done our research prior to the situation (hey, we never thought we’d have that issue on our hands!), we would have established a written comment moderation policy.

    Another blogger recently had a fire on her hands as well after a post she made. She definitely didn’t deserve what she got. In an effort to avoid censoring comments, she posted some – they were very unflattering, rude, and attacked everyone and anything that moved. I’m sure the blogger didn’t have a good day, and she’s probably still hurting.

    To me, blog comments are simple: Add something of value to the discussion, debate respectfully, or stay out of it, period. Never take anything personally, avoid knee-jerk responses, and if you’re upset at something someone else wrote, walk away from the computer. While I don’t subscribe to the “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all” school of thought, I do believe in manners, respect for the opinion of others and open, honest discussion that doesn’t attack people personally.

  18. I’ve always had a fairly ad hoc comment policy in place, but this post inspired me to create a standalone page, linked to from near the comments that spells out my policy.

    db

  19. Peter Cooper says:

    I totally agree if site owners have a comment policy and want to enforce that.. after all, it’s their site. But what *really* ticks me off is when sites force you to register (and we’re talking simple weblogs here, not any sort of community sites) to post comments or.. don’t allow commenting whatsoever. I unsubscribe from those blogs, just like I unsubscribe from those not offering full text. Seth Godin was the first major annoyance, so I haven’t read him for perhaps a year now. Some of the bigger blogs also have some snobby “auditioning” scheme, like Lifehacker, so I don’t subscribe to them either (although when I randomly remember, I’ll have a look at them on the Web the traditional way).

    Allow conversation or get out of the conversation, that’s what I say. Luckily, the blogs I really love, such as Problogger, are all about encouraging conversation, and that’s why they’re doing well.

  20. Hi Elise,

    Thanks for sharing this great information. I recently found your blog. I love it and have posted a few comments. By the way, when will my two scoops of pumpkin ice cream on a sugar cone be ready for pick-up? I’ll also take an order of turkey tacos as well. Have a great day!

  21. Mike Gray says:

    Everyone may have a voice in a democracy, but my blog is not a democracy. It’s a benevolent dictatorship. One of the things that turns me off about many web forums is the rudeness and trolling and flame wars. Civil discourse has no room for that.

    So, I developed a detailed comment policy forbidding the things I refuse to tolerate. I don’t get a lot of negativity in general, but I think I’ve created a place where people will feel free to disagree in a civil manner. In fact, I welcome criticism and disagreement. It just has to be in a constructive way.

  22. Mike Goad says:

    Very nice and thoughtful article that has prompted me to start working on a comment policy stand-alone page for my blog.

    Thanks!

  23. Ray Ebersole says:

    Hi,

    I enjoyed the post.

    Presonally, I moderate my comments and have a comment policy. I don’t delete a rude post as I believe a person has a right to disagree with me and it develops a discussion. But, I do reserve the right to edit a post to reflect the issue without the rudeness or vulgarity.

    BTW, your reference to Michael Ruhlman and his blog has incorrect information. He was a judge on Food Network for “The Next Iron Chef America”, not “the Next Top Chef”. Top Chef is it’s own series on Bravo.

  24. Shane says:

    Thanks Elise, this is exactly what I just email Darren about and it answered my question completely.

    Have a great day!

  25. @ Mike Gray – I think you’ve hit on the touchy spot; helping readers understand where you draw the line between civil debate versus moderation. A comment policy helps determine the balance between disagreeing and flaming. (benevolent dictatorship – too funny! good one!)

    Funny though; so many people have different versions of what disagreement is that it’s tough to tell the difference between nasty and passionate. The clearer the policy, the better.

  26. Stephanie says:

    I don’t tolerate rude comments that have no redeeming values. Good advice poorly stated I would consider allowing, but rude for the sake of rude, no.

  27. Jed says:

    I had a blog up several years ago, but didn’t really know what I was doing then. I had some useful content that seemed to get quite a few page views, but then I started getting overwhelmed by comment spam. I’m trying again with a new blog, but this time around I’m trying to educate myself better on what to do to cater to readers and make the whole experience more interactive and useful. I appreciated this post because it has given me some valuable ideas that I plan to implement on my own site. Thank you.

  28. Mike Gray says:

    @James Chartrand – I definitely agree. Making a clear, detailed comment policy is the first step. A close second is educating participants as to why a comment was inappropriate.

