John Cass (?) from Backbone Media has an interesting post about handling customer relations in corporate blogs. He starts by describing the expectation in blogging, that the readers should be free to make comments and that by posting a blog it's best to expect and foster a conversation on that blog.
This works great in various blogs ... slashdot is notorious for postings that garner hundreds of comments. However it doesn't always follow that by posting a blog you're going to get comments. On this site here I don't get many comments. I do require that people "register" with the site before making comments, but that's to keep spammers away. Seeing the amount of trackback spam attempts I get, I'm justified in placing a hurdle in front of potential commentors.
Here's the post: The GM Blog: Lessons For Customer Blogging Relations (September 2, 2005, John Cass)
For his discussion he takes interviews he conducted with two GM customers who had made comments on GM's FastLane blog site. Apparently GM has a policy of not replying to blog comments, their excuse being a lack of resources to do so. The funny thing is that while he posts their names and that they had made comments on GM's blogs, he doesn't give a synopsis of their feelings about not having received replies to their comments.
Instead he goes into a long lecture in the value of following through with the expectations you set by building a blog site.
That is, he says, the populace of blog users are accustomed to having comments on a blog turn into conversations with the blog author. That's true even if it's a CEO who makes the blog posting. Hence, his argument is that the public has an expectation that if they make a comment they'll receive a reply. Enough comments and replies and pretty soon you have yourselves a conversation (of sorts).
In my day job I am a Sun employee and one of the bloggers feeding both blogs.sun.com and java.net. Funny thing is, I don't remember there being a statement in Sun's blogging policy that we should reply to all comments.
I think in general that is a good policy. However there are some exceptions I see which are honed from a couple decades doing Usenet, Mailing Lists, message boards and blogging on the Internet.
What about trolls? What about spammers? What about flamers? What about the confused? They all exist, and they can easily take residence on your blog. If you have a policy of always replying to their comments you could easily be caught feeding the troll, which we all know just makes the troll bigger and nastier.
Some comments are better left unreplied.
For example, the perennial issue with Java is there's a lot of people who want Sun to open source our implementation. Sun has repeatedly said "no" and explained why we say no, and that hasn't satisfied them. Regularly on my java.sun.com or java.net blogs a commenter takes up residence subtly, or not so subtly, discussing open/free software and making it clear he's got an agenda to prove some point about why Sun is evil for not open sourcing Java. It's clear that they've already made up their mind, and I am not allowed to say anything other than the company line, so therefore it isn't useful for me to make further replies to their baiting comments. Hence, I ignore them.
The flamers are in almost the same boat. I don't understand flamers, why would they rove the network looking for places to spew? The spammers are not even worthy of making comments, they're only worthy of having their comments deleted or placing roadblocks up so they can't make their comment postings at all.
The confused? What I mean are the people who think they understand, and go off in a tangent not making sense all the way. More often than not your attempts to set them straight will only make them more confused. It's sad, and it's probably worthwhile making a couple replies to attempt to set them straight, but they can become a time sink that isn't worth pursuing.
Who should be making the replies to the comments? I say it is the poster of the blog entry who should field the conversation. To do any less undermines the transparency and authenticity of the blog.