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David Lee King

Dealing with Comments on your Website



First, a bit of backstory: my library is going to start charging late fees. Wow – exciting, David! Most libraries do that! Yeah, yeah – I know. But we haven’t had a late fee for 35 years or so, so it’s a bit of a big deal in Topeka right now. We’re starting to share our plan with our community, and one obvious place to share has been on our library’s website.

Guess what? People have been sharing back. Quite a few (check the comments! It’s interesting reading). That one post, so far, has gathered a whopping 89 comments (a first for us). Comments by 36 people, mostly from customers (there’s about 7 library staff who have chimed in, including me). One customer has posted 14 comments! It’s been a rather hot blog post for us.

Here’s how we’ve been handling our comments:

  • Normally, the blog author (ie., library staff) get an email when there’s a comment on their post, and they respond to the comment – thank the person for commenting, answer questions, etc.
  • Once in awhile (as in this particular blog post), the questions are passed off to appropriate staff to answer (if you look through the comments to the post in question, you’ll see that happening).
  • I actively monitor comments (that’s part of my job)
  • When there’s a misperception or misinformation being shared, we correct it
  • If there’s a personal attack (which has happened twice so far), I step it and email the person individually, telling them that they’re welcome to post, please stick to the topic, and stop attacking others…  then I also post a comment on that blog post stating what I did and why. We’re going for transparency.
  • If there’s a comment that’s highly inappropriate, I delete it (there’s been one so far).
  • And we delete spam comments.

Otherwise, we let it go – after all, we created an open forum, and people can say whatever they want (for the most part). I am also working on some online Community Discussion Guidelines. We’ll probably put a link to them somewhere around our blog comment box. It’s been an interesting lesson in online forum management for me!

Why are we putting ourselves through this? Why don’t we just close comments and move on? Because we are in control of the conversation. Think about it. If people were talking about this issue on their own blogs, the library might or might not be able to respond. If people were discussing this on the newspapers editorials/comments (which they have been), we’re not in control of that conversation either – the newspaper is.

But when the conversation happens on our website … then we’re in control. We can correct misinformation easily, and point to the correct answer. We can add phone numbers, email addresses, etc. We can even email the commenter individually (assuming they used a valid email address).

This allows  us to hold the conversation in “our building” – on our digital branch. One of my co-workers recently said she was putting on her fireman’s hat when we started getting negative comments. I reminded her that she was right – but we were doing a “controlled burn.” Because we’re in control of the conversation.

Have you had similar experiences with your organization’s blog and/or website? If so, how have you handled:

  1. lots of comments?
  2. inappropriate comments?

I’d love to know!

Pic by Vetustense

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • http://librarybytes.com/ Helene

    We utilize our customer code of conduct ( http://www.columbuslibrary.org/ebranch/index.cfm?pageid=88) to provide us with similar guidelines for acceptable behavior. Though all may not apply to the virtual library setting, many of them do (such as using “profane, obscene or abusive language” and “Harassing other customers” in our digital space. We’ve haven’t really experienced many problems with comments in this area. In fact, we’ve only had to refer to the CCC once when we removed a comment because it verbally attack another customer using profanity.

    Glad to hear your generating lots of feedback and conversation. Would you want it any other way? I’m guessing not. :)

  • http://librarybytes.com Helene

    We utilize our customer code of conduct ( http://www.columbuslibrary.org/ebranch/index.cfm?pageid=88) to provide us with similar guidelines for acceptable behavior. Though all may not apply to the virtual library setting, many of them do (such as using “profane, obscene or abusive language” and “Harassing other customers” in our digital space. We’ve haven’t really experienced many problems with comments in this area. In fact, we’ve only had to refer to the CCC once when we removed a comment because it verbally attack another customer using profanity.

    Glad to hear your generating lots of feedback and conversation. Would you want it any other way? I’m guessing not. :)

  • davidleeking

    Helene – cool! We have a similar Customer Conduct Policy.

    I’ve been thinking we need something that spells out online behavior a bit more clearly – something like NPR’s Community Discussion Rules that addresses the what’s and how’s of public discussion on their site.

  • davidleeking

    Helene – cool! We have a similar Customer Conduct Policy.

