Aug 08 2009

Webmasters, don’t pull rank on your readers!

Published by at 1:29 pm under Blogging,Writing Articles

Here are a few tips about how to treat commenters and reviewers respectfully.

1.  It’s rarely helpful to highlight the host’s comments in a different color. First, it usually looks annoying, particularly if your comments are long.  Second, most of the people that read the comments on your website will know who you are, particularly if you comment frequently.  Third, shouldn’t your writing stand out on its own merits?  By virtue of your experience and effort, you are probably among the most competent and best-written people on your site.  (Ahem– if your guests were more competent than you, they would move on).  When a host highlights his comments, it may feel like he’s insecure about the quality of his writing.

2.  I generally recommend against citing your own accomplishments in comments. (GUEST:  Hey, I like your site but I have some suggestions…”  HOST:  Umm, no.  I have hundreds of thousands of readers kthxbai).  Even if your accomplishments are impressive, this is not a particularly mature way to respond to advice.  (Too defensive).  You may well sound like an asshat, particularly if your accomplishments are not really impressive.  Either way, you’re likely to send the message that “I don’t care about your opinion because you’re less accomplished than I am.”  That’s not very polite or professional.  Please be open to the possibility that you might learn from someone’s opinions even if he isn’t accomplished.  That’s why companies use focus groups.

3.  Defending yourself is rarely necessary and sometimes harmful. First, unless someone has economic influence over your career (like an acquisitions editor or portfolio reviewer), his opinion about your work has absolutely no real-world impact.  Will you learn anything or hone your skills by defending yourself?  Probably not.  Will you convince anyone that you’re right?  Probably not.  You’re more likely to make yourself look defensive and prickly— especially if you’re Rich Johnston.

3.1. IF YOU DECIDE TO DEFEND YOURSELF, DO NOT USE SARCASM. You are far more likely to look pathetic than witty.  Additionally, I would recommend keeping your explanation as brief as possible.

4.  Citing your rank is usually necessary in one case: when you’re enforcing community standards. In most cases, the main problem with using your rank on someone (I’m accomplished, I’m the webmaster, etc) is that it sends the message that “your opinion doesn’t matter.”  That is usually impolite, but not when you’re enforcing your website’s rules.  If someone wants to post inappropriate content on your website, his opinion about what is inappropriate clearly does not matter.  In these cases, it is usually advantageous to say something like “Hey, Jim, I just deleted your comment because of [reason X].”  That will help reinforce your rules and show Jim why what he did was unacceptable.  (If you silently delete the comment, Jim might not be sure why it disappeared).

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