    I tend to err on the side of open communication, but it’s not always so clear. If there is an exchange that gets heated, I might step in early and ask that it remain constructive. Any kind of personal insult would be the definite line in the sand. Between those two points, it comes down to judgment. From there, I like to give people the chance to understand why something is inappropriate and give them the chance to come at it from a better angle.

  29. clotilde says:

    I’ve had occasional problems with hateful commenters in the past. The thread of comments would just turn into everyone pitching in to defend whomever had been attacked (me or another commenter), which was nice, but led nowhere — “don’t feed the troll” should be the golden rule.

    After one too many of those attacks, I switched to comment moderation mode, i.e. comments get published only after I approve them.

    I use Movable Type and have edited the “Comment Pending Template” to include the text below — I’m just posting it here in case someone wants to see different formulations:

    “Your comment has been received and will be published as soon as it is validated; there is no need to re-post your comment.

    All comments, whether positive or negative, are welcome as long as they are respectfully and constructively written. I will however withhold the publication of any comment that is hateful, hurtful, offensive, defamatory, threatening, inflammatory, baiting, or vulgar.”

  30. Steve says:

    I agree if you can’t say it to there face don’t say it at all.

    Steve

  31. Ray’s comment brings up an interesting question: How does everyone feel about editing comments before posting them?

    Another question I’d raise: Would you ever hold a comment in moderation and email the commentator to work out the issue if you felt you could turn the situation around?

  32. Hm. How come I get notification of comments before they even post on the thread? Strange… Well, Ray’s comment will show up eventually… I hope… but my questions still stand.

  33. Very nicely written and well thought out post!

    While I want the readers to be able to make comments and I don’t want to delete/moderate, some people do not understand that the comments section are for discussion, they are not a graffiti board, or a place to practice new swear word combinations. As the article states, those types of posts don’t provide any value to the readers, but instead generate a cloud of negativity over the blog and the readers.

    Those, along with spam, and thinly veiled ads-as-comments, I remove.

  34. DB Ferguson says:

    Here’s the Comment policy, posted in our Site FAQ:

    8) HEY, WHERE DID MY COMMENT GO???

    Due to the fact that I am a stickler about what shows up on my web site, I moderate comments. If the comment is pointless or negative (i.e. “Hey, loser, get a life.” or “Colbert suxxx”), it goes away. We are shiny happy fans here that want nothing more than to promote Colbert, praise and glory to his name, peace be upon him. We don’t allow cursing or excessive snarking in comments either. Is this biased censorship? You betcha. If you want to see posts with hateful and nasty comments, start your own site and encourage that kind of thing there. But we’re not doing that here. If you’re going to play here, play nice.

    If your post contains links to another site, I’ll check those sites out before I put the comment up. Comments from new commenters and comments with ANY LINKS WHATSOEVER are always moderated. This is to keep spambot posts from coming through, which happens often seeing as how my Akismet has caught over 127,000 pieces of comment spam since we first began this blog. If you post a comment that contains a link after the show airs, your comment may go into moderation until one of the staff of the blog wakes up and can approve the comment.

    Once you have been approved for your first comment, you shouldn’t have any comments go to moderation unless they contain links, although the staff reserves the right to delete or unapprove any offensive/inappropriate comments at any time. I also occasionally have accidentally approved a spam comments that said something simple like “wow” and once I approved them they spammed the heck out of the site until I blocked the IP. After doing this a few times, I changed my strategy a little, and if I suspect that a comment is from a spambot I will delete it. So try to add something of substance (so you don’t look like a spambot) and it will be approved easily.

    If there’s a link in the comment to another Colbert fan site that is not obscene or offensive in nature, I’ll post the comment. Heck, if the page is good enough, I’ll put a link of the fan site on my Web Links page. But if the link is some kind of advertisement or other gratuitous link, I will delete the comment. I’m going to do my best to stay ad-free for as long as I can afford it, and that includes free plugs in comments.

    I really do appreciate all support that I receive from comments. It lets me know that people are reading and enjoying the work that is done on this web page. So comment away! But if you’re a first-time commenter (or attach a link to your comment), be aware that there will be some lag time between the time you post and the time I authorize your comment.

  35. My neck is sore from all the nodding. Amen, amen, amen!

    My non-business blog gets about 1,300 hits per day and posters must register there. My much newer business blogs use the WordPress tool that require first time posters to get approval. Pretty painless and I’ve never had a spam problem with that.

    I also always sign my real name–which keeps me from getting TOO nasty.

    Alison Moore Smith

  36. Elise says:

    Hi DB Ferguson – I love it! I’ve been thinking about adding a sentence to mine that would discourage those who just leave a comment just to plug a product. At the moment, I label them spam and from then on they end up in the spam bucket.

