The following post on dealing with blog hecklers was submitted by Jonathan Fields.
I was only a few weeks into my blogging adventure when I took my first very public thrashing at the feet of another much more established blogger. I’d written a round-up column, featuring insights from a wide variety of top bloggers on off-blog marketing.
A number of suggestions included developing relationships with more established bloggers. The very notion that anyone might connect with other bloggers, though, and derive some secondary marketing benefit really ticked off some hardcore traditionalists…and their really big followings.
In fact, one was so enraged, he posted a response to my article on his blog tearing not just into the content of the article and the people featured in it, but me, personally. And, while a number of his readers left comments on my blog, his comment section really caught fire.
I ended up being called names that, only three-weeks into blogging, made me seriously re-think whether I really wanted to keep going.
But, after stepping back, I decided to continue on and accept the fact that one of the elements of blogging that makes it so compelling is the opportunity for everyone to have a voice. And, sometimes that includes what I’ve come to call blog or comment-heckling.
If I was going to continue, I decided, I’d need to develop some reasonable framework for being able to categorize the different types of blog-heckling, then decide what was worth responding to and how.
Here’s what I came up with as my golden rule…
Try to get to the underlying intent of the commenter.
If you find yourself or your ideas being attacked in a comment or even a post on someone else’s blog, it’s important to try to understand what the commenter is trying to accomplish by voicing her/his opinion. This will go a long way toward letting you figure out how best to respond, if at all:
The genuine thrasher.
Some people literally spend the better part of each day looking for a fight. It makes them come alive. And, very often, with the added separation of the screen, people feel even freer to let loose online.
These folks often look to provoke a fight and seek an active response as fuel to escalate the fight. They’re less interested in a genuine conversation or debate and more interested in just venting, proving dominance and ranting.
A quick click over to their blog or search for comments they’ve left on other blogs will usually reveal this pattern on a broader level.
My advice, here, is to make a conscious choice, based on your temperament and what result you’d like to achieve. If you are someone who shies away from conflict, you may want to explore either ignoring the attack with reply or simply replying one time, responding only to any relevant point or arguments in a respectful way and leaving the conversation at that. If they feel to the need to escalate, just disengage.
If, however, you’ve got a bit more sass in your step and are someone who’s comfy with conflict, then go ahead and engage…BUT, take the higher ground, keep it civil and attack the issues, not the person. Yes, I know emotional fights and rants can drive traffic, but, in the end, the net result is not all that constructive.
The PR thrasher.
Similar to the above, but some folks will actually provoke a comment war in attempt to drive traffic or publicity to their own blog or website.
One big giveaway here would be to check out the heckler’s blog, then search on them, especially the link text they used in your comments and see if they are using this same tactic in other more highly-trafficked blogs.
If they consistently link back to a newer, less-trafficked blog when they leaves thrasher comments or have a pattern of leaving highly-provocative comments on other higher-traffic blogs, you’ve likely got a PR thrasher. My advice is to pretty much ignore them. The more engage, the more you give them what they want and more often they’ll return.
Similar to the genuine thrasher, some people just love to debate and, if they disagree with your point of view, they want the opportunity to be heard and have a discussion on the merits.
The difference between debaters and thrashers is a genuine desire to discuss an issue with a stronger emphasis on intelligent conversation and, if possible, resolution. It’s not about the fight, it’s not about abusing or disempowering anyone…it’s about the conversation.
You can usually tell the difference between the debater and thrasher by the tone of their language, their focus more on the message, rather than the messenger, and their openness to a continuing, civil discussion. It’s not about name-calling or belittling, it’s about exploring issues with respect.
Debaters can be great contributors to the community as well as help you refine your own point of view and learn new information.
Some people look at your comment-section as their weekly comic relief and chime in with jokes about you or your content. And, I have to admit, sometimes, they can be really funny and a welcome addition (or distraction from) the discussion.
Other times, though, they don’t really add anything, save an opportunity to hurl a bit of smack at either a blogger or another commenter.
I look at these comments on a case-by-case basis and, though I rarely ever delete any comment, if something is so irrelevant to the discussion, off-color or offensive that I think it genuinely adds nothing or, worse, propagates hate, I’ll seriously consider going beyond ignoring it to deleting it. Genuine hate, bigotry or prejudice is not something I want to provide a forum for.
Trust in the community.
A final thought. Once your community grows large enough, very often, if you give them enough time, your supporters and fans will rally to your cause in the comments. In fact, they may even engage a blog-heckler, where you’d rather have just let a comment die a slow, unacknowledged death. At that point, you have to decide whether to step back and gently moderate or take a more active role in the direction of the conversation.
In the end, it’s important to circle back to one critical understanding…
Compelling blogging requires a willingness to have and share a voice.
When you do that, you not only draw attention, you inspire conversation. And, there will always be people willing to oppose your point of view in a effort to further their agendas. Sometimes, those agendas are constructive. Other times, not. When this happens, it helps to have a strategy to deal with how and when to respond.
Over time, my guess is we all develop a set of comment-heckler coping tools that allow us to keep sharing strong opinions. Without those tools, it’s just too easy to slip into fluff in an effort ot avoid having to deal with any conflict.
And, by all means, if you have found any other techniques effective, please share them, along with your thoughts, in the comments. Heckle away!
image by Simon Kimber