Online commentators philosophy and what practical steps you can take regarding comments

Content producers and Internet commentators on the content have two opposing philosophies, which is best you understand prior to putting content online. At the end of the article, tips on online comments you can implement for your content.

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Let’s take a thing which happened to me recently.

Content producer – more than 1,000 videos publicly posted (and a few hundreds privately shared). A camera, microphone, tripod setup which are of high quality for making an YouTube video. My spare time given to produce that videos. And a mistake on microphone input, which, to correct would take a few active hours (setting the new sound over the old sound in a sound editor, there were 14 videos in total in that day, they all need lip-syncing, the videos are 1080p and more than 100 GB in total size), I will do this, but it’s not a priority at the moment.

Two comments:

  • Fratiorule,tu auzi ceva din video-ul asta? Daca tot filmezi o ora,nu o poti face decent,fara sa te foiesti pe scaun? Il admir foarte mult pe domnul Dan Puric,si din pacate il pot urmari doar online. Oricum,apreciez efortul tau.
  • punr sunetl o-le ca doare pacat ca nu se aude nu de poater urmari mare pacat

(questioning if I hear something of the video, claiming I move a lot on the chair, appreciating my effort in the end; the second comment, with very poor spelling, insisting it’s a big deal of not being able to watch the video)

The two philosophies behind the content producer and the commentators:

  • Content producers – I want to create something nice; I want to donate my time & efforts & equipment to help others; I want to produce something original; I want to make people happy; I want to bring joy to this world; I want my content to be seen by as many people as possible; my content is the best in the world;
  • Commentators – I deserve the content you produce, it’s my right; I have the right to impose sanctions on you; my situation is the most important in the world; you should have quality requirements imposed on yourself, but not on the way I write my comment; finally, even if I thank you and acknowledge you, I will do so as a minor act, as an exception to the rule, or to get something from you.

Let me detail a few things:

