Blogging can be a very personal experience. You’re baring your soul before the world. You are vulnerable. One of the worst things is to put yourself out there and receive critical or even mean or hateful comments.
I’ve been blogging for some years and overwhelmingly, the response has been positive. But, one bad or mean comment can ruin your day, even if you got a hundred supportive comments before that. The advice “don’t take it personally” doesn’t seem to help me much.
Here are some techniques I use to deal with criticism and mean comments on my blogs.
Preventing Mean Comments
I want to first let you know about some things you should before you go live with your blog post to minimize the negative reaction and help deal with it.
1. Write with Humility
People don’t like pretentiousness, arrogance, snobbishness, and lack of humility in a blog. Go through your blog and make sure it is written with humility. You can still be confident and express yourself as an expert, but don’t be arrogant about it. Acknowledge any areas where you are unsure or are not an expert in. This will go a long way toward defusing your critics.
2. Do a Buddy Check
If you are writing about a potentially controversial topic, have a friend read your blog before you post it. They can check for inaccuracies, offensive material, or unintentional snobbishness that might have crept in.
3. Use Hard Data
Using hard data is another good way to disarm critics. You can write about a controversial topic, say, iPhone vs. Android, and start a flame war online instantly if you’re not careful.
But, if your post has hard data, many critics will be disarmed. For example, if you take measurements on how long it takes Siri to respond to a voice command vs. Google Now, and you show charts, your test method, videos, etc. to demonstrate you used objective, scientific methods, it will be much harder for people to argue with you. Odds are, they didn’t do those detailed tests. This will also make any attacks less personal. They will have to attack the data or test methods instead of you. Facts are harder to dispute than opinions.
4. Cite Sources
If you want to say something controversial, back it up with a source. For example, instead of making a sweeping statement like “people like iOS better than Android” (or vice versa), say “according to a study done in May 2013 by Time Magazine, 52% of those surveyed said..” You get the idea. This redirects attacks to your source instead of you. Back up controversial statements with studies, quotes by experts, etc. when possible.
5. Play Devil’s Advocate
Before going live, try to anticipate what your critics are going to say and deal with those points in your blog. Then, people won’t feel as compelled to re-hash those arguments.
6. Require an Email Address for Comments (Or Not)
Requiring users to enter an email address before users can comment is a surefire way to reduce the number of negative comments you get. It will also give you the ability to ban unruly visitors from commenting on your site again. Unfortunately, it will also reduce the number of positive comments you get. You have to consider the tradeoffs yourself.
For the longest time, I required an email address to comment and got very few negative comments. Then, I wrote a blog post that resonated with a lot of people who told me by email that they wanted to chime in (in a positive way) but didn’t want their identities revealed. So, I turned off the requirement to enter an email address on that site. Sure enough, positive comments went up, but so did negative. It wasn’t too insane though.
You should make the call depending on the subject of your blog and how much time you want to devote to it. If you are really sensitive or concerned about negative comments (or just don’t want to deal with them), then by all means, require an email address for comments. If you want to get as many comments as possible of all types, then don’t require an email address.
I don’t recommend requiring a login to your site to comment unless you are okay with a very very low comment rate. In some situations, that might be fine, but requiring a login will kill discussion and community in most cases. Personally, I think it’s too extreme.
Somewhat related to this is whether to require your approval before comments can be seen. If you do this, it won’t stop bad comments but at least the rest of the world won’t see them. But, it requires management by you and can halt the conversation unless you’re on top of things. This is up to you and depends on the situation.
7. Humanize Yourself
Sign your posts with your name or real-sounding pen-name. I don’t mean a pen-name like “The Most Awesome Blogger in the World”. Use a name that sounds like a real person’s name. When a person knows your name, even just your first name, they are more likely to be civil. Anything to let readers know that there is a real human being behind the blog and not a machine or corporation is good (that’s why Reddit comments can be so harsh – they’re talking about you behind your back). A little bit of your personal background will help too. If you are really adventurous, you can post your photo, but that could bring up other privacy problems for you.
