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Blogging Etiquette - The Blog Comment Policy - Do You Need One?

What-will-you-censor?Blogs are meant to be a two-way street.  We are blogging for an audience.  Engaging that audience to participate is a huge part of the the motivation and an element that can define a blog’s success.

So where do you draw the line?

What do you consider acceptable behavior by the audience, on your real estate blog?

For a lot of real estate bloggers, their blog is an extension of their business.  This means that their reputation, credibility, personality, works, message and even their career are potentially on the line with every article published.

What are you doing to protect the above?

The following are a number of items that range from mildly unacceptable to extremely offensive when it comes to the behavior of those leaving comments on your site.  Setting a proper comment policy for your real estate blog can be used as a deterrent and for piece of mind when choosing to edit or delete offensive comments left on your business blog. 

Keep in mind that some bloggers are simply not offended by some of the following, and this is just a list that ranges from mildly annoying to clearly unacceptable. 

1. Drivel
You don’t see it much in the comments on business blogs… it being such an immature act and all, but comments like “First” or other such one-word comments are just dumb.

2. Off Topic
Some people feel that because they have a keyboard and an internet connection they now have right to discuss whatever they want, wherever they want.

3. Hijacking
When the article takes on a life of its own in the comments, because of a heated, mostly off-topic, discussion between (or among) commentors.  Basically, the article loses control of the intended message because the commentors have taken to using it as a platform for their own discussion.

Acceptable-behavior-in-the-comments4. Mr. Anonymous
Fake name, fake email addresses, fake web addresses… the sign of a coward.  A hit and run.  Vermin in the blog world.

5. HTML
Does a comment need styling?  Aren’t the words enough?

6. Links
Some links add to the message; support of an idea, proof, resource and reference.  Some links are just noise; shameless backlinks, irrelevant articles, weak SEO attempts.

7. Cheap SEO Attempts
Comment left by “San Diego Real Estate”.  I’m pretty sure that the text field says “Name”.  Not, “What words would you like Google to associate with the backlink you get for posting a comment on my site?”

8. White Noise Compliments
“Great post.”  “I agree.”  “Thanks.”
*Yawn*  If you are going to take the time to figure out that CAPTCHA, least you could do is add to the discussion.

9. Personal Advertisements in a Good Comment
It’s a shame when a n00b makes a solid point followed up with their contact information.  The reason I think that novices are responsible is that the exact same contact info is supplied when ‘registering’ for the comment.  Just seems foolish to post it in the comment.

10. Spam
You’d be surprised how many people leave spam in their comments.  Why?  Because they don’t recognize that it is genuine spam.  The spam force has got mad skillz.  They can generate a complimentary comment based around the topic of the article.  It’s ingenious.  The tip off: The name URL supplied is for Viagra.

11. Contentious Speech
Some people just like to pick a fight.

12. Dissidents
Not everyone agrees with you.  Are you willing to let them take the stage?

13. Ad-Hominem Attacks
Red Herring at its worst: attacking the person versus attacking the argument.

14. Profanity.
Is your blog G, PG13, PG, or R?

15. Flame Wars
A bitter, public dispute.  Think blog hijacking with rage.

16. Obscenities
Stupid.

17. Hate Speech
Unacceptable.

18. Plagiarism and Copyright Violation
Stupid and Unacceptable

19. Impersonation
Stupid, Unacceptable and Cowardly.

Others?  Please share.

So, if any of the above offends you, and happens on your blogsite, what’s your plan of action?

1. Nothing?
2. Edit it?
3. Warn and edit?
4. Warn and delete?
5. Delete without warning?
6. Ban without warning?
7. Public shaming?

I’ve done all 7.  All without a comment policy in place. 
My policy has always been: It’s my blog, I’ll react as I feel appropriate.
However, after researching for this article, I feel that it may be of service to let our audience understand what I consider acceptable when it comes to participating here.  It just may make someone think twice before acting inappropriately here or elsewhere.

Below are a few different Comment Policy examples from the blogosphere.

Marketing Pilgrim
BloodhoundBlog
ProBlogger
eMomsAtHome
DoshDosh
AndyBeard
Inman News Blog

Related Must Reads
The Secret To Successful Comments

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Comments

First!

Thanks for the reminder. I hope you get a lot of response to this and it will be a reminder to all.

Jim, good to spell it out because etiquette is something that evolves and I was unaware of some of the dos and don'ts and have committed some of these pecadillos myself.

Dang it, I wanted to be First!

Oh well. Nice post.

I delete blatant spam and advertising. Other than that, I can only think of a couple I've deleted. When assaulted by bubble bloggers, I've found countering with fact and humor usually sends them running for cover.

I do have a comment policy, but it's pretty loose. Don't spam, don't advertise and don't make baseless personal attacks.

Other than that, almost anything goes.

Here is my comment policy:

Comment Policy:

Reader comments are encouraged! But please, be civil. This does not mean you have to agree with anything I say here. In fact, I welcome debate and encourage people to express what they feel.

Spam is not tolerated on this blog. I loath spam. There are multiple spam filters in place here, but occasionally something slips through. When I find them, they will be deleted. In addition to the “typical” spam of things such as prescription medication, porn and deeply discounted software, blatant self-promotion and advertising will not be tolerated.

Personal attacks will not be tolerated and will be deleted.

I will *occasionally* edit a comment, but will *never* change its intent or content. The only thing I will edit a comment for is format, and then only if it “breaks” the blog display. I will also edit the occasional URL to “hot link” it for the convenience of other readers.