  • The content producer wants to have an impact; wants to change things, is motivated by creating something new; needs appreciation; wants as little bureaucracy as possible; see Matt Cutts on this: “For March, my 30 day challenge will be not to reply to external emails. Email continues to be my nemesis. It’s so hard to prioritize important things over the pelting of lots of emails that claim to be urgent. Answering emails provides the illusion of progress, but it’s one of the least scalable ways to communicate. When you answer an external email, you’re usually helping one person in private, as opposed to helping many people at once like with a video. And of course when you’re answering emails, you’re usually reacting rather than plotting an active course forward.” (source)
  • About the commentators:
    • They think they deserve things; they are entitled; I once wrote an article on SEO for images, detailed, big, comprehensive, I worked a lot to make it a one-stop-for-all resource; to my surprise, people demanded that I do SEO on the blog I wrote the article on; they demanded this; I tried to present them that on-page factors (if the blog has SEO or not) is not that much of a fuss, that I have SEO plugins, and I run WordPress (both factors which should contribute to a high degree of on-page optimization), that a large proportion of my traffic already comes from SEO (so I must be doing something right), and the whole thing was irrelevant to the article itself, but they demanded perfection; another example – I wrote an article about diacritics in which I claimed I write with diacritics on my blog in Romanian; a commentator took a specific portion of the blog which was a quote from someone else, which had no diacritics; it didn’t matter that, for the most part, I wrote with diacritics, and that was a quote from someone else; it was his right to demand me I write with diacritics; he was entitled to have such a request on me; see the comment here;
    • They think they are just not important enough to bother you with a «Thank you!» message; you will only rarely see a reply to a blog post thanking you; the blame on this may be put partially online forums, which suggested that a blog post such as “thank you” is irrelevant to the topic of discussion and should be refrained from (one should post content with rich added value, instead of posting a mere “thank you”); also, when someone posts just a “Thank you!” message, it’s mostly ignored, while a comment with a consistent message attracts the eye (thus, the “Thank you!” message seems unimportant); but, mostly, it’s thinking that the thanks will not matter; “I’m just a reader, he’s an important content creator, why should I bother that person by saying «Thank you!»? Why should I add things to the noise & busyness of that person? I am irrelevant in the context”. This is the main reason people don’t thank others as much. (I’ve done this)
    • Have a hidden agenda when they thank you; while you will definitely get genuine thanks, some of the “Thank you!”s you see online have a hidden agenda, of the following – getting a link / visibility on their profile (on moz.com blog you will see lots of “What a great post! Thank you!”, because comments number count in a way or another, and just being visible enough gets you a boost on your profile on moz.com, which is an important one); while is more rare, it happens; (I do this also, but in that specific context of the blog post, it was a different thing)
    • Even if they thank you, it doesn’t always seem genuine; the first comment I listed above as a quote to my video thanked me in the end; but prior to this, it was really critical and it was more like “I’m thanking you so I can think of myself as a good, polite, kind person, rather than genuinely being grateful to you”; if you criticize some things, and end this with a “Thank you!”, it does help, but the effect is diminished;
    • Tend to impose little rules on themselves, more rules on others; the second comment is so poorly written, it’s obviously that person didn’t even bother to re-read it or correct it; probably typed on the phone; on the other hand, I should remake the video, it’s sort of my obligation to do so; the thing has already been said, but he feels the urge to insist on this; also, the first comment is a bit aggressive (commentators are allowed to be so; it’s sort of their right); let’s take another example – I co-organize Lumea SEO PPC, a series of events on Internet marketing; we post a few days after the event, a follow-up with all the presentations, both the video (you can see the live action in 1080p, filmed with a good camera) and the actual presentation of the speaker (you can follow the slide); we still get from time to time a comment with “how about live streaming?”; live streaming would require either cancelling the current filming, or getting a new camera, a new person, a much much poorer quality of videos (the videos I make have about 40 GB for one hour of filming); when we did live streaming, people asked for the movie clips to be seen later; when we introduce payment for entrance (around 7 Euros, with options to have a subscription), a lot of people claimed it was way too much; all of these come from putting rules on others – “Yes, I have a good follow-up a few days after event, but I want to see live action” / “Yes, you do live streaming, but my specific need is watch it at the end of the week, at the hours I please” / “Yes, you produce content, but my value for money is much more important than the event you create; also, it’s been free for so long; also, I was with you from the beginning; yes, it’s free for students, but how about for me?”; you can put all of these into two categories – what a commentator ask for himself and what a commentator asks from you; when you separate things like that, you will notice a difference between what you deserve, and what they are entitled to;
    • Want a solution to the specific problem, ignoring the masses; I’ve been active on forums for quite a while (I have around 1,500 forum posts overall); the most difficult questions are the specific questions – “I want a program which does X in the specific conditions I pose”; “Windows generally performs like this; on my computer, it does the other thing, although I can’t replicate the issue on any other computer; what should I do?”; while you can create a procedure for solving this by people themselves (“You should test every single software out there and see which one works” / “You should try googling for your problem, and test every given solution”), this is generally not accepted; people want your specific solution to their specific problem; look at what Matt Cutts says – he wants to avoid entering a very very specific question, and wants to appeal to a broader audience; if you look at a list of his past videos, you will notice they answer questions which interest not only a specific person, but a group of people; that’s probably a reason why he said he focus on not replying to external email – these are specific problems, with specific situation; even if he would try and make a videos out of such a question, most of them with be of little interest to other than the original person;

What happens in real-life when a person asks a question to content producer of any sort? 

  • A lot of times, the question gets the Matt Cutts treatment – it gets ignored; you will see this quite a lot – someone says something, it gets ignored; the one thing this questions produce is that, if they get repeated a lot, they will receive a video answering the general theme of the questions; also, do you know that Google pretty much doesn’t have customer service at all?
  • If we’re talking about a Facebook page of a large retailer, you generally get a reply of some sort; it doesn’t look good to have a Facebook page as a brand, people to have questions to you, and you would say nothing; so, you say something, instead of saying nothing;
  • For the Facebook pages who have lots of comments, a lot of the replies to them would be a poor quality, usually one of:
    • “Call our department X at …”, or “call our local store at …” or “call technical support at …”, so not too much value comparted with just calling the department in the first place;
    • “Due to a lot of reasons (and we’ll be generous and pick one for you right here) we are unable to help you; have a nice day, thank you for shopping with us, and come back, please!”
  • Some questions will get real and genuine answers, actually helping people, and focusing on solving the commentator’s problem; great job!; but this rarely happens; it’s, generally, too much for too little results;
  • Some companies manage to offer good customer service; they reply to most things, they provide answers with real value, they focus on the client, they are genuine; it’s very hard to do this systemically, and to have this process in place for a large organization; Apple does the opposite of Google; they claim to have geniuses working for them, and they’re there to respond to your queries; but you do generally pay a premium for such services;
  • You will see at time PR stunts – some person asks for a chair covered in gold, the store delivers it for free, and, surprise!, the whole thing is in the media the next day, the commentator giving a testimonial on how good does company X treats its clients; the thing is, this is generally not sustainable for masses of people; the thing is, when someone actually gets its gold chair (incredible request fulfilled), this becomes news; it’s like the exception that proves the rule; nobody listens to incredible requests anymore, when someone does, it’s news; unfortunately, it’s most for the image, a PR stunt, than an actual act of the company to be genuine and provide real help.

