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