Blog Moderation & Damage Control

A year ago, on January 06, 2008, I wrote and posted “Do NOT Tamper With Your Comments!”. At the time, I offered “Turn On Moderation” as an alternative:

Bill: “Turn On Moderation – Make it so that NOBODY’S comments make it to personalblog or widgetblog unless YOU approve them. That way, when everything ends up positive, you just look like you spun the situation by only letting the comments through that you liked. This is DIFFERENT from changing people’s posts because there’s never anything negative for people to see in the first place, AND dissenting comments don’t become agreeing comments with the same person’s name on the top, posted at the exact same time.”

I wrote that line at a time when I wasn’t doing a lot of commenting on other people’s blogs. I hadn’t achieved a perception of the potential effects of “You *just* look like you spun the situation by only letting the comments through that you liked” on people who visit your blog and make comments that never get approved. Let me tell you about it.

Initial Perception

Mike, Kfir & BillInitially, when I check out a blog for the first time, I’m thinking that the person who wrote the posts is looking for A DISCUSSION. I’m thinking that if they didn’t want A DISCUSSION, they would have turned off comments.

Actually, one of the very first times I ever posted on someone else’s blog, it was a dating blog and the woman had written flawed advice. With my naive way of thinking about blogs as sort of “personally-hosted forums”, I wrote a nice long comment about what was incorrect about her ideas. To her credit, she emailed me my words, when she could have just deleted them. Hats Off to her for that. 🙂 My ideas could have been lost in space, because I had written them directly to her blog entry form. Last time I ever did *THAT*.

She emailed me my words and explained to me that she wasn’t going to host my ideas about her post on HER site, and if I wanted to, I should place them on MY site. At the time, I wasn’t hip to trackbacks and pingbacks. I had a short email discussion with her expressing my opinion that I thought she was lame for having a blog and ONLY approving comments that made her look good. Pretty soon after that, I found out that this is pretty much status quo. She represents the mainstream and I’m “odd man out” on this issue.

So I approach blogs that are new to me with the naive perception that what I’m looking at represents reality. I feel like the blog post itself is the same blog post that people responded to in the comments and hasn’t been altered after the fact, unless a note is placed there, saying what the edit was. I also assume that the comments represent the honest and factual response of “the community” to the post.

Moderation Experiment

Bill & SylviaThis weekend, I got to experiment with the much-discussed faux pas (which many have termed *BLUNDER* or worse) which I’ve seen called “MemphisGate” (so funny!) or the TheKeyInfluencer situation. You can read about the actual events here, but the point is that A LOT OF PEOPLE felt like putting their two cents in on this situation, which meant I got to post on a bunch of blogs I’ve never heard of before.

Most of my comments went right through, without moderation. Some of them landed in moderation and were eventually approved. Others landed in moderation and then never saw the light of day.

When this happens… When your posts “disappear”, there could be several reasons for this:

  1. It was the weekend, and the human moderator only pays attention to their site during weekdays = EPIC FAIL
  2. The software never sent out the notification that there was a new comment in moderation
  3. The human moderator gets too much email, etc to be able to handle everything = EPIC FAIL
  4. The human moerator didn’t think they would LOOK GOOD with your comment on their page, OR they knew damned well that they didn’t have a rebuttal to what you said, so they chose not to approve your comment.

There are more possibilities, but let’s consider how someone might perceive you IF they choose to believe that you didn’t allow your post on their site because it makes them look bad or brings up points they never considered and have no counter-argument against….

All of a sudden, your site is now a show. It’s spin. It’s not an honest representation of “the community”‘s thoughts about what you posted. There’s no need to read your comments, because the best we can hope for is HALF of the story. It’s like reading the recommendations section on linkedin. The only comments there are going to be BENEFICIAL to that person.