What are some steps to take regarding comments?

  • Know that if you post something, you are accredited as an expert on this and you will inevitably get questions on the topic; if you’re an online store about PC components and you have an YouTube channel in which you explain things related to computer hardware, you become an expert on the topic, whether you want this or not; see this video about classifying monitors; it’s one year old, so there would have been plenty of time for the store to reply to each comment; but it’s too much, and they only replied to some comments, and there were a few replies such as “thanks, very useful comment, we’ll think of that, what great value you bring to us, comment more, have a nice day”; the thing is, even if the video is about monitors classification, you have just become the expert in monitors; you will definitely get comments on that issue; even if you don’t reply to comments, people will see a previous comment and this “Hmm, if X posted a question on monitors, X can’t be wrong! I’ll also post a comment!”; even if you decide to cancel all comments, people can still contact you via other means; don’t you get it? You’re the expert now, face your new status! So, the first rule to remember is – when you post something on a topic and you seem like you know what you are talking about, you will get comments on that topic, because you have just become, on commentators’ minds, an expert on the topic; for example, with the current article, if my readers feel that I know what I’m talking about, I’m an expert on online comments, whether I want to be considered this or not;
  • You should decide from the beginning if you reply to comments or not, by following principles such as:
    • Be Google / Matt Cutts-like, and avoid answering to specific questions, but fix major problems based on whatever feed-back you receive; encourage people to solve their own problems (Google has Google Groups/Google Product Forums, where people help each other, and, at times, but rather rarely, Google employees get involved also); limit the ways in which people can put address you questions (it’s not easy to contact Google, they don’t invite you to contact you); fix things based on other means of feed-back (you can write a blog post about a Google service, and if lots of people write about this, Google might notice this and correct this); see how Seth Godin views this: “I think comments are terrific, and they are the key attraction for some blogs and some bloggers. Not for me, though. First, I feel compelled to clarify or to answer every objection or to point out every flaw in reasoning. Second, it takes way too much of my time to even think about them, never mind curate them. And finally, and most important for you, it permanently changes the way I write. Instead of writing for everyone, I find myself writing in anticipation of the commenters. I’m already itching to rewrite my traffic post below. So, given a choice between a blog with comments or no blog at all, I think I’d have to choose the latter.”
    • Respond to some feed-back, pick your battles, don’t comment on just about anything; this is the general rule; I showed you above how PC Garage only responds to some comments; SwiftKey encourages users to post ideas for development (5,000+ ideas so far), other users can vote on an idea, and it’s, thus, easy for the development team to know which features do the users want (you can even sort ideas based on popularity); LifeHacker does one of the best things I’ve seen on this theme – they ignore most comments, but when they do reply, it’s something worthwhile reading (see the comments); they work hard to bring value to their comments, and if this means that most comments don’t get an answer (there’s a link at the end of the article to view all replies, and there are lots of them with no reply), this is still fine; Matt Cutts picks for his videos only the most common / interesting / relevant questions he receives; also, if he replies to an email, no one but the addressee sees this; but he does, at times, reply to blog comments, since they’re public, and anyone can learn something from them;
    • Give a very silly reply to everyone, just to say something; this can happen for two reasons:
      • You don’t have time to reply to everyone, and you give an automated reply; the reasons for not giving a good, quality, genuine answer are never ending, it doesn’t take much creativity to avoid answering to a question with a good answer; the thing is, it brings more frustration than it solves problems; Rand Fishkin receives a lot of emails; he tried to create a blog post in which he replies to a lot of the general queries he receive and he would just link to the blog post whenever someone asked for his reply; the addressee would just click the link, and pick the answer from the list, and it would be good for everyone, right? Wrong – I invite you to read the full article, it’s very engaging; the conclusion?  “I sent this email to ~30 recipients over a one week span. There were several no replies, one thank you, and a bunch of very angry people. Lesson learned – folks don’t mind being ignored on a random outreach email, but they don’t want to receive a link to a post like this. I’ll keep working to try getting better at answering email, but I suspect it will simply lead to a lot more archiving/deleting of messages. Ah well, nothing ventured…”.  Let’s say you own a big store and, from time to time people come and give a suggestion on how to make things better. You have multiple ways of responding:
        • “Awesome suggestion! Great, we’ll have it analyzed, we’ll look into it. Thanks for the idea! You’re a good man!”