    I’ve been thinking we need something that spells out online behavior a bit more clearly – something like NPR’s Community Discussion Rules that addresses the what’s and how’s of public discussion on their site.

  • http://twitter.com/librariantom tom

    it seems like a lot of work to manage comments, so the only thing I might do differently is set a time limit for when the ability to post comments will close. it would seem like after two weeks, you’ve answered pretty much everything, and I wouldn’t want to keep revisiting the same issues over and over for several months.

  • http://twitter.com/librariantom tom

    it seems like a lot of work to manage comments, so the only thing I might do differently is set a time limit for when the ability to post comments will close. it would seem like after two weeks, you’ve answered pretty much everything, and I wouldn’t want to keep revisiting the same issues over and over for several months.

  • davidleeking

    Good idea, Tom! This is really the first “busy” comment we’ve had. If it continues, we might very well do what you suggest.

  • davidleeking

    Good idea, Tom! This is really the first “busy” comment we’ve had. If it continues, we might very well do what you suggest.

  • http://walt.lishost.org/ walt crawford

    Good post–and adds to a commentary at the Library Leadership Network in the article “Engaging the Community” ( http://pln.lyrasis.org/wiki/index.php/Engaging_the_community ), “Don’t join the conversation if you aren’t ready to listen.” (Obviously, you are ready to listen. I might add some of your comments to that article…)

    As to setting a time limit: That’s not a bad idea in general, as spammers tend to look for old posts (apparently thinking they’re less likely to be checked regularly). For WordPress, at least, there’s an add-in to enforce a time limit; I use six months, Jessamyn (I think) uses a month or so.

  • http://walt.lishost.org walt crawford

    Good post–and adds to a commentary at the Library Leadership Network in the article “Engaging the Community” ( http://pln.lyrasis.org/wiki/index.php/Engaging_the_community ), “Don’t join the conversation if you aren’t ready to listen.” (Obviously, you are ready to listen. I might add some of your comments to that article…)

    As to setting a time limit: That’s not a bad idea in general, as spammers tend to look for old posts (apparently thinking they’re less likely to be checked regularly). For WordPress, at least, there’s an add-in to enforce a time limit; I use six months, Jessamyn (I think) uses a month or so.

  • Chris Waage

    Several other tips, in no particular order:
    First, get really creative when you build your banned words list – not just the usual and commonly-used unusual spellings of obscenities, but the hacker variations, etc.

    Second, the time filter is a good thing – six weeks to two months would be as long as I’d leave them open.

    Third, start building or researching a banned domain list. You can do the obvious – ban country-specific domains (North Korea, China, and several of the former Soviet states are a good start), but you’ll have more to add.

    Lastly, no policy will handle every situation, and the best thing I ever did in dealing with this was to form a roundtable to discuss the more “out there” problems and how to handle them. On questionable posts, I had all the members review the post and vote before removal. It was a bit more time-intensive, but it helped to get beyond individual personalities and emotional responses.

  • Chris Waage

    Several other tips, in no particular order:
    First, get really creative when you build your banned words list – not just the usual and commonly-used unusual spellings of obscenities, but the hacker variations, etc.

    Second, the time filter is a good thing – six weeks to two months would be as long as I’d leave them open.

    Third, start building or researching a banned domain list. You can do the obvious – ban country-specific domains (North Korea, China, and several of the former Soviet states are a good start), but you’ll have more to add.

    Lastly, no policy will handle every situation, and the best thing I ever did in dealing with this was to form a roundtable to discuss the more “out there” problems and how to handle them. On questionable posts, I had all the members review the post and vote before removal. It was a bit more time-intensive, but it helped to get beyond individual personalities and emotional responses.

