Only You Can Prevent Blog Trolls & Comment Jerks


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?

Your Comments

  • Shannon

    Great post Lisa. What I think is illuminating is when the troll drops his bomb and suddenly you don’t have to respond because your “regulars” have already jumped into action and defended you. That’s when I get sappy and start sending love emails.

  • Randy S

    Thanks for the advice, Lisa! The best place to develop thick skin for trolls is through visiting any online gaming forums! Man, those guys have way to much time, testosterone and anger on their hands…

    I’ve found that the most difficult aspect of blogging is just setting aside the time. Working for a SMB, there is so much that has to be done and I really need to be more dedicated to furthering my company’s brand, as well as my own (thanks to a previous post).

    • Matt Sullivan

      Randy – Many SMB owners/marketers have the same concern about blogging; they simply don’t have the time. It’s a fair concern, but what many don’t realize is that it isn’t a completely independent activity.

      SMB’s are “curse” with the expertise of their business & industry, and often find themselves answering questions, giving explanations, and being a “go-to” source. This is exactly the type of information that your blog audience wants to read.

      The two first blogging exercises I give are: 1.) Go through your Sent Emails for the past week to find the messages that you feel have great value. 2.) Come up with a list of the 10 most frequent questions you get from customers.

      Do these two things, and you’ll probably have enough blog topics for a few months, and you’ll easily be able to get started.

  • @RyannJK

    I think the smaller the blog, the closer the community is, and the less anonymity of the web will apply.

    I like your advice, especially not giving the trolls power – “when it happens, let it go”.

    Maybe someone should write a blog moderation program that auto-cleans up nasty comments like an Orbit gum commercial…

    • TheGirlPie

      To your suggestion, Ryann —
      There ARE plugins for WP (probably the others too) that let you delete or, better, hold for moderation any comment that meets a criteria you get to set. You can filter with any word, combo of words, phrase, more than X number of outside links, or even from a certain ISP — lots of ways to hold a comment from immediate publication until you can review it. It can still be free speech, just delayed.

      You can still publish a useful comment, but can substitute ### for curses or sex acts or whatever you feel like censoring (make it a part of your policy if you do.) But the advice Lisa gives here should help prevent the need —

      Happy blogging!

      (I read the complete Policy, it’s not just a handle; yes my folks have a sense of humor.)

  • Stephanie Migot

    A good comment policy can make the difference between whether visitors will return or not, at least it does for me. It’s infuriating when you come across a well-written article, only to find spam links and irrelevant comments below it. It puts me off; if the site owners care so little about what happens once their content is up, why should I?

  • Stephen Eugene Adams

    I feel like the old woman who continuously answered her phone when she knew it was the same obscene caller. When asked why she kept answering, she stated that it was the only decent conversation she had with someone for over a week. At this point, I take whatever comments I can get.

    I also find myself enjoying the comments on posts where the commentary is full of trolls and idiots. I can get lost for hours reading the comments on controversial subjects (and believe me, in Arizona, we have a few). I say, relish all comments.

  • Rae Hoffman

    I once changed the anchor text of a dude who violated my comment policy on Sugarrae per the terms of the policy (I changed it to “spammy anchor here”). What proceeded were death threats to my children (dead serious) and to myself for a few weeks demanding I simply delete the comment. In the end, Michael (Gray) convinced me it wasn’t worth the stress and to delete the comments the dude was going apeshit about.

  • Mitch Bartlett

    I used to get sad, but now I get a kick out of deleting flaming comments. “Wow, that 3 paragraphs laced with hate and swear words must’ve taken quite a bit of time to write…” DELETE!

    • Glyn Davies Photo-Artist Ltd

      Ace comment. I have just had 72 hours of really shitty abusive comments from 1 or maybe 2 local trolls. I have now set up comment moderation AND blocked Anonymous comments, which has so far helped, but there is truth in what you say. I now think of these sad little shitty people as ‘wasps buzzing in a jam jar’ they must be infuriated that their sting is only bouncing back in on them!! :-)

      Thanks to Lisa for this thread, its so good to know I’m not alone in being subject to hatred :-(

  • Amy

    My husband is a restaurant manager and we always compare stories about the things people say over the net compared to the things people are willing to say to your face. I have also received death threats toward my kids (through email) but no one would ever say something like that to him, face to face. You are so right about not giving the trolls the power, being involved in this type of work we are subject to so much more abuse and it’s all about how you handle it

  • Kevin

    Blah blah blah. Tell you what, why don’t *you* open a small business, spend 15 hours a day keeping it afloat, come home, feed the kids, , do the laundry, clean up a steaming pile of dog shit from your incontinent beagle, and then, when you’re 2 inches from a coma, sit down in front of the computer to tell a wonderful story about how awesome you are.

    /end troll comment


  • Graywolf

    or you could just turn of comments all together, and concentrate on things with ROI.