        • “Hi, and thanks for the tip! Right now, I can’t say for sure if we’ll implement it or not. Let us think about it, and we’ll tell you what the conclusion was. Meanwhile, you can …”. And then follow-up with the conclusion.
        • “Hi, thank you for the idea. A lot of people have asked this, and it’s a big concern of ours. Unfortunately, the resources for this are costing too much (details), and we focus on bringing best value to the client. Right now, we will not implement it, sorry. What you can do, instead, is …”.
        • “Hi, great idea, thanks. Right now, we plan to implement this in the following 4 months. I will follow-up at the end of each month from now on with a status on this. Meanwhile, you can … Great to have you with us”.
          The most common reply to a feed-back is the first one. No follow-up, no explaining on why it’s an unfeasible idea, no implementation. “K, thx, bye”. No added value. Any of the three other replies are better (either analyze the idea and follow-up with the result of feasibility, or provided reasons of rejection, or implementing it and following up). All three replies also provide an alternative solution (if the customer wants something right that instant).
          reply-store
          The reply above told a clear “no”, provided the reasons for the “no”, and also gave alternative routes – “OK, you can’t do X, this is why, but you can do Y, and for doing so you must …”;
      • You aren’t qualified to give that response; see this message:
        bank message
        They genuinely wanted to help him, but they couldn’t (Facebook messages can be edited after sending; more than this, you aren’t 100% sure you talk to a real entity or a fake name; then you can’t link the Facebook account with the person – two John Smiths, perhaps?; then, if something goes wrong, and it gets into trial, what do you do – you ask all of the people who liked you page to come as witnesses?). There are other reasons for this, though. At Google, there are a lot of PhDs working in there. But for Customer Service, you would much rather transfer the authority of replying to someone much less qualified (and cheaper). But this people, cheaper as it is, is also less qualified, and, at times, wouldn’t be able to reply in a proper fashion. At Apple stores, there are people who are called Geniuses, but Apple products come with a premium. How to overcome this, though? You can take the next step yourself – let’s say you’re at a bank and someone asks you for something – give them a direct link to the problem, it should ease the transition. If you work at Google and it’s a engineer kind of a question, ask the engineer (if possible). If you’re a retailer, and someone needs an information about a store of yours, dial the store and give the answer. Sometimes, this is too much. That’s, perhaps, the reason why Google and Seth Godin avoid comments altogether – even if you genuinely want to help, you can’t do so for each request. Also, in the comment above, notice how the person thinks he/she deserves the right to be a privileged client – “Oh, I’m leaving! Why aren’t you more upset that I’m leaving you?” You will notice such comments often – “After this blog post, I will stop reading you!”. It’s as if being the reader of a blog is something the blogger should be thankful for. So the blogger creates the blog, produces content, does marketing, and the visitor just reads. And the one to be thankful should be the blogger, due to the fact that the visitor has given him the honor of reading the blog. Different paradigms.
    • Reply with a quality message to the reasonable queries – read the comments posted on the page of Zappos. Most of them have a personalized reply from the company. It’s a case study. Also, if you walk into an Apple store, Geniuses help you. This policy is very hard to keep in place. If you look on Zappos’ Facebook page, most comments praise the company for customer service. It’s that hard to keep in place, that people feel compelled to praise them!
    • Go over the top and reply some of the unreasonable queries, for a PR stunt – an airline company, for example, gave real Christmas gifts to passengers, based on their wishes; but they also filmed this and the video has 35+M views; examples like this are plenty; but you can’t replicate these to masses, and are mostly done for image, not for satisfying everyone’s needs;
  • Always, but always keep in mind what your focus is:
    • Do you want to shallowly affect the experiences of groups of people by producing content for the masses?
    • Do you want to deeply affect the experience of just one person, by providing answers to individual comments?
      You have to pick your battles – either one or the other.
  • Think of solutions for the customers to help themselves: PC Garage has a forum on which people post questions and other members of the community are there to help; Google has Google Product Forums, where people help one each other; Google employees do intervene at times; on SwiftKey support page people start topics and other can comment;
  • Set rules for comments: personally, I go for three rules:
    • On-topic (talk about the subject of the blog post);
    • No self-promotion / SPAM in comments;
    • No personal attacks (to other commentators / blog author / other parties); talk about the idea, not about the person; the first comment in this blog post says “bro, do you hear something of this video? Can’t you film without moving yourself on the chair?” It’s not a personal attack, but it’s a rather personal message.
  • If I were you, I’d look to make the world better and ruthlessly delete all the comments which are not making the world a better place;
