Crafting the Ideal Business Blog Comment Strategy

After working in the computer industry for decades, I’m used to the most seemingly benign topic exploding into a passionate – and sometimes even vitriolic – debate, from which editor you use to what operating system, programming language to which HTML mark-up standard you work towards.
In the blogging world, surprisingly, the big debate isn’t about what blogging tool to use, and it’s not about design or layout. It’s not really even about whether to include advertising or not, as far as I can tell. The two big hot-buttons are about RSS feeds, whether to have a “full feed” or a “partial feed”, and about your blog comment policy.
In this article, I’m going to talk about the latter topic, and I promise I’ll address RSS feeds in a different piece (and at length in my Blogging 101 workshop at Blog Business Summit).

First off, let me state categorically that I believe it’s critical that all business blogs allow comments to be added by readers. Without it, you miss out on the ability to establish a dialog and have only made the smallest step from a static Web site. It’s still The Voice of The Company, and visitors still have no ability to add their perspective or response, it’s just a different tool in play.
Some business blogs don’t allow comments, notably Clip ‘n Seal News, but they’re the rare exception because much of the most interesting content comes from the comments, not the original article. After all, even the best writer can only represent one primary point of view, so how do you learn about other perspectives if not from the addition of material from people who disagree?
The debate, however, isn’t about whether or not to allow comments. Just about every business blogger I know recommends enabling comments as a best practice, in fact.
The debate is about whether to edit, censor, screen or modify comments. Indeed, the very language of the debate informs us of the passion behind the scenes: “censor” is only loosely applicable in this situation, and while people argue “freedom of the press” and other so-called Constitutional arguments, they don’t actually apply to a private publication such as a blog, with no obligation or legal requirement to represent all perspectives and publish the views of all readers.
This question is nonetheless critical to consider before you launch your own business blog, however: are you going to leave all comments pristine, untouched, and let obscenities, fallacious arguments, racism, sexism, and other offensive writing stand or fall on its own merits, or are you going to edit and control your content?
In fact, there are more nuances to this discussion anyway, because I don’t know any serious blogger who allows every comment to stand, because their site would promptly be overrun by spammers adding nonsensical comments about Viagra and gambling sites or subverted into a discussion venue for lowlifes or criminals.
So in fact, there’s a continuum at work here, a scale where on one end people allow everything, don’t blacklist, don’t filter spam, don’t remove duplicate comments, don’t touch anything, and at the other end of the scale where they tightly edit and screen all comments, only allowing those that agree or represent specific alternative viewpoints. Probably, you’d be hard pressed to find an example on either end of this comment permissibility continuum, because we’re all somewhere in the middle.
This helps illuminate the discussion because it helps clarify that when bloggers say “I leave all comments” they really mean “I leave all relevant, on-topic comments.” They’re on that continuum. And when other bloggers say “I control the comments on my site and sometimes reject comments” they too are on that continuum.
My counsel on the subject is closer to the latter than the former view, perhaps surprisingly. I’m a strong advocate of dissenting opinions and a healthy debate, and I am okay – perhaps a bit begrudgingly – if subsequent comments pick apart an argument of my own and make me look less than omniscient (just don’t tell my kids, okay?)
I believe, however, that if a blog has a recognizable business sponsor or individual shepherd, then everything on the blog has an implied ownership, a brand identity, of that owner.
If I were to read a Nike blog, for example, and read ongoing discussion of how sweatshops were actually good for Southeast Asian economies, I’d take that as a viewpoint that Nike tacitly endorsed by retaining the entries on its site. A follow-on from someone at Nike saying “we don’t agree at all.” just wouldn’t cut it. A discussion of this nature would far more appropriately belong on a separate forum not run or paid for by Nike.
And maybe that’s where the proverbial rubber hits the road here: business blogs are an expense paid by the marketing, customer service, or public relations arm of a company. In that light, I believe it’s quite reasonable for the company to constantly ask “Is the addition of this content going to make us a more successful company? Are we going to sell more stuff? Attract more customers? Appeal to investors?” WIthout those questions, a business blog is a corporate initiative gone horribly awry, and will quickly morph into something that is not in the best interest of the company and a disservice to its employees and shareholders.
I have always counseled companies to consider their business blog an interactive magazine that they’re publishing and managing for the benefit of their customers, market segment, and shareholders. This makes it easy to decide whether someone calling your blogger, or CEO, a jerk is submitting a comment worth retaining.
If you don’t agree, ask this question: when you read the Letters to the Editor at a publication like Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal or The New Republic, do you seriously think that they’ve just pulled in the first four or five letters received, and reproduced them unedited? Of course not.
The same holds true for business blogs. Personal blogs live at almost all possible points along the comment permissibility continuum, but business blogs need to be more controlled, more limited, and more tightly edited so as to ensure that they serve the greatest possible value for the company.

