Dealing with negative blog comments

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Allowing comments on your blog can be a great way to engage your readers, but there's always the chance that some of the comments will be negative. Because blog commenting is anonymous, people often end up saying things that they'd never say in person and it can be hard to deal with as a blogger.

Luckily we haven't seen anything too negative posted in the comments here, but a friend's blog recently got a very mean-spirited comment, and it got me thinking about how bloggers should respond. First, there are a few things you should know if/when your blog is attacked by anonymous commenters:

  • Don't take it personally - There's a popular internet meme based around the phrase "Haters gonna hate". Basically, there are a lot of bitter people on the internet and they enjoy criticizing others for no good reason. Don't take it personally. It doesn't have anything to do with you or your blog.
  • Don't get into an argument - The worst thing you can do when someone posts a negative comment is to sink to their level. Even if you're completely in the right (which you almost certainly are), there's nothing to be gained by bickering with commenters.
  • Negative comments can be a good thing - This isn't always the case, but sometimes negative comments create controversy which can be great for a blog. If you want to see an example of this, try reading the comments on any post by MG Siegler at TechCrunch. Every post he writes brings out the haters and trolls. But you know what? The more people that go on TechCrunch to complain about MG, the more money TechCrunch makes. Posts that stir up controversy are called "flame bait".

Now that we've got those thoughts out of the way, let's talk about what you can do about negative comments. The way I see it, there are three different ways to handle negative comments. Each one is appropriate in certain scenarios, so you'll have to decide what's right for you:

Strategy 1: Delete the negative comment
When someone posts something negative on your blog, you obviously have the option of deleting it completely. This is generally the right move if the comment is offensive, hateful, or otherwise inappropriate. Some negative comments are thoughtful or interesting, but some are complete filth and you should just delete them.

There are some big problems with deleting comments though. First off, it can hurt your credibility if it looks like you're censoring your readers. Also, it's almost impossible to stop the same commentor from coming back and leaving more comments. And you can bet that the comments will be even more negative if you deleted the first one without justification. Blogs are all about community and transparency, so you should really only delete comments if they really add nothing at all to the conversation. Don't delete comments just because they make you look bad.

Strategy 2: Ignore the comment
When someone says something mean to you in real life, the best response is generally to just ignore them. The same can be true with blog comments, but you need to make sure that other readers don't get the wrong idea when they see that you aren't responding. In my opinion, ignoring mean-spirited comments is generally the best strategy if you have a fairly popular blog with a large following. Let your supporters defend you in the comments so that you can keep your hands clean. If your blog doesn't get a lot of comments though, there's no guarantee that one of your readers will jump to your defense, so you probably need to get involved yourself. This brings us to the final strategy...

Strategy 3: Leave a polite, but firm response
The first two strategies are sometimes appropriate, but most of the time your best bet is to just face the comment head on. Other readers will see the negative comment and you should try to lessen the impact of it by personally responding in a reasonable and level-headed way. I obviously can't tell you exactly how to respond, but I suggest being polite, but still firm in your assertion that you don't agree with the negative comment.

99% of the time negative comments are left by crazy anonymous haters, so all you need to do with your response is make it clear they're crazy and you're not. You should accept criticism, but most negative comments are overreactions and you can highlight that by being calm and logical. Use phrases like "I guess it's not for everyone" or "Sorry you don't agree with my post" to strike the right balance between respect and authority. If you find the right tone, your mature and level-headed response will expose the original comment as childish and reactionary by comparison.

Of course you need to be careful that if you leave a response you aren't starting a fight. As I mentioned above, you can't possibly gain anything by arguing with your readers. It's ok to start a discussion, but just make sure you aren't encouraging even more negative posts.

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