If an article has no author associated with it, someone might write “whoever wrote this was an idiot!” and not really feel like he’s hurting anyone’s feelings. However, if the article is signed, “By Bob Jones, husband, father of two, and really bad golfer”, it will make the author appear more like a real human being and hopefully encourage civility.
This is the same reason why some people make obscene gestures at cars, yet they would never do that to that same driver walking down the sidewalk.
While you do want to humanize yourself to your readers, you don’t want to go overboard.
Preparing for Mean Comments
Even if you take all of those steps, you’ll probably still get some mean comments if you’re stating some strong opinions. Here are some ways to prepare for them.
1. Expect Some Criticism
You can’t please everyone. In fact, you shouldn’t please everyone. A good recipe for mediocrity is to try to please everyone. Some of my most viral articles are the controversial ones.
So, you can and should be a little edgy. Do express your opinions. It will make your blog more interesting and you’ll get more readers (both those supportive and not). Don’t go overboard, but don’t be overly bland either.
When you do this, do it knowing that some people will disagree with you. If you expect criticism, it will be more tolerable.
2. Invite Criticism
This is not as crazy as it sounds. At the end of your blog, you can actually invite readers to express a different point of view. For example, you can say “This is what I experienced. Let me know if you found something different.” This will contribute to your humble tone and hopefully make critics more reasonable.
But, there is another, perhaps bigger reason to do this: It mentally prepares you for the criticism. It’s weird, but if you invite criticism and get it, it makes it easier to bear, because you actually requested it. It doesn’t feel like as much as a violation when you get negative feedback. It’s hard to explain until you experience it, but I have found that if I invite some criticism, it makes it a little easier to stomach.
3. Protect Your Identity
If you purchased a custom domain name for your website (for example, your site is at something.com instead of something.wordpress.com or something.blogger.com or something.tumblr.com), you should read on. Unless you explicitly paid for a privacy service with your domain name provider, anyone can find your home address and phone number just from your website’s URL. Go to this site and type in your URL to see what anyone else can see. Did your home address show up? Phone number? Scary, huh?
To hide your personal information before you go live, you might have to pay for a service with your domain name provider. One such service from GoDaddy is called “Domains by Proxy”. I believe it’s less than a buck a month, but it might be worth doing before your blog becomes massively famous and you’re worried about stalkers, someone throwing eggs at your house, or other harassment, unlikely as that may be.
Alternatively, you can get a P.O. box and not use your home address.
Along the same lines, I don’t recommend posting a link to your personal Facebook page. If you want to promote community on Facebook, create an organizational Facebook page (read more about Facebook Pages for organizations here).
What To Do When It Happens
Okay, you’ve done everything above and you’ve just gone live. You’re getting a great reaction in your comments, except for that one mean one. Here’s what to do.
1. Celebrate Criticism as a Necessary Part of Successful Blogging
When you get your first negative comment, open a bottle of Champaign. I’m serious. A negative comment means that someone besides your mom has read your blog. Your SEO is working. In fact, probably a lot more people have read it since only a very small percentage of readers will actually comment, and only a small percentage of them will be critical or hostile (unless you really screwed up).
So, celebrate your success! Getting criticism is a part of the job. Even the most admired and successful bloggers in the world have people who write vile comments. So, now you have something in common with the most admired and successful bloggers in the world.
2. Don’t Respond Immediately
This is a good rule in any emotionally-charged situation. Don’t respond to mean posts immediately (unless they are truly hateful, in which case they should be deleted). Walk around the block, then go through the next things on this list. In some cases, your online defenders will pounce on the person for you in the meantime! And, you’ll be calmer and better able to answer rationally.
3. Listen and Learn
It is possible that you actually did say something inaccurate or offensive in your post. Listen objectively with an open mind to the criticism you get to make sure you are not the one at fault.
This is not easy, I know. I’ve had to do it. I don’t like admitting I’m wrong, but when many people say so, I have to really consider that they might be on to something.
Also, try to understand your reader’s point of view. People have different life experiences. Maybe there is a kernel of truth to what they are saying for some people. If so, use their comments to enrich your blogging.
