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May 4 / Joel Cordes

Internship Insider: Avoid these mistakes in the Comments section

Here are some pitfalls to avoid (and strategies to implement) when it comes to properly using your Comments section.

I’ll be the first to admit my own shortcomings here; this is one of those topics that EVERYONE can get better at in some way.  I’m eager to hear whatever advice/wisdom you’d like to offer on this as well!

1. Not responding to any comments

You wrote an article because you wanted it to be read. Now that it has been, your job is not over with.

Regardless of what they wrote, a commenter took the time to give you feedback. The least you can do is show them that you care about your work and your readers.

If you don’t care enough to even say, “Thanks for your feedback,” how can the reader be confident that you cared about the article in the first place? If you don’t care, why should they?

2. Only responding to positive comments

Your article is meant for public consumption, and that audience is incredibly diverse when it comes to opinions.

Getting some negative feedback is not a bad thing. It means you took a strong enough stance to spark a conversation. In fact, I think it’s far worse to get NO comments than it is to get some bad ones.

However, if you don’t defend your article, then it must be indefensible. Your silence indicates the detractor was right and you were too chicken or lazy to do anything about it.

Those who might have agreed with you only see a white flag of surrender instead, and the point you were trying to make dies on the spot.

Since you believed in your premise enough to write about it, defend it in the Comments section. Explaining your reasoning not only might win a few skeptics, it forces you to evaluate your own logic.

When somebody else makes a good point, be sure to salute them for it. It’s 100 percent OK to be wrong sometimes.

3. Fight fire with fire

In the old days, you might take a different way home at night to avoid being pelted with rotten fruit by your detractors. Now? An online writer works from a completely exposed location over the troll bridge.

Today’s negative feedback is immediate, oftentimes illogical and frequently personal. The temptation to duck down, hide behind your keyboard and retaliate with a volley of your own is understandable.

Don’t do it.

No matter how ridiculous a commenter is being, if you fly off the handle in return, your readers will see that the writer is just as much of an irrational jerk as the idiot commenter.

An over-the-top rebuttal will likely just reinforce the perception that you don’t really know what you’re talking about.

I’ve always found that taking an attack and turning it on myself is disarming. Even if it’s simply to illustrate the ridiculousness of the comment, a little self-deprecation goes a long ways. Have fun with the moment, even if you’re the only one smiling.

Respectfully make your point, thank them for reading and tell them you can’t wait to hear from them again (even if it is with your tongue firmly in cheek). If they simply want to lambaste some more, let them go. At least you said your part.

(NOTE: If receiving overwhelmingly negative criticism from your readers, then you might want to figure out whether/why they have a good point.)

Taking the high road EVERY time in the Comments section isn’t just about keeping the few dozen readers who left something for you. It’s about the thousands who are silently reading and watching what you do next.

* * *

Joel C. Cordes is Bleacher Report’s Sports Writing Internship Program Feedback Editor. Along with fellow editor Greg Pearl, he develops B/R interns by providing feedback and mentoring, the highlights of which are shared with the B/R Blog.

  • Pjsapi

    I love the comments section as a means to keep the story going. Creates new ideas even. It is fun to write a story just to see how riled up the commentors can be. Not that I’m trying to start something but just to write something that the fan cannot admit is true. Too bad the recent changes to the comments section format make it harder to read and follow.

    • Anonymous

      I agree with that. It seems all over the place now. But this is great advice, nonetheless. I certainly need to re-work the way I handle some comments. Thanks for the post, Joel!

      • Joel Cordes

        Thanks for your thoughts Shaun!

    • Joel Cordes

      Thanks for your thoughts! I agree that the new format has been an adjustment to get used to. I’m thinking that the collapsed style was in order to allow readers to see the original threads in a more efficient manner (especially helpful for the articles that have 50+ comments?). This way you can choose which original thread sounds interesting and explore it. Pros and cons to both the old and new way…

  • Alex Ballentine

    Good advice! I always find it difficult to politely engage those who disagree with me. I don’t mind debating points with them and defending my logic but it can be hard to strike a balance between debate and argument. It’s something that I continually work toward handling better and these are good tips.