  • I mentioned “genuine” 9 times so far (+1 makes it a 10); that is because writing genuine comments gets increasingly difficult over time; you will tend to hear similar problems; you will tend to hear either very simple questions (and you’re overqualified for that) or very difficult questions (and you’re either not qualified, or don’t have enough information to answer that); you will feel a pressure from the commentator to force you to reply (“X has written to me; personally; I should reply, this is nice!” – yes, it is nice, but in time, it will consume you); in time, you will tend to give the “k. thx. bye” kind of comments I spoke about earlier; the solution, in this case, is to either pick your battles or to work on your motivation to write helpful comments, even if it helps only one person;
  • Know that you will probably get less praise than negative comments; I have 1,000+ videos on YouTube; some of them have been filmed without a tripod; some, without an external microphone; I haven’t activated ads on the YouTube videos, to provide the users with a better experience; now, the majority of feed-back I received over my videos were with negative remarks to the filming quality; rarely, but almost equal in number, have I received praise; I have never received an YouTube comment offering to help me in a way or another to film the videos (resources, effort, time, money);
  • Focus on making the conversation positive-focused and enjoyable; try to have fun in the process and to make the other party have a positive outlook on things;
  • Try to find solutions, even if they don’t depend on you; read this blog post by Seth Godin to see how to formulate things in a practical manner:
    • “ABSOLUTELY NO CREDIT CARDS.” versus “To keep our prices as low as possible, we only accept cash. The good news is that there’s an ATM next door.”
    • “BATHROOMS FOR PATRONS ONLY.” versus “Our spotlessly clean restrooms are for our beloved customers only, so come on in and buy something! Also, there’s a public bathroom in the library down the street.”
  • When you’re communicating online, it’s easy to forget that you talk to a real person – avoid this; see a video which describes this;
  • Don’t let online feed-back get you; I wrote an article on clicking versus scrolling on this blog; at that time, I considered to be one of my best pieces on Internet marketing; online, I had some nasty comments on it; one year passed, and, after a long silence, first it got tweeted by some relatively big names in UX industry, then it got listed into some list of UX trends; then, more tweets and another list; this, I remind you, more than one year after it was written; take the initial online feed-back and you want to delete the article; keep it going and it might to good, after all; right now it’s on the first page on Google for a rather competitive search;
  • On a technical matter – I used to have Conditional CAPTCHA WordPress Plugin on all web sites; the process was simple – if Akismet suspected a comment to be SPAM, the plugin forced the display of a CAPTCHA (security code) to be filled in; if filled in correctly, the comment would display, if not, the comment would be deleted; if Akismet thought the comment was safe, no CAPTCHA was presented; it was great! Most commentators saw no CAPTCHA and almost all spammers did; the trouble is, after a while I got to receive a few hundreds of comments per day; and some of them, probably by a combination of chance and ability to decipher the CAPTCHA, managed to correctly fill in the codes, and, thus, I had some Spam approved; this got to be one or two messages a day; it bugged me so much, I now use reCAPTCHA on my blogs; much more annoying for the commentators, but safe for me;
  • As a final note, commentaries can make or break a site; I read Lifehacker both for the articles and for the comments of them; very smart; YouTube has so poor comments on most of its videos, that even if other users can vote which comments they liked best, even the most voted comments are usually of very low quality; in Romania, there are news outlets which approve any comments; they are basically un-readable; HotNews.ro carefully selects the best of the best and it’s generally a pleasure to read them; if your audience (and time to moderate) allow you to pick very good commentators as contributors to your content, get them; Amazon gives real incentives to people whose comments get very popular; commentators can bring real value to a web site.

As a conclusion to this article:

  • You, as a content creator should strive to create new content and impact as many people as possible; at times, go deep and directly influence people by commenting on specific issues;
  • Sometimes, online commentators tend to focus on their own needs, ignoring others’ (you included).

P.S.: It’s pure economics:

Economic problem arises mainly due to two reasons- (i) human wants are unlimited (ii) means to satisfy human wants are scarce. (source)

Commentators have unlimited needs, you have limited resources to try and satisfy them.


Note: Also see the Yahoo! Group on which I present similar issues:IMRo. To join, email imro-subscribe@yahoogroups.com and reply to the confirmation email.

I am a Freelancer. My expertise is in SEO (Search Engine Optimization) / UX (user experience) / WordPress. Co-founder of lumeaseoppc.ro (series of events on SEO & PPC) and cetd.ro (Book on branding for MDs). On a personal level, I like self-development - events, sports, healthy living, volunteering, reading. I live in London, and lots of things live in me.

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