So now, we have to wonder WHY you’re only accepting SOME comments and rejecting others. Is it that you really didn’t think out what you posted, and you’re not prepared to intelligently debate it? hmmmmmm……

Like I said in “Social Media Experts? (SMEs)”, there are a lot of DERIVATIVE posters on the internet. Basically what they do is Ambulance-Chase and blog about whatever the current hot topic is in hopes that they might get some traffic. Apparently, we’re living in a “me too” culture, where people see a chance and then hop on the bandwagon and go ME TOO! ME TOO! without really having anything intelligent to ADD to the discussion. The problem with doing that is that when people bring up things you never considered and that you have NO REBUTTAL FOR because you stole someone else’s ideas in the first place, you can’t say ANYTHING without looking even worse, so the best deal is to make sure that post is never seen at all on your site.

What Difference Does This Make?

The reason this is important is that discussions jump off immediately on the internet, and then you have a small window of time to get your two cents in before people forget about it entirely and move on to the next instant scandal. If someone says “I don’t like X” and then you type “This is why X happened” and hit enter and then see “Your comment is awaiting moderation” and then your comment never sees the light of day, you’ve wasted the time it took you to think up and write that post… AND you may have lost the idea ENTIRELY if the comment’s never approved. Even if your comment shows up two days later… It’s too late. The conversation’s already over. People have already decided that you didn’t have anything to say.

So… While the blog poster gets to look self-righteous because he or she said what they said and gathered a bunch of comments which either agree wholeheartedly, offer neutral points or offer “softball” negative points which the blog owner can easily knock back out of the park, the person who the story was about and the people who don’t see things the way the blog owner does are SOL.

From the side of the blog owner, it’s important to note that you’re losing credibility when people realize you’re just gathering positive statements about yourself. We start to wonder how many OTHER people posted comments that disagreed with you and were deleted… Did they actually OUTNUMBER the positive comments you allowed through moderation? One never knows…

The Solution

David & BillInitially, I was going to write this post as a fruitless campaign to get people who moderate their comments to SAY. SO. ABOVE. THE. COMMENT. BOX. so we can avoid wasting time posting something that isn’t going to be seen while the point’s being hotly contested.

Personally, I would LOVE to have that warning so I could:
a) read the post,
b) NOT read any of the positively-skewed comments and
c) move on to the next blog ASAP.

Some people REALLY aren’t diligent about monitoring their blogs, and in fact, their blogs aren’t important to them, but actually something peripheral OR even merely an extension of their job. There has to be a better solution than WONDERING whether your post is going to be approved SOON or AT ALL.

The solution is to have your own Public Relations Machine well oiled and ready to roll at a moment’s notice.

This way, regardless of where or when something jumps off that you need to address, people who decide to Google your name can find out where you represent yourself on the net and go there right now to find out if you’ve made any responses to the current “tempest in a teacup” (hahaha What a great term! 😀 ).

A good combination of blogging, microblogging and videoblogging or perhaps live streaming would serve this purpose very well.

If the problem’s on Twitter, address it there, leaving “@-comments” for people whose attention need to be called to the fact that you’ve responded in a decisive and timely manner.

If the problem’s on someone’s blog, write your own blog post and make sure you include a trackback to their site. If their site doesn’t accept trackbacks, leave a comment on their site with a link to your site. Unfortunately, you run back into the same “I don’t want dissenting ideas on my blog” issue, but even if your comment and link aren’t approved, you’re still self-expressed and your ideas are still SOMEWHERE on the net for people to find if they care to search for more information about the situation.

There are lots of live streaming solutions to choose from. My current weapon of choice is Ustream (even though I hope they VASTLY improve their co-hosting setup), because it’s quick to set up, rock solid for signal reliability IME (several times, I’ve been “on the air” for six hours at a time without incident) and people don’t have any issues watching from The UK, France, Israel, The USA… AND they’re working on an app to make Ustream available on iPhones, which is going to be a game-changer, for sure. 😀

The obvious benefit of being able to “go live” at any time is that anyone who’s interested can make their way on over to your site and hear your explanation “straight from the horse’s mouth”. Also, new posts will be popping up even as you speak, so interested parties can find them, link them in the text chat and the discussion can jump off onto that tangent.

