If the mid-term elections in the U.S. are any indication, the lack of civility in public discourse has sunk to a new level. No one seems to listen to their opponents. Pundits (and politicians) routinely talk over one another. Volume appears to be more important than logic.
You might not be able to solve this cultural problem, but you don’t have to put up with it on your blog. Yesterday, Publishers Lunch Deluxe, commented on my blog post, “Why Do eBooks Cost So Much? (A Publisher’s Perspective).” After noting the high number of comments, the editor said,
What also stands out is the civility of the discussion—even from those who might disagree—and the general appreciation from those who comment for an explanation from an executive.”
This isn’t an accident. I have tried to cultivate this environment over time. Why? Because I believe in the value of healthy, civil debate. I love leading and participating in meaningful conversations. I readily admit that don’t have all the answers. I learn from the community and especially my commenters.
But how do you keep the conversation on your blog healthy and constructive? How do you make it safe for people to disagree without becoming disagreeable?
Here are five tips:
- Use an industrial strength spam blocker. I use Askimet. It is owned by Automattic, the same people who created WordPress. It stops comment spam dead in its tracks. Even though I get more than 100 spam or porn comments a day, Askimet weeds them all out. Occasionally, it mistakenly flags a comment that is not spam, but I have yet to see it let anything through that is spam.
- Create an official comments policy. You can’t expect people to follow the rules if they don’t know them. I am very clear about what I allow and what I don’t. I have blogged on this and include a warning with a link in the “Post a New Comment” box. I say, “Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are snarky, offensive, or off-topic. If in doubt, read My Comments Policy.”
- Participate in the conversation. This is the most important tip. It’s your party; people expect you to participate. If you don’t, your blog becomes like an abandoned house. Don’t be surprised if thugs vandalize it and spray digital graffiti on your posts. Maintaining an active presence keeps the conversation civil.
- Make your own comments stand-out. I also make my comments stand out by highlighting them in a different color. This is easy to do if you are using self-hosted WordPress. You can find specific directions here. This way, people can scan down through your comments and readily identify those that are yours. People are much more likely to comment—and do so civilly—if they know you are “on the premises.”
- Be consistent with enforcement. I rarely delete a comment, but some are so off-topic or belligerent, I must. Likewise, some commenters have to be banned. They are simply trolls spoiling for a fight and some perverted sense of feeling important. I don’t put up with it. Their comments are like graffiti. If you let them stand, you will only get more of them.
Good comments, even from people who disagree, add value to your blog. You want to encourage these if you are going to build a community, but you also must protect the community from those who would abuse it.