  37. great008 says:

    very well said!!!

  38. Leon says:

    Well, I let a few of them through (offensive comments that is), but I deal with them personally. I find that they eventually go away.

  39. Andy Beard says:

    Other than all the terms about what is and isn’t allowed, you should also have something about license to use, moderate and possibly whether you intend to use them on other sites.

    For example I have seen people take comments or forum posts and use them as testimonials on sales letters in the past without specific permission.

  40. That sounds like an interesting bug you’ve discovered James – comment subscription alerts are being sent ahead of the appearance of the comment. Or, maybe it’s just a page cache thing…

    Meanwhile, editing comments! Of course! It’s your blog, treat it as such. I occasionally correct ambiguities caused by grammar problems and spelling mistakes. I usually also trim off the fat if a commenter has decided to, ahem, quote extensively from another site.

    db

  41. 66tx says:

    They now respect that separation and just talk on topic on the site, and go off-topic in the forum.

  42. @ David – no, not that kind of editing. A commentator named Ray (whose comment I have yet to see show up here but it’s still in my email – also, half of these comments are here but NOT in my email…) said that he freely edits words and sentences – ie, what he doesn’t feel appropriate – out of comments and then posts them.

    Does anyone here do that? Cut out the three sentences that complain about the blog but post the two that discuss something relevant?

  43. Marc Fiszman says:

    Checking if I’m still banned for making an “inappropriate” comment..

  44. (Saw this linked on ruhlman.com)

    Right on, Elise! Totally agree. Just thought I’d share the comment policy we have on Kimchi Mamas. Our blog is our baby–we don’t want jerks “spitting on” (love that) our baby!

    COMMENT POLICY

    We love comments, but several recent comments have been racist, irrelevant, and/or just plain bizarre. We are not Dear Abby, nor are we Match.com. We’re just a community of mothers writing about Korean identity, race, culture, and parenting. Please keep your comments respectful and on-topic…or fear the wrath of the Korean mother-in-law.

  45. Anyone who has been on the front page of Digg will surely know that they need a comment policy – and fast.

    I miss your business posts on your blog, Elise – it’s so great to get to read them here! Excellent and well written advice, as always! :)

  46. sam says:

    I am someone who had a a comment deleted by Elise way back when and I also received an email explaining why my comment was not welcome at her site and we had a lively conversation about it and we didn’t fall out over it or anything silly like that. I love Elise, I really adore her. She is a personal friend.

    The comment I left was a little bit cheeky and British just like me. It was my personality, it was my way and it was certainly something I would have said to her face. Elise explained her reasons for removing it and that was that.

    Even so, and here is the rub, I admit the incident still scars me today, over a year and a half later, I felt like a naughty child being scalded, and I don’t think I have dared to or felt comfortable leaving a comment on her blog again since.

    From the pro-blogger point of view, Elise still has 70,000 readers a day so I am not any great loss to her. But to all the pros out there, be aware, you have the power and power can hurt, even your friends. Use it wisely.

  47. Art says:

    Not sure that it matters much for a recipe blog. But, in my experience, opinion blogs become a dog’s lunch when comments are moderated. They’ll almost invariably ignore bad language and rule-breaking by those they agree with.

    Eventually, it becomes boring and there is little real debate and the blog becomes VERY top-heavy with people of one particular viewpoint.

    But, I’m a Troll so….

  48. RobG says:

    Most of the people who comment on my page I know somewhat. I fight a little spam at times but otherwise I have not had problems…I can’t wait until that starts happening.

  49. Sue says:

    @ James Chartrand re. “Another question I’d raise: Would you ever hold a comment in moderation and email the commentator to work out the issue if you felt you could turn the situation around?”

    Yes, I’ve done this: basically a commenter had made a good point, but in with it had made a very personal comment about a named individual who would have no opportunity to respond to the comment. I mailed the commenter and told them I couldn’t publish the comment as it stood, but if they wanted to make it less personal, I would post it. They edited; I posted. And the comment was a much better one, after he’d taken all the personal vitriol out of it too.

  50. I often contemplate the aftermath of posting something that I know will provoke emotion on either end of a spectrum. I think it even causes me to hold back a little at times, which in retrospect is not always a bad thing. I think savvy bloggers have a certain level of sophistication, or at least I’d like to think they do. I notice that the core audience of a particular blog kind of sets the tone for the comments to some degree. If you go to Perez Hilton and look at the comments, it’s like walking into a high school cafeteria.