AppsLab FAQ: What if Someone Says Something Negative?

It’s been a few months since I did an FAQ post. This one has been on my list of to dos for months, and since I’m not doing as much community management as I did in the past, I wanted to crank out a post before I forgot all the content.

The focus of this post is on negatives, ranging from slander and obscenity, to annoyed users slagging your product, to bloggers slamming your company, all of that.

This question comes up frequently when I talk to internal people about externally facing activities like blogs or communities like Mix. People are especially concerned when I recommend against comment moderation on blogs and tell them there’s no way to remove or edit comments made on Mix.

There are valid reasons at work here.

  • People want others to agree with them.
  • Allowing people to denigrate Oracle on an Oracle web property seems counter-intuitive.
  • A competitor will use negative comments against Oracle.

At this point, I usually question the reasons why people are starting a blog or joining Mix. Most people have a Wild West viewpoint of the Intertubes, i.e. it’s populated by spammers, pornographers, grifters, and trolls. This makes them expect the worst, which isn’t a bad thing.

My advice is simple. So what?

Pretty simple advice. Keep in mind, I’m talking about raw negativity here, not informed disagreement.

Here’s how it applies to each argument.

People want others to agree with them.
Someone will always disagree, no matter what you say. That’s just how it is, in life and even more so on the ‘tubes, since naysayers don’t have to face you. And yes, people say terrible things online that they would never say in person.

You need to have a pretty thick skin if you plan to put your opinions out on the ‘tubes. Mix is more sheltered, but even so, there are dissenters.

The good news is that for every negative voice, you have positive ones to counter. Most people who read your blog, enjoy it or find it informative; most people who belong to Mix are interested in learning, not flaming.

This creates a self-policing community. The people who want to get value will chastise the baddies so they can return to good content.

Allowing people to denigrate Oracle on an Oracle web property seems counter-intuitive.
Actually, it doesn’t anymore. Transparency is the new world order now, and the key part of transparency is including all viewpoints, positive and negative.

Examine this in reverse and tell me how much you trust a company who claims to be transparent and only includes the sunshine and rainbows comments? We all have a healthy dose of mistrust for so-called transparency, so to have any hope at all, you need balanced feedback.

Also a self-policing community is critical here because it’s a very strong message to have your customers as advocates.

A competitor will use negative comments against Oracle.
This one inevitably arises in discussions about Mix, since the content isn’t controlled, as a blog would be. The only answer here is simple: competitors are already doing this, and they will continue to do so.

You can expect competitors to misrepresent and misinterpret comments made on blogs and communities to their advantage. You can’t do anything about this, and there’s a good chance it goes both ways.

This shouldn’t be a reason to remove negatives, since it then appears as though you have something to hide.

One big caveat, the customer.
My “so what?” answer always has a caveat. If the negative voice is a customer, you should care, or at least try to get to the bottom of the anger.

I used to use Summize to track the keyword “oracle” on Twitter until the volume got too high. Twitter is a great way for people to blow off steam created by various annoyances in their lives, and there’s no filter. So, the feedback is pretty raw and in-the-moment.

Justin also follows negative Oracle mentions on Twitter, and several times, he reached out (comcastcares style) to delve into the reasons, attempting to solve issues and recruit the various ACEs who also use Twitter as resources to assist.

In each case I saw, the negative response quickly resolved as frustration and then relief when the issue was solved.

Customer negativity can hurt you, but the approach should always be one of research first, rather than reaction.

Censorship is a slippery slope.
When we built Connect and Mix, we stayed away from comment editing for a number of reasons.

  1. Editing removes any audit trail, or if you maintain an audit trail, you introduce a layer of complexity. For internal communication, there are laws require an audit trail for communication in the case of a lawsuit.
  2. Editing isn’t transparent, unless you show an audit trail.
  3. Once you allow editing, the question of whom should have the privilege to moderate becomes an issue.
  4. Once you have moderators on a community site, you introduce concerns about consistency.

We haven’t yet had any need to censor comments. On a few occasions, people have requested that we remove their comments, mostly for their own peace of mind, not due to content.

In my experience, it’s best to stay away from moderation and censorship, if only because they create more work and complexity. The path of least resistance wins again.

Again, my comments here don’t apply to informed disagreement, which you should address in a measured and logical way.

What do you think? Do you have a policy you follow for comments on your blog? What about community activities?

Sound off in the uncensored and unmoderated comments.

AboutJake

a.k.a.:jkuramot

13 comments

  1. Jake,

    I agree completely with your theory on comments and patrol. I don't have too many comments on most of my posts, but when I do, I try my best to reply in some way to each of them. I think responding to each of them in a timely manner helps keep readers and increases my overall cred in the community.

    I believe that when people take the time and effort to leave a comment, they deserve at least acknowledgment and often a response as well.

  2. Mostly agree…but pure spam comments get a quick dump from my blog. But then I'm not popular enough to have many.

  3. You're right. I did leave out spam because dealing with it seems pretty obvious. Our spam plugin does a nice job of filtering out the crud.

    Mix, being behind a login wall, has very little spam.

  4. Yeah, comment moderation just bugs me, even though I get why people do it. Still, it just fractures the conversation.

    Transparency can be bad, but people do appreciate honestly. Bad news is bad news, but hiding it or lying make it worse.

  5. Great post Jake and one that applies to a wider audience than just blogs… I could draw a lot of parallels in the time I spent in Consulting with the points that you draw out.

    I think that your comment on Twitter indicates a wider need though, people need to sound off, somewhere, when something goes wrong. Doing that in the commetns of a blog, or on Twitter is (usually) much less destructive than them doing it in a meeting. T'Internet is a great safety valve!

  6. Good point. The FAQ series collects experiences that we have seen through our 2.0 activity, but there is application to real world interaction as well.

    Twitter is a bit dangerous as a punching bag, since it's indexed by search engines. You should assume that what you say will be seen by everyone. It is an interesting tool to track real time reactions to a presentation or a meeting, as a back channel.

  7. And congratulations for not even editing your own comments! 😉

    (i.e., “people do appreciate honestly”…)

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