A while back I discovered a or law blog with some content I found interesting so I subscribed. After reading a couple of posts I commented on one and then an interesting thing happened…The author, a criminal defense attorney, introduced me to a strategy for handling commenters on his site I’ve yet to encounter. It works something like this:
- Comments must be approved to be published.
- However, (at least my) comments are always approved, with a response from the author.
- Finally, (at least my) comments are universally treated with disdain.
I can’t tell you how many blogs I’ve taken an occasional interest in over the years. I usually forget about them pretty quickly because, let’s face it, there’s a lot of material out there. But the approach outlined above is awfully magnetic to my personality. I’m guessing it works on me because I always wanted to have a voice at the grown up’s table when I was a kid.
However, to suggest this is a strategy may simply be giving the blog’s owner too much credit. For a strategy to exist there must be forethought and calculation, as opposed to what amounts to little more than a curmudgeon, responding reflexively to younger, and/or less experienced audiences fumbling around him with a steady stream of discourteous insults and admonitions.
Aside from how I personally feel about the author’s treatment, I’m a web content strategist and this approach of treating readers like pests, and some other details are interesting from a professional perspective. For instance, he has taken the time to post his commenting rules and most of them make sense, if not a bit heavy handed…But there’s one underneath the comment authoring section that is simply wrong-headed:
“This is my home and I make the rules.”
Previously, I would have thought the problem with this statement, aside from the grandiosity, is self-explanatory. But perhaps, for older bloggers who are not digital natives, something is not so clear: Sharing one’s thoughts and ideas on a website with no password protection is not the equivalent of having a conversation at a private dinner party. It is the equivalent of standing in a public square with a megaphone. It is to be expected that occasionally someone who happens by is going to pay attention. If it makes the broadcaster unhappy that passersby may even want to discuss those things being shared in public, there is certainly no better example of the roots of unhappiness lying in the delta between expectation and reality.
Of course, a blogger is completely within their rights to ignore unwanted comments. I am a blogger who has, at times, enjoyed very large audiences with some commenters willing to share wildly variant and sometimes deviant perspectives, I can tell you that it is sometimes the best policy to avoid feeding the trolls, no matter how much they increase your engagement score. However, if I do choose to engage readers with a response, shouldn’t the basic rules of civility apply, whether I like what they have to say or not?
Who is to say what the right way to behave in public is? I’ve certainly vacillated in my own ability to behave according to how I think others should. But if a blogger’s goal is to be memorable and retain readers I can no longer advise my own clients, in good faith, that the only approach is to leave out a bowl of honey.