That’s not a good solution for everyone, though haha.. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you’ll probably end up looking WORSE instead of BETTER by live streaming, so if that’s the case, skip audio & video and stick to text where you can craft your ideas, PROOFREAD THEM and run them by assiociates or advisors before you post them to the WORLD. WIDE. WEB. 😀

~Bill Cammack

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  1. Interesting, detailed post. I personally only remove comments on my blog posts that are insulting or plain rude that target me. If they disagree with what i say they tend to stay as they might carry some good advice. If i’m honest, i use my blog as a “yellow post it note” to unload my thoughts so that someone else might be able to run with them.

    I simply do not have the time or funds to do them all! 🙂

    1. Thanks, Phil. 🙂

      You’re talking about REMOVAL as opposed to MODERATION… Well, to be more accurate, you’re speaking about moderation after the fact vs comments being HELD IN MODERATION until a human being approves the comment or doesn’t.

      I’m 100% down with after-the-fact moderation, because it doesn’t interrupt the flow of the conversation, and, like you said, you get to take out things that simply aren’t relevant to the conversation. Whether someone agrees with me or disagrees, there’s no reason for them to be unnecessarily demeaning towards someone. There’s no reason that I should support or sanction someone just talking yang about someone else and not sticking to the facts of why they dislike the situation.

      As far as your “yellow post-it note” style, I’m similar in that I think about what I want to post ahead of time and then I put it out here for people to absorb, consider and then comment if they so choose. I have way more back-channel and IRL discussions about everything that I post, because some people like to give you their opinions in private, or at least amongst our circle of friends, rather than putting it on the internet for any ole “randoms” to peruse.

      But yeah. I’m all for “moderation” after the fact, in terms of keeping the conversation focused and relevant (and to a degree respectful, even though sometimes people need to be disrespectful to get their point across effectively).

  2. There I go again living in my idealistic world, thinking that comments are on blogs for people to offer their opinion and not have it spun. Oh well, welcome to the real world. Appreciate the knowledge.

    1. Hey Soulpowr. 🙂

      It’s rather disappointing when you find out stuff like this. It gets pretty obvious when people post things that YOU know are entirely off the wall, and you know that OTHER PEOPLE feel the same way and read that blog, yet you never see any comments from those people (or anybody, for that matter) that go AGAINST the gist of the post.

      It goes from a feeling of “the community agreed with what they said” to a feeling of “they’re trying to trick me into BELIEVING that the community agreed with what they said”. Not good.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Andrew. 🙂

      That’s another good point. I try to keep my blog about 90%-95% “swear word”-free… meaning my own words that I write & post. For that reason, I would feel the urge to edit egregious/unnecessary cursing in any comments I received.

      Similarly, as I mentioned before.. This isn’t the location for commenters to air their personal beefs with other commenters. 🙂 Take that off-line or to your own blogs or to the back-channel gossip zone.

      The 5%-10% difference that I find in my writing is when I’m just not personally satisfied that I’m honestly self-expressed unless I use the curse words in my statement(s). Even then, I like to attempt to excuse myself ahead of time, hahaha for whatever THAT’S worth. 😀

  3. Good stuff, Bill!

    Like Phil, I’ve never used comment moderation. On especially rare occasions, I have removed a comment that was plainly just spam or a purely self-serving and non-relevant link to someone else’s site. But I’m so grateful for ANY comments my blog gets – contentious or otherwise – that I’d never dream of doing anything to hamper that. It’s bad enough that Blogger handles comments so much less elegantly than WordPress…

    Slightly off-topic but still worth stating, commenting on other’s blogs is part & parcel of being a good, responsible netizen. Perhaps blogging should be reward enough all on it’s own, but comments are the surest validation you can give a blogger.

    1. Thanks, Rob. 🙂

      You bring up a couple of interesting points. Personally, the only comments that I get that I don’t respond to are comments that a) don’t require a response, and b) comments that I never saw. I rely on email notification to tell me that someone posted. Sometimes, they don’t send me an email and I only see comments when someone new responds to the same post.

      I’m not a fan of bloggers that just put stuff out there and then never interact with their commenters. As you mentioned, commenting is part of being a good netizen. The reward for people being that way SHOULD be responding to or at least acknowledging their comments… Just like it’s common courtesy to say “thank you” when someone says “bless you” after you sneeze.

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