  • http://librariansmatter.com/blog Kathryn Greenhill

    I was thinking about this as I was planning a short holiday using Trip Advisor. The businesses that impressed me were those that responded negative comments on their website – not with “well you suck too” comments but “well, yess we see your point of view, here’s why it happened and how we’ll try to fix it”. The single business that impressed me *most* though, was the one that replied to every single comment – good and bad with a genuine, happy-to-communicate message. Made me think how often responding to community comments is seen as “damage control”, when maybe it could be a joint conversation…

  • http://librariansmatter.com/blog Kathryn Greenhill

    I was thinking about this as I was planning a short holiday using Trip Advisor. The businesses that impressed me were those that responded negative comments on their website – not with “well you suck too” comments but “well, yess we see your point of view, here’s why it happened and how we’ll try to fix it”. The single business that impressed me *most* though, was the one that replied to every single comment – good and bad with a genuine, happy-to-communicate message. Made me think how often responding to community comments is seen as “damage control”, when maybe it could be a joint conversation…

  • http://michaelgolrick.blogspot.com/ Michael Golrick

    I picked up on this post from Twitter. (Gotta give credit!) After reading what David said, I went to the actual post to read the comments. Whew!

    One observation is that, as with many newspaper fora, the conversation seems to be dominated by a couple of voices. It annoys me (as a former director) that one of those voices clearly has an axe to grind, and has ignored the offer of having a personal conversation.

    That being said my second observation is how respectful the library staff has been in the conversation. (But I will add that I am not surprised since I know [and respect] both David and Rob Banks.)

    It takes courage to address the issue this way. Congratulations on being a role model for our institutions.

  • http://michaelgolrick.blogspot.com Michael Golrick

    I picked up on this post from Twitter. (Gotta give credit!) After reading what David said, I went to the actual post to read the comments. Whew!

    One observation is that, as with many newspaper fora, the conversation seems to be dominated by a couple of voices. It annoys me (as a former director) that one of those voices clearly has an axe to grind, and has ignored the offer of having a personal conversation.

    That being said my second observation is how respectful the library staff has been in the conversation. (But I will add that I am not surprised since I know [and respect] both David and Rob Banks.)

    It takes courage to address the issue this way. Congratulations on being a role model for our institutions.

  • Chris O.

    Pretty nice job of having a long but generally respectful comment discussion. Especially when the whole thing is being monitored by a “Sarcastic Library Nazi”!

  • Chris O.

    Pretty nice job of having a long but generally respectful comment discussion. Especially when the whole thing is being monitored by a “Sarcastic Library Nazi”!

  • http://gathernodust.blogspot.com/ Jeff Scott

    It’s important to be open and allow comments. It’s also important to not come off heavy handed when replying (not that anybody is in your example, but I have witnessed that). I would say a more pressing problem is Michael’s observation. It isn’t even just someone with an axe to grind in your blog comments, but someone with an axe to grind who can get stuff printed in the local paper. That’s when things get tricky as to how to respond or if to respond at all.

  • http://gathernodust.blogspot.com Jeff Scott

    It’s important to be open and allow comments. It’s also important to not come off heavy handed when replying (not that anybody is in your example, but I have witnessed that). I would say a more pressing problem is Michael’s observation. It isn’t even just someone with an axe to grind in your blog comments, but someone with an axe to grind who can get stuff printed in the local paper. That’s when things get tricky as to how to respond or if to respond at all.

  • http://mjr.towers.org.uk/ MJ Ray (software.coop)

    This is a debate currently running at my co-op as we renovate our websites. I’ve linked to this discussion – thanks!

    On my blog, I’ve not been closing comments on old posts *until* they get spambot problems and that has worked so far. I would have missed some interesting new developments on topics I wrote about long ago if I’d closed comments automatically.

    I prefer to tell people up-front right before the comment box that comments are premoderated and outline the policy, but that’s been appearing and disappearing from my own blog recently, due to various upgrades by other authors on the same system who don’t think that’s as important as I do.

  • http://mjr.towers.org.uk/ MJ Ray (software.coop)

    This is a debate currently running at my co-op as we renovate our websites. I’ve linked to this discussion – thanks!

    On my blog, I’ve not been closing comments on old posts *until* they get spambot problems and that has worked so far. I would have missed some interesting new developments on topics I wrote about long ago if I’d closed comments automatically.

    I prefer to tell people up-front right before the comment box that comments are premoderated and outline the policy, but that’s been appearing and disappearing from my own blog recently, due to various upgrades by other authors on the same system who don’t think that’s as important as I do.

  • Pingback: Community Discussion Guidelines for our Digital Branch | David Lee King

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