    • Joel Cordes

      Thanks for your thoughts Alex! It’s not wrong to debate or argue, but the writer has to stay within the role of being a pro.

  • AndreKhatchaturian

    I kind of disagree. I just avoid the trolls at all costs. Remember what Mark Twain said: “Never argue with an idiot. They’ll lower you to their level and beat you because of experience.”

    Sometimes they’ll make a good point (albeit in a rude manner) and I’ll respond to say thats an interesting point or whatever. But that’s on very rare occasions.

    • Joel Cordes

      thanks for your thoughts, Andre. I think your approach is well thought out and effective!

  • Abacus Reveals

    While I do try to respond in a civil manner even to commenters who are rude or personally insulting, if — after a couple of exchanges — the commenter remains impolite and on the attack, I do (as you put it) fight fire with fire.
    That said, I have been able to establish a cordial and civil rapport with quite a few commenters whose initial remarks were hostile.

    As our moms taught us, honesty is indeed the best policy — and sometimes the truth hurts.

    Good topic, Mr. Cordes. I’d love to see a follow-up!

    • Joel Cordes

      I know where you’re coming from, and it certainly is fine to stand your ground firmly. At the same time, when it really is reaching levels of incivility, then it’s better to just walk away. My reasoning is:

      1. If you fight fire with fire, what are the chances that this completely illogical, (and up to this point, really nasty) commenter is going to be won over by this approach? Probably unlikely, right? Some of your readers may cheer you on for giving this guy what he deserves, but others are just as likely to roll their eyes at you getting drawn down into the mud. The potential reward is outweighed by possibly giving the wrong impression.

      2. However, if you walk away (after having tried to be firm, but civil), the idiot commenter is just left by himself to rant (which will shut him up after the last comment that you don’t respond to). AND, readers will see you taking the high road. Even those that were hoping for that person to be put in their place will understand your parting shot was not even dignifying that commenter with a response.

      • Abacus Reveals

        Thank you for a thorough and informed response, sir.
        As a retired schoolteacher, I can see parallels in dealing with students’ parents. While one always wishes to establish a cordial rapport, there comes a time…when sarcasm seems appropriate.

        I’ve also picked up some practical ideas from observing other writers’ interactions with their “audience” — perhaps I (as a relative novice with this type of forum) have just been lucky in establishing casual friendships with a couple who handle it rather effectively and efficiently.

        Thanks again for for your time and expertise.

        • Joel Cordes

          You and I have the education background in common!

  • Karlo Sevilla

    Hello, Joel! An interesting and much-needed article you wrote here…and I hope you’ll give me advice:

    I had a commenter who wrote that I should not put smileys at the end of my comments because it “lessens the credibility of my articles.” I replied that my comments are different from my articles, that I’m more casual in my comments. And yes, I still put smileys or “frownies” after some of my own comments.

    What do you think? :-)

    • Joel Cordes

      I think as with anything, it’s probably a matter of 1. what you’re comfortable with and 2. everything in moderation. Occasional emoticons aren’t going to wreck any credibility (IMO). Using them all the time? Yeah, I could see that wearing on frequent readers. It’s probably similar to using the exclamation point. Use it for effect. The less you use it, the more effect it will have when you do. Thanks for your thoughts!

      • Karlo Sevilla

        Copy. Thanks for this response, Joel. I finally have an answer from a very credible source. :-)

  • Tom Firme

    Something I’ve done recently is take criticisms (at least coherent ones) and used them as ideas for future articles if it seems like the commenter caught something I missed. I might even ask a commenter what he or she really thinks if the commenter has something fiery to say.

    • Joel Cordes

      Very cool idea. You’re getting insight into other thought processes, and that’s never a bad thing.