After reading some of the commenting hubbub here, and after a quick exchange with mister Jeremy Pepper on Twitter, I realized that I should weigh in on my take on comments and how a company should think about moderating their community conversations.
First, we should take a moment to appreciate that people like Pepsi are putting themselves out there for commentary. I’m sure they won’t be thrilled to see that lots of people complaining about the design, but maybe they should be. Because at least in this medium, we’ve captured it. People can see it, turn it over in their heads, pass it around the team. I think it’s a great way to see what’s really out there versus a survey. With that said, here’s more.
It’s Not Wrong to Protect Your Living Room
First, to the advocates of “unfiltered all the time,” I say bull—. Oh, did I censor myself? Meet me in person and you’ll realize that I curse like a sailor. I do it for effect some times. But do I curse on my blog? Not often, because I want your bosses (you?) to be able to read it and not get turned off.
Think of your corporate communications channel as a living room with a six year old girl in it. Here’s one to use for visualization:
Now, with her in mind, let’s make sure that you don’t permit vulgarity in your public forum. This isn’t a stead fast rule, but it’s a great way to think about the tone you want to set. I, personally, don’t want to be involved in any conversations in the public eye, that I couldn’t have with my daughter standing there with me. Is there a time and a place for spittle and rage? Sure! Politics comes right to mind. But it’s not the tone I’d choose to set with a corporation, so I’m going to stick with the six-year-old-in-the-living-room yardstick. Fair?
What does have to be allowed, however, is dissent and discourse.
You handle this by turning on comment moderation. If you choose this, however, you must have a fast response time for posting comments. This can’t be a “check it when you can” chore for an intern.
Allow for Dissent and Discourse
People might not agree with your every word. They might hate your new design. They might think you’re evil. They might say you’re a bully. Whenever the argument isn’t exactly rude, vulgar, or legally slanderous, leave it there. Acknowledge it. Don’t feel that you have to genuflect or beg forgiveness (unless you’re wrong), but acknowledge it. Something like this would suffice:
“Thanks for your perspective, Karen. You clearly don’t like the new design. We hope it grows on you, but you’re proof that we can’t please everyone. Do you like what’s in the can?”
It’s human. It’s direct. It acknowledges, and it doesn’t feel like a company line.
If You’re Going to Moderate
Be fast about it. If it takes four hours to see a comment in a thread, that’s too long. Don’t relegate this to the intern’s position, but don’t make this a legal roller coaster. Put someone who’s an obvious advocate and reasonably intelligent person in place, and then put two or three more. Not sure where to find that person? If you still do customer service in-house, use one of them, the advocate types. If not, then look for someone within the org who can be a human on your behalf. If not that, you might look at some kind of community manager outreach company or evangelist. Hire someone like Connie Bensen, for instance.
Velocity of comments is something we online folks pay attention to, and so should you.
Yes, Virginia, There Are Off-Topic and “Bad” Comments
Where you might disagree with me most is here: I think it’s okay to remove really off-topic comments from a corporate blog. I’m talking “really” off-topic. If your corporate blog is about marine parts and boating supplies, and their comment is about how Barack Obama is a scary man and must be stopped, feel free to delete. By free, let me qualify.
I’d recommend an email directly to the person’s submitted email name with your reasons for deleting. This will do one of two things: get that person to comment appropriately from then on, or it will spur them to send you an angry stream of comments that will forever scar the eyes of your reviewers.
You might disagree. You might say, “let the chips fall where they may.” But the thing is this: the audience who’s chosen to engage with the blog isn’t there with carte blanche to do what they wish. This is a chosen engagement. This is a relationship point. It’s NOT the right place for every interaction with an organization. It’s a place.
Just like Frank Eliason isn’t the right guy to bug about Net Neutrality, not every corporate blog is the outlet for your every gripe about a product, industry, or the way of the world.
And further, think about this for a moment: if every time a big company launches a blog, they get nothing but diatribe in return, do you think we’re doing a great job as digital natives of welcoming them to the conversation? I’m saying no. You tell me what you think in my non-edited (but for spam) comments section. Okay?
So that’s my take. There are probably other best practices out there, but these are mine. What do you think we should add? What other questions do you have? Don’t be afraid. It’s fun to learn together!
Photo credit, Hamed Saber