Only You Can Prevent Blog Trolls & Comment Jerks

May 28, 2010
By Lisa Barone in Content Strategy

I’m sure this will come off as a huge (read: HUGE!) surprise to you, but I’m a pretty big believer that small business owners should be blogging. As a SMB owner, I think it provides you with an unparalleled opportunity to create thought leadership and to use storytelling to create an interesting point of difference. I also think one reason small business owners are hesitant to get involved with blogging is because they’re afraid to open up their community and site to people who may drop by and say mean things. Everyone’s afraid of the dreaded comment troll.

NPR published an interesting piece yesterday entitled Website Editors Strive to Rein in Nasty Comments. The piece explains how the anonymity of the Web can transform otherwise rational people into complete and utter loons. And while NPR definitely made some great points, not all blog trolling is a result of the faceless web. There are things you can do to prevent your own site from being infected by blog trolls and comment jerks. Often, it has everything to do with how you’re running (or not running) your blog.

Here are a few best practices.

Set Ground Rules. (And Actually Enforce Them.)

Your best defense against comment trolls is a solid blog comment policy. If you don’t have one, create one. (Here’s ours.)

Your comment policy is important for a number of reasons. First, it clearly spells out what you will and will not tolerate in your house. You want to clearly write it out so that people know what is expected of them. The second reason your comment policy is important is that it gives you license to delete or alter any comment that violates it. That’s right. If someone submits a comment that does not match our policy, the same policy they agreed to when they hit ‘submit’, I have full right to do whatever it is I’d like to with that comment, including changing the anchor text for my own amusement, editing it, or even deleting it.

This isn’t a democracy. This is my house. If I don’t protect it, no one else will.

Reward Good Participation

Bad comments are most commonly left because people want attention. And we all know the best way to get attention on the Internet (or, really, in life) isn’t to be logical, it’s to be offensively ridiculous. Look at Heidi Montag. Or any one of the Kardashians. When you actively reward good participation, you give people incentive for providing value.

You can reward participation by:

  • Giving blog props to valuable contributors.
  • Using #followfriday to highlight good commenters.
  • Allowing people to thumb up/vote up comments they like or that add value.
  • Create a membership point system that rewards valuable contributors. [SEOmoz’s leader board is a good example of this.]
  • Simply email people to say thank you.

People who respond to blogs want to be seen. Let them know the best way to do that is by being a good community member, and you’ll save yourself from the “your mom!” comments.

Respond to Comments

Responding to comments helps build your community, but it also shows outsiders that your lights are on. Think about it, if you’re going to break in somewhere, are you going to pick the red house that looks abandoned with the overgrown lawn OR the blue one with carefully pruned shrubs and lots of people inside? Unless you’re an idiot (or really want a struggle), you’re going to go with the house that looks unloved. It’s the same with blog trolls. By doing your best to respond to comments (even if it’s not every comment), it shows that you’re there, you’re watching, and that you’ll beat the pulp out of anyone who tries to violate your community.

Be The Example

Ultimately, you need to take responsibility for how people are acting on your blog, and most of that is going to start with you. Your tone and how you respond to people gives others their own cue for interacting. By being responsible with your words, even when you’re being harsh, and by being tolerate of other people’s differing opinions, you create a community that values that discussion and that will grow to moderate itself. I’m always really impressed with the level of comments we’re able to produce here at Outspoken, even when we’re hitting on hot button issues. I think folks know that if you don’t behave, the community will put you in your place. Or you’ll be removed from the room. Free speech is awesome. Go throw things at your house. Here you’re expected to take your shoes off.

Don’t Give Trolls Power

Three years ago, a harsh comment from a troll was pretty much enough to ruin my day.  I’d get upset, defensive, sad, angry, etc. We’re all human and it hurts when someone comes by to kick you for seemingly no reason. When it happens, let it go. Carrying it around or internalizing will affect you. It will change how you write, how you respond to people, and how you view your community. And it will ruin it. The troll will know he/she/it won and will continue to strike, perhaps bringing some friends the next time. Negativity is contagious. Break the cycle.

While the ‘anonymity of the Web’ is most often blamed for comment trolls, it’s really up to you to create an environment that simply makes that type of behavior unacceptable. Will you get the occasional troll coming in to throw things? Of course. But you’ll find that it’s the exception, not the rule. And that when it does happen, your community will help you handle it. There’s nothing better than that.

How do you handle trolls on your blog? Do you (or anyone you know) have a create blog comment policy that you’d like to share? We’ll be updating our own blog comment policy soon, any additions you’d like to see?

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