  • Erica

    I’m appalled that posts have led to death threats. Truly, effing ridiculous! And it’s certainly not the first time I’ve heard of this occurring. Frankly, I think this very thing contributes to the anxiety that many small business owners feel when the prospect of ‘blogging’ comes up. Quietly doing business in the community or from behind a wall of customer service is one thing; sharing personal stories or revealing personal viewpoints is quite another. I highly regard those who are doing it, despite the fear.

    I agree wholeheartedly with Shannon. I was reading a post yesterday that sparked a wave of comments and for the most part, the conversation was respectful, even when there were very strong disagreements. When the conversation began tipping sideways, it was the readers, not the author, who righted the discussion. It was phenomenal, really.

    I like the, “dude; you have grip here… this is your house” perspective. Puts the accountability and power (gatekeeping power) back where it belongs.

  • Kenny

    I don’t think fear of comment trolls is a reason small biz owners don’t blog at all, I think it’s because they either don’t know how to blog, or they’re lazy and can’t/won’t do it regularly to be worth while.

  • Erica

    woo. I don’t think ‘small business owner’ and ‘lazy’ belong in the same sentence. It takes guts, gumption, and a whole lot of freaking effort to be self-employed or running a small business.

    But I agree with your “don’t know how” point and I’m sure it goes a long way to contributing to the, “I don’t know how to start so I won’t start at all” position. Because blogging (and I hate that word) also takes a whole lot of effort and when you’re juggling all kinds of shit (like Kevin jests above) it simply becomes another major initiative on the giant, never-ending to-do list.

  • TheGirlPie

    Wow Lisa — all 5 ingredients you list for the Anti-Troll Potion that site-keepers deserve are spot-on. Kinda like being responsible with sunscreen, of whatever strength works for you, using Troll-Screen is so worth the time and effort.

    I am especially grateful for your keen list of ways to reward good behavior by commenters. Beyond common sense, it’s good manners. And it’s called “social” media, not solo media. Manners matter.

    Like Erica, I too am impressed when commenters in a thread step up when something seems amiss; whether to clarify, moderate, question, return a point to its context, or, as a last resort for truly terrible trouble-making and hostility, to ring the bell and send someone to the corner.

    Timely, succinct, helpful — thanks for the swell post.


  • Tola

    Frankly, I think blog trolls means you’re actually becoming more successful and people are starting to get jealous of you. So in a way its a good thing.
    How you handle them makes you an even better blogger and person.
    I definitely agree with you that others will interact based on your tone so you have to be ‘the example’, including the fact that it really is your ‘house’. No one’s gonna clean up the mess for you but yourself. And like my mama used to say, the way you make you’re bed is the same way you’ll lie on it!

  • Claudia Corrigan D'Arcy

    Everytime I hear concerns and fears about negative comments, I am thankful that my internet education was on the adoption forums. I didn’t realize it at the time, but wow.. that was the best training for developing a thick skin! One might not think it, but adoption forums are one of the the most vicious emotional wild wests I have ever seen!

    We actually just covered this very same topic on our blog and definately the handeling of trolls and negative folks should be covered in a company’s social media policy. For a less foaml business of a sole owner, I realized that having a personal social media policy of what works for you is also a good concept! I think It’s what has kept me sane these last ten years!

    And sometimes. I do like to play with my trolls before I eat them.

  • Caron Mosey

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! I love this post! The concept of having a comment policy is a fantastic idea that I wish I had thought of. I love your inclusion of “flicking them on the ear.” Fortunately, if you have a regular readership, they are usually more than willing and able to take care of trolls without your intervention. It’s nice to have peeps! Great article.

  • singlegirlie

    What a great post! I’m somewhat new to blogging and it was a bit jarring to receive some of these comments by the trolls. Fortunately, I do most of what you suggest already, except post a comment policy. I imagine the trolls are going to disregard it anyway and I feel it goes without saying that it’s “my house, my rules.”

    Totally agree to just ignore them. I set their comments (the recurring trolls) to go directly to spam so I don’t even see them. Can’t ruin my day, suckas!

    • Michael

      Thats the best thing you really can do about troll you continue igonore your comment policy. At some point though it should be consider harressment so you might want to think about saving them somewhere.

  • Shelley

    When is it acceptable to delete comments from or block a troll on Facebook? We have an angry old guy who snipes at our company constantly, just posting off-topic rants. He doesn’t threaten anyone, or use profanity, so he’s not really violating our policy.

  • Jennifer@T1 Phone and Internet Service

    In general, like you say, I find that nasty trollers aren’t a problem. But maybe that’s because most of the stuff on my blog is factual information that doesn’t generate a lot of opinions. On the other hand, I have a friend who is a novelist, and she hates it when she comes across negative comments about her work (which is inevitable, no matter how good your work is, because everyone wants to be a critic.) She has a comment policy on her blog, but can’t control what people post on other blogs. In the end, I guess you just have to take these things with a grain of salt and realize that you can’t please all of the people all of the time. (Easier said than done, I know!)

  • Michael

    I think its a great idea to have a comment policy on your blog.People should be respectful when they come to your blog just like they would when they come to your home.

  • Anonymous

    By the way, I really love your ‘Thanks for Commenting’ page – so much so that I felt the need to write about it! It makes you feel very appreciated.