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Blog comments: what to do when they just don’t like you

Angry cat must be heard! Photo by Guyon Morée.

Having addressed reader reviews in the last post, I now move on, AS PROMISED, to blog comments. I am nothing if not trustworthy! You can let me hold your bag when you go to the ladies’ room! Or men’s room! Whichever!

Why do you have so many pens in your bag? And why do none of them work?

Now. Blog comments on your blog (that part is important*) are an entirely different animal from reader reviews, in that 1) they are meant for you, and therefore 2) it is appropriate, and often necessary, for you to respond to them. If you’ve enabled comments, it means you want feedback and discussion among your readers. You’re part of your community, so you should get in there as well.

You can’t control what your readers think, and this is both unfortunate and fortunate. Unfortunate in that sometimes a reader will dislike what you said or simply dislike you, and that can sting. Fortunate in that if you could control your reader’s thoughts we’d all be living in some creepy dystopia where you control everything, and you’d probably like that, LITTLE MS. CONTROL FREAK. God! What’s your blog? I’m going to go write an angry comment on it.

It’s pretty obvious what to do when your commenters love you or at least respect you and want you to respond to their comments: you respond, right? (Unless they’re demanding your home address and/or your blood type. You might want to demur in that case.) It’s all quite simple, until that day, the one where you finally get it: the unhappy commenter. The reader who thinks you suck. The person who knows you are an utter fraud and liar and kitten-kicker and calls you on it.

Congratulations!

Listen, if no one cared you wouldn’t have received a comment like this. Either the commenter is annoyed (but cares enough to share his or her annoyance) OR either people care about you and that really gets this commenter’s goat, so he/she had to lash out. Pretty much every blogger who’s read by more people than her immediate family will deal with criticism, in one form or another. It’s okay. It’s all going to be okay. There, there.

Now that you’ve gone for a walk and maybe petted a cat for a while (if you like cats), ask yourself a few questions. Like so:

1. Does the reader have a valid point?

Try to separate the tone from the content of the comment. Sometimes people who otherwise mean well blurt out a comment in the heat of the moment. Even nice, otherwise faithful readers have their impulsive days. Instead of reacting to the tone, take a minute to think: Is there some truth in what your reader is saying?

If there’s any truth, it’s likely that other people are thinking the same thing–they’re just too nice or confrontation-averse to say so. You should probably thank this commenter, for your sake as well as all those other, silently agreeing readers.

Now, the truth might be subjective, but if you can see some way that your commenter might be right, it’s worth acknowledging. This can disarm your commenter, and you’ll feel better. You’ve just turned around something you first saw as an attack: now it’s an opportunity to clarify.

You don’t have to roll over and take it, of course. Maybe your reader is dead wrong, if sincere and well-meaning. In that case, respond accordingly. But remember: at least the person cared enough to (incorrectly) contribute. Be nice!

If the reader is, say, calling you a murderer because you mentioned eating a burger last week, then vigorously roll your eyes and move on to question #3.

2. If you wrote something in error, can it be fixed?

Can you fix your error? If yes, then do. That’s the great thing about blogs: you can always go back and make it right. (It’s considered good form to acknowledge that you’re making a correction, instead of erasing the original mistake and pretending it never happened. This will help the original commenter feel affirmed and also not insane.)

3. Does this comment have anything to do with you at all?

It might take time for this to become clear, but having a friend read the comment and provide some perspective can help. Sometimes it really has nothing to do with you. A person is having a bad day, he’s surfing around the web, he stumbles on your blog and something turns him off–and he lets it ALL out. Sometimes people arrive on your blog with some other agenda. One phenomenon I’ve seen a lot is commenters feeling that because you have many commenters who all seem to like you, they have to correct the balance somehow by assuring you that you are not as great as you undoubtedly think you are. Sometimes a reader will really hate your commenters and lash out accordingly. All too often, their comment doesn’t have much to do with you.

Of course sometimes it is personal, and they just don’t like you (or, to be more specific, your blog). Either way, there’s not much you can do. Back to question #2, then: can you fix it?  This is a terrible idea, and most likely a waste of time. Write for the people who do like you, and ignore the others. (If no one seems to like you, I’m not sure what to say. Maybe see a therapist?)

4. Is this commenter disrupting the thread?

Is this commenter mouthing off on your blog solely to stir up trouble and disrupt the proceedings? If so, it may be time to delete and/or block. If nothing is being contributed AND the person is disruptive, it’s best to remove him or her. Otherwise you’re wasting everyone’s time.

*Remember this asterisk? Well, it went HERE. Occasionally you might find another place on the Internet where people are discussing how much they dislike you. Congratulations again! You have truly arrived. This sucks most of all because there is nothing you can do about. You cannot jump in and demand that they like you. You cannot mention it on your blog/twitter/Facebook. You cannot ask your friends to comment in your defense. The only thing you can do is avoid such places entirely. (Again: there’s a distinction between a reader who took offense at something, and has begun a discussion on their site in which you could participate, and a blogger who just thinks you’re a dumb dummy who thinks she’s so great and stuff.) Avoid, avoid, avoid. Do not cultivate friendships with people who might send you links to such places. Do not look too closely at your referral sites in your statistics. You can’t avoid being disliked, but you can avoid having to read about it.

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