KEVIN Oakley is chewing me out for my post about Business Wire (BW) fumbling an error on their blog. He figured out that one reason I posted that piece was to take a dig at BW because they won’t run my comments on their blog.
He is right that I used the post to poke BW, but I didn’t try to hide that fact. In fact, I made that a central theme of the post. My message was that companies should expect blackballed critics to become more motivated and more critical.
That wasn’t the only reason for the post. The poor way that Business Wire handled an embarrassing error on their blog holds important lessons for anyone who writes for a corporate blog. I hope that by writing about this important practice point others will be able to avoid the same mistakes.
But Oakley, who may be using a fictitious name, thinks I was wrong to do the post. He says I was just making up the stuff about the proper way to correct errors in blog posts. In addition, he thinks I sell IROs short and have an ulterior motive for supporting corporate sites for Reg. FD compliance.
So we’ve been debating each other in the comments section. Neither of us is conceding a thing, but I think we are both learning something from the process.
That is one of the reasons blogs and other forums are valuable — the feedback and discussion can provide valuable insights to both parties.
We won’t allow pitches, abuse, dishonesty or spam
But it can be difficult to allow this kind of debate on a blog, especially if the blog is associated with a public company. It’s difficult to moderate comments even on this blog. We haven’t always done a good job ourselves, but I think we’ve managed quite well on the whole.
Our current commenting policy is quite simple. Anything goes except three types of comments that we will not allow. They are:
- Irrelevant comments that often are thinly veiled sales pitches from vendors. We get quite a few of these. Vendors will try to get their products associated with a post about another product that we may have written about. If we write about really good online annual report producers, for example, we will not permit producers who we do not approve of posting some irrelevant comment just to get a link back to their website or to get their product mentioned.
- Abusive or dishonest comments. Unfortunately, we get a few of these. Some people from vendors dislike us intensely for things we’ve written about their companies over the years. They get personal and say rude things, and we won’t let these through because we want to preserve the general quality of the discourse for the rest of the audience. We also get people using fake identities trying to bash competitors. You can do it under your real identity if you want, but don’t be a coward.
- General Internet spam. There’s an awful lot of this, but it’s mostly filtered out by the excellent Akismet software.
But we crave additional insight and criticism
Apart from the preceding limited situations, we welcome all comments, even ones where people don’t want to use their real names but do have something useful to say. Two kinds of comments are most highly prized:
- Those that add more information or insight to a topic, especially when we know the commenter is with a vendor but they don’t try to promote their company or post their company’s URL; and,
- Comments that are critical of our point of view, which we get a fair bit.
Comments that provide additional useful information make the blog a richer resource, while critical comments are an opportunity for us to explain our views more fully and to understand better the perspectives of our detractors.
Critical comments tough, but vital to success
Critical comments also add credibility to the blog because they show that we are not afraid of dissent. Indeed, if we have a fault it’s that we engage dissenters too much.
Letting people be critical of you or your company on your own website goes against the natural instinct of most people. But it’s vital to allow critics to voice their views because shutting them out is likely only to strengthen their resolve to be critical of your firm.
Furthermore, a blog that only has happy comments isn’t going to be credible or interesting, which in turn is going to discourage people from using the site in future.
At the end of the day, the owners of a blog or other online forum must have confidence in themselves and respect the reader’s right to form their own judgments. They must fight the tendency to quash dissent while still maintaining a respectful decorum on the site.
It’s a myth that there are no rules for blogs. There are in fact many rules or conventions, and you should know about them before you start blogging.
If you don’t understand the protocols, there’s a good chance your blog or forum will flop and you’ll do your company’s reputation more harm than good.