Generally, I’m a fan of enabling comments on your personal or professional blog. Most of the time it’s a win-win–you can facilitate a discussion among your readers, address any feedback that gets brought up, and get free unique content for your site (blog comments can often bring in some long-tail search traffic). It’s an easy way to interact with the people who visit your site and to show them that you’re listening to what they have to say, even if you might disagree with it from time to time.
There are, of course, a couple exceptions to the “blog commenting is a good idea” argument. First of all, if you’re especially sensitive and can’t handle it when the occasional reader criticizes your post, an idea of yours, or is just being an Internet troll, blog comments may not be for you. I’ve seen people fly off the rails and obsessively post a retort to every single critical or negative comment just so they can have the last word in a childish “So THERE” sort of way. You’ve got to learn to handle negative feedback properly or just simply let it go. It’s fine if your readers disagree with you, and you can argue back and forth in a professional, respectful manner. But if you’re bawling over how John S. was being mean or hateful to you just because he corrected you in a blog post comment, you may not be able to handle allowing other people expressing their opinions on your site.
Another exception to the rule is if you are such a universally loathed company or brand that no matter what you put out, people are going to fucking hate you. The perfect example of this is the TSA’s blog. Nobody likes airport security–who enjoys being treated like a criminal just for flying to Las Vegas for the weekend? Not helping matters is the organization’s increasingly ridiculous knee-jerk reactions to isolated failed terrorist attempts that they insist will make flying safer but only result in making it more of a hassle and reducing our constitutional rights to a hand down our pants.
The TSA knows everyone hates them, so in a barely half-ass attempt to get the country back on their side, they started a blog to, in their words, “Â facilitate an ongoing dialogue on innovations in security, technology and the checkpoint screening process.” Note the sue of the word “dialogue” here, which ordinarily means “a conversation between two or more people.” Yet if you sift through their blog posts, you’ll notice a few things. First, the posts are ridiculous. They’ve got their typical “fun” or “offbeat posts, like one about a passenger who tried to fly with live eels in his bag, or how to travel with a wedding dress. But the entries that actually address widespread criticism or newsworthy happenings are a joke. It’s a problem a lot of corporate blogs run into, where they have to deflect criticism without actually divulging how they’re in the wrong or suck at what they do.
Take this recent example: aÂ video has spread across the web made by a blogger who was the first to sue the TSA after they implemented the “body scanner or patdown” pick-your-poison at airports last year. The video discusses how the scanners show your body as a white figure against a black background and how foreign objects that you’re carrying will also show up as black. However, if you place the objects at your side (via a hidden pocket or something), the black figures will blend against the black background and won’t show up in the scan. The blogger has successfully been able to take undetected metal items through security by exploiting this embarrassing flaw. TSA responded with a sad retort about how they can’t divulge their sophisticated scanner technology detection for “obvious security reasons,” but that it’s “one of the best tools available” and is one of their “20 layers of security” that includes hiring some obese mouth breather on a power trip because he has a TSA-issued badge and therefore thinks he’s a police officer.
The response is problematic for a few reasons. Number one, it is flippantly disrespectful to the man who made the video. Sure, he’s being critical of their organization, but generally it’s a good idea to be the one taking the high road. They could have come across as the rational, professional ones and highlighted the blogger as being paranoid and spiteful without referring to him as “some guy claiming he figured out a way to beat our body scanners” whose “crude attempt” to show security flaws is misguided. Secondly, the overall language used in the post undercuts their credibility and makes them sound as if they’re the immature ones, especially when they refer to a bomb in the post as “you knowâ€¦ things that go BOOM.” You’re addressing a potentially huge security flaw in $1 billion worth of technology implemented for air transportation nationwide–your tone should be a little more serious and adult than cutesy-referring to explosive devises as “things that go BOOM.”
But regardless of whether the TSA posts about wedding dresses or releases statements about the latest batch of criticism thrown their way, the comments left by readers are pretty much the same: vitriolic, critical, angry, and fed up. The TSA blog has a comment moderation system, but it seems as if they only filter out profane or hateful speech. To their credit, they are publishing some pretty negative responses instead of removing them and cherry-picking the positive ones to publish, but what good is that if you never address any of them? I’ve never seen any of the bloggers engage in a true dialogue, despite the blog’s mission statement, with their blog’s commenters. Hell, I’ve never seen the bloggers even post a single comment.
If you ask me, I think the TSA should just get rid of their commenting system altogether. It certainly doesn’t help their image since virtually every comment left by readers is negative and critical of the whole organization. Although it is building a community, it’s a community of like-minded people who all hate the same organization that’s trying to turn its own image around, so it’s a pretty pointless endeavor.
The blog could potentially change its approach by doing the following:
- Hold off on the cutesy shit until the audience is a bit less critical. The offbeat and fun content is good, but it’s falling on deaf ears if your readers all hate you and only check out your stuff to pick apart everything.
- Shift the tone so that it’s more honest and mature. Airport security isn’t something that should have a “bro-brah buddy” vibe–it undercuts the TSA’s credibility and just makes people hate them more.
- Respond to feedback and engage/interact with the readers. Even if they can’t really do anything, talk about people’s concerns and criticism and at least acknowledge that they’re listening to what folks have to say. That alone would show people that they take all suggestions into consideration.
If that’s too much work for them and they want to keep churning out the same bullshit they have been, they might as well just turn off commenting because it’s not doing them any favors. The same goes for any blog–if you can’t be bothered to interact with your readers, listen to their feedback, and respond to it, blog comments are not for you. After all, they’re not mandatory; many successful blogs don’t allow comments (Seth Godin, for example). But there are benefits to having them, and if you can overcome the drawbacks to embrace the positive aspects of blog comments, you’ll have a robust and passionate community of readers.