This can be very difficult. It takes humility. You’ll have to swallow your pride. But you and your blog will be better off for it.
4. Have Grace and Mercy
If you get a particularly vitriolic comment, you might be dealing with someone who is not entirely mentally stable. Have you ever read the comments on a Yahoo article? The insane views there make me lose all hope for humanity. I’m exaggerating of course, but I really can’t help but think that some of those people are emotionally unstable or even mentally ill. At the very least, some must have no life, no friends, and no job if they troll Yahoo stories and post vile comments all day.
Understanding this might help you have pity on some of those people who post mean comments. If they behave like that on your site, they probably behave like that in real life and have very few friends. As difficult as it might be, I try to have some sympathy for these people.
It’s like when you walk down the street and there’s a mentally ill person yelling obscenities at you (where I live, this is common). You don’t get offended by such a person because you know he’s not “all there”. You simply move on as fast as possible and have some sympathy for him.
5. Remember Your Supporters and Defenders
Unless you really screwed up or said something really controversial, you’ll have way more supporters than detractors. Remember the 99 people who said good things for everyone who says something mean.
Even more uplifting are those readers is when people you don’t even know come to your defense and pounce on the haters in the comments. I love reading those comments and I feel an instant bond to these kind people.
Having defenders goes a long way to canceling out the negative vibe of the haters. Thank your defenders and tell them how much you appreciate them. Try to think about your new online friends who came to your defense rather than dwelling on the haters.
Responding to Criticism
Okay, now it’s time to respond to a negative or hateful post. Here are some tips.
1. Take the High Ground
Have you ever worked in customer service? If so, you have my sympathy. I’ve had to deal with customers on occasion in my career. It’s a thankless job.
But, that’s how you should think about responding to negative commenters or haters, in my opinion. Good companies are not mean to unhappy customers. They try to be reasonable and pleasant, no matter how mad the customer is. Take the high road. Don’t stoop to their level and start a flame war. Be reasonable and don’t be mean in return. People will see this and it will make the mean haters look like jerks. People will come to your defense if you are reasonable.
Besides, it’s not worth your time to start a flame war with some stranger that has no life. Remember, they know your name, your URL, and perhaps can find out a lot more about you. You might not know anything about them. If they have any technical ability, they could hack your site, bring it down it with a DDoS attack, try to steal your identity, or even go to your home if you didn’t take the precaution I mentioned above.
If their post was mean, your reasonable and conciliatory response will make them look like a complete jerk. People will understand and even come to your defense. Correct the error and move on.
Be the bigger person and try to end it gracefully. It’s not worth fighting over. Don’t get into a flame war.
2. Apologize and Correct If Necessary
If someone did find a genuine error or mistake in your post, acknowledge it and thank them for finding it. The same goes if you inadvertently said something offensive. Apologize and fix the problem in your blog ASAP. Then, tell the commenter you’ve fixed it.
3. Delete and Ban if Extremely Hateful
Of course, if a comment is overtly mean or hateful, and contributes nothing useful to the conversation, you may choose to delete it and probably should. Your blog is not a democracy. You have control.
If you have their email address, you can ban them from commenting further as well.
Having said that, I don’t delete every negative or even hateful comment. Some negative comments are productive because they point out errors, or make different arguments that I didn’t think about. Sometimes, I leave a hateful comment up because it reveals how much of a jerk the writer is and makes me seem like a really reasonable person in comparison. Other people usually jump in and condemn the hater too.
4. Move On with Your Life
Finally, at some point, you need to move on with your life. It’s easy to get obsessed and deal with commenters to the detriment of your regular job or social life. At some point, turn off email notifications if they are overwhelming you and move on. This is actually really difficult but necessary.
Negative feedback is an unpleasant but necessary part of blogging. You never really “get over” the sting of mean comments, but you can make them more tolerable.
Please let me know about any other strategies you’ve come up with for dealing with it, or if you agree or disagree with any of the ones above. I’d love to hear from bloggers with more experience than I have. (Haha, see? I’m using my own tactics.) – Brian