How to Deal with Comments (Both Good and Bad)

More and more, webdesigners and developers are running sites that allow users to comment on articles (such as this blog). This provides a miniature forum experience for the users, and a valuable form of feedback for the content author.

…Well, at least it CAN be valuable, if you know how to extract useful information from those comments. But the process of dealing with comments, even if they are positive and encouraging, can be overwhelming for content authors who are new to the process.

Thus, I have a few tips for handling comments of all sorts, mainly garnered from my own experience as a content author over the last nine years.

Positive/Supportive Commentary: Do’s and Don’t’s

Do:

  • Thank the commenter for their input
  • Visit the commenter’s website, if they have one, and leave a positive/supportive comment on one of their articles, or in a guestbook

Don’t:

  • Ignore or fail to acknowledge the positive comment at all

With positive commentary, it’s pretty easy to handle; we all like getting virtual “pats on the back” for our efforts. Most times, thanking the person and returning the comment favor on their site can be enough. (And who knows, you might find that you and the positive commenter can affiliate or link-exchange, helping to give each other a little traffic.)

Critical/Politely Disagreeing Commentary: Do’s and Don’t’s

Do:

  • Thank the commenter for participating in the discussion
  • Try to answer the points which are being disputed/criticized, in a polite and brief manner
  • Keep the tone of your responding comment positive rather than negative

Don’t:

  • Immediately leap into personal attacks on the critical commenter
  • Delete the critical comment or block its author
  • Bad-mouth the commenter on other websites

Despite our best intentions as content authors, when we write opinion pieces, there are always going to be people whose opinions differ from ours. Differing opinions are okay, as long as all involved parties keep it civil and stick to expanding and fleshing out the topic at hand.

When someone has taken the time to politely disagree with you, and has explained why they have a different opinion, it’s important to answer them as thoroughly as you can, and to thank them for providing a different perspective. Remember, other readers of your blog can be enriched by a balanced group of perspectives, so the critical commenter might actually be doing you a favor!

Abusive/Inflammatory Commentary: Do’s and Don’t’s

Do:

  • Ask the abusive commenter politely to stop what they’re doing
  • Delete their commentary, especially if it is bothering other users
  • Block their IP address from accessing your site, if nothing else works

Don’t:

  • Argue with the abusive commenter back and forth for too long
  • Reduce yourself to their level by making abusive comments back to them
  • Recruit other people to harass them, either on your site or elsewhere on the Internet

Unfortunately, there are some people in this world who thrive on a good debate…except that they define debate as “ticking off everybody on the Internet and having a good laugh at the results.” Rather than being a source for a balanced perspective or polite dissent, the abusive commenter lives to make conflict, spam hateful messages, and incite anger wherever they can.

Deal with them as politely as you can at first; do not mistake a critical commenter for an abusive one, whatever you do. But if the comments the person leaves are taking the focus completely away from the topic, or if they are just hateful spam, then you as the content author (and website owner) need to take action to ensure that everyone who visits your site has a positive overall experience. (Blocking their IP address is a drastic step, but it may be best for everyone involved.)

Summary

Writing for the web means that you’ll be getting commentary of all sorts from others. Learning how to respond to each type of commentary (supportive, critical, and abusive) can help you maintain a better relationship with your users and a better atmosphere for your site.

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