24 comments on “Crafting the Ideal Business Blog Comment Strategy

  1. Customers are going to talk anyway. I’d prefer to have open comments (relevant and on-topic).
    A concern is how quick the trigger finger is when editing comments. Filtering comments to fast stiffles customer advocacy.
    Though new to blogging, I was heavily involved in online communities during the rush. Sometimes, the community came to the rescue faster than managment…and it made the relationships stronger.

  2. Very good analysis, Dave, a post of great value.
    But your captcha math is getting too easy. I bet even spambots know that 2 plus 2 is 6 1/2. Ha!
    I don’t delete any comments except (1) comment spam, which is not a real “comment” anyway but is a link ad to a possibly malicious site (2) filthy language, sexist, racist, vile, you know the kind (3) totally irrelevant or nonsensical, like “Dude!” or “What?” or other silly things, can’t think of actual example from my site at the moment.
    Are you SERIOUS??? Are there really blogs that delete disagreements? Those blogs should be taken down and removed from the blogosphere. That’s utter crud.
    I’m glad you are opposed to the sermon pulpit unilateral one way broadcast blogs. I hate them all, unless they’re a link log, like Jorn Barger’s Robot Wisdom.
    Your blog is getting better lately, a lot more interesting, my friend. Keep it up.

  3. It shows in your blog that have good values. If a blogger represents a company then he or she should make sure the company values show through in the blog and/or blog comments. It makes sense to me. Thanks for reinforcing the idea.

  4. Intriguing. On the flip side, at least somewhat flip side, is that many corporations encourage feedback, good and bad, from their customers. Can’t recall what company it was, maybe Sprint, but an individual had set up, or some such site because of the bad service they had received, and encouraged visitors to post their own bad comments about “Sprint” on the site. Sprint ended up buying the site and keeping it live, and used it to improve their service.

  5. Hey, Dave.
    Thanks for the informative post on blogging. I totally agree with you – every business or business person should consider at least, creating and running a blog. I believe Web 2.0 is here to stay.
    Allowing comments is great too. I think it DOES promote dialogue and thus ‘relationship’. I feel like I already in some strange way know you Dave. LOL
    You state, “…I believe it’s critical that all business blogs allow comments to be added by readers”.
    Dave, what are your thoughts on the whole ‘no-follow’ thing? Using this anchor attribute to prevent search engine spiders from following links in those blog comments?
    What are your thoughts?

  6. Appreciate the forum and couldn’t agree more with your comment for companies to “consider their business blog an interactive magazine that they’re publishing and managing for the benefit of their customers and market segment”. I have a training and business development firm and it has proved to be a great tool. Perhaps I”ll give more consideration to the comments and open forum such as you have suggested.

  7. Wow, thanks for your great information. I am impressed by reading your article. these points are very useful. this site is looking very nice. thanks for sharing this!!!!!!!!!! 🙂

  8. Interesting post Dave.
    Like you I tend to sway toward the middle ground. If you have a business /blog then there’s a good possibility you are trying to generate income from that blog. To generate income you need visitors and we all know Google loves not only relevant content but also content that attracts plenty of comments.

  9. I use blogging and comments to keep my clients up to date and happy. I run a dental insurance company, and I think it’s important to gather opinions…good and bad.

  10. Hey, Dave.
    Thanks for the informative post on blogging. I totally agree with you – every business or business person should consider at least, creating and running a blog. I believe Web 2.0 is here to stay.

  11. I totally agree that comments should be allowed on business blogs, and I would even go as far as saying that I may not read a blog if I can see that there is no opportunity to leave a comment. I’m not interested in a 1-way discussion. Of course I will not always leave a comment, but it’s nice to know I can join into the discussion if I’m interested in the topic. When I leave a comment I also like to have follow-up comments sent to me in email… I can see that “editing” comments is a hot debate, and I guess it’s up to the individual organisation to decide which is the best strategy for them regarding comments and editing.

  12. You have examined blog commenting in the best way. It’s really nice to know that even some bad or negative comments may be good (at some point)…
    Thanks for this constructive article and sharing it in web world…
    Danny Higson

  13. Excellent! Thanks for sharing. As examining the best way of blog commenting, for me I would prefer those positive comments. But somehow, we need to accept others criticisms, because it could help us improve our performance.

  14. Sorry to jump on this bandwagon so late with the post. The biggest issue I have with comments is more about the methods of commenting. With spam, captcha tends to be on lots of blogs, and that just puts me off commenting at all.
    As well as having comments, the comment system needs to be really simple to use. Quite often we’re restricted to using a few social media accounts to comment, and again, that puts me off as it is really frustrating to write a comment, only to find I can’t post it as they only accept disqus, wordpress or facebook accounts etc.

  15. Nice post regarding blog strategy, something we’ve been debating internally at my company. Thanks for sharing,

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