I like the fact of identifying the rules so that everyone is on the same page. Many people are still new to the BLOGOSPHERE so they are unsure of the etiquette. I think often people put links in thinking they are helping and some people don't like to have their link juice diluted with those links. Definitely helpful to have a policy. :)

I love the post but would like to clarify #6. While some links in comments are shameless plugs, others are beneficial to the user experience. If blogging is about community and perspective, then offering a different perspective from a different community is helpful.

Take for example a post on Short Sales and the effect on a specific market. Say San Diego. If a blogger in Kansas City is going to present a take on the same topic but in a different market, it help readers in both communities to see the perception on a wider scale then just their local market. By the author in Kansas City engaging the San Diego blog and offering up their perspective in a comment, it only advances the discussion while adding a whole new layer of depth to the conversation.

This collaboration of "He Said:She Said" or "They Have:We Have" is what makes the transparency of blogging work in my opinion.

Jim, this is a difficult topic and I'll address it from two vantage points:

(1) At RErevealed, I've attracted several wack jobs that have banned 3 IP addresses and they were warned by email several times before being banned, so they understand why. They earned that due to my old comment policy (that I am tweaking now for the new site) where I declared I will moderate as necessary. I have only once deleted a comment without offline dialogue and that was because it was stalkerish.

(2) At AgentGenius (and other multi-author blogs), the many authors can complicate things. I may personally find it appropriate to ban an IP because someone flamed me or called me a bigot or a family member a fat ho (this has happened), but it may also be another contributor's best friend and they would never talk to *that* contributor such a way. There is no way to allow comments to go through only to certain contributors (that I know of).

On a multi-author blog, the standard practice is to not block (unless it's a blatant flamer which AG hasn't incurred yet) but if a comment is out of line, I once held a comment in moderation and emailed the commenter and we agreed they would reformat and post a different comment. Point is, I can't block because that person could be a valuable commenter to another article or contributor. On a multi-author blog, this becomes the reason to have a community of bloggers networking offline so they know that contributor's intent and can comment accordingly (multi-author blogs made up of disconnected individuals never create this environment).

------
Another point I would add is that first amendment rights are tricky. Someone may feel they have the RIGHT to comment whatever they want on my RErevealed site, but that is MY site... no one would walk into my office, take out a Sharpie and write "a-hole" on my wall, would they? That's essentially what some people do on a blog. As a commenter, remember- would you really want the author's name to be googled by a future employer, only to see your nasty words come up? Would you REALLY want that to be the consequence? Harsh if you ask me.

GOOD IDEA TO HAVE A COMMENT POLICY ON YOUR BLOG!!!

NEXT

I guess I'm lucky since I've never had much of any of it except the blatant spam. But I have offended on #9 by putting my url in the comments, for example www.VeryVintageVegas.com

Oops! did it again.

I like the idea of not having a policy unless things get out of control when you have a real estate website. I know that our reputations are on the line but if someone is going to take time to post, provided the language is appropriate, I think it should be addressed and that is the idea of a blog anyway is to have a conversation. I like dealing with comments on a case by case basis and dealing with it as publicly but politely as possible helps keep the discussions clean and moving in the same direction.

The problem I have with an official policy is that nobody reads it anyway. I guess you can always go back to the commenter and prove you laid out the rules ahead of time, but on the other hand, the only time I moderate comments is when they are acting in such a way that I don't care if they ever come back to my site again. They can pound sand, or start their own blog, or whatever.

With a comment policy in place, I used to have banned people who would email me and say they acted within the policy. Arguing like we were in court or something. When I ban someone now, I'm free to give them my simple reasoning that I think they are an jerk.

I'm on the very liberal side when it comes to dissidents. So long as they are on topic, I say let them go. If you engage them, I've found that many times, they become your greatest allies. Many times, they just want to be recognized, and think arguing with you will attract your attention to them. In other cases, I've realized I was wrong after a commenter disagreed. I don't look to my comments as self validation. I want a discussion.

On the flip side, once someone pulls a comment of mine, I usually never bother to post there again. It's their blog, they have every right. But I have every right to sever the discussion as well. It's not a matter of a first amendment right to be heard. I just don't see the point in formulating an opinion if there's even the slightest chance it won't be heard.

I think twice about playing with people's comments. It's a two way street, and I'd rather try to solve the issue in public, or be prepared for them to go away angry.

Todd,

If you wanted to have a policy that gets read, then make it obvious to even the casual observer. Perhaps a link near the "leave a comment" link...Unless that's going to be obnoxious...

And to cover all bases, just point out in the Comment Policy that you reserve the right to ban anyone whom you feel is being a jerk, for whatever reason. And if they don't like it, then tough you-know-what. Seems fair to me.

Heck, I have banned plenty without warning. I even so far as exposed shenanigans in public. I've whispered warnings. I do as I like. It's my blog. But as I mentioned above, I may just now include a policy as a tempered warning to those who care to read it, and at the very least help newbies understand what (at least I consider) is proper etiquette in the comments of a blog.

Jim, you make a good point about noobies. I might do it again for lenderama. I do have a pretty extensive policy on my Denver Modern blog. Nobody clicks on that page, but then, I'm still trying to get people to comment on the blog instead of emailing me directly.

Great Post, I disagree with one thing and I'll let you know why in my email :-)

Lani: You even banned me one or two times and never warned me, but you were eventually a good sport about it and even through you banned my butt, we were still friends though the entire thing so...

I have total control over my blogs and forum at About.com. Of course, I can delete unsavory or rude comments within seconds of submission, but it gets better than that.

For example, if a poster is misbehaving and ignoring warnings, I can "bozo" him, which means he can see his comments but they are not visible to anybody else. Sometimes this method is more effective than repeatedly banning.

The spammers think they are so clever. They start, "I just heard about this web site and want to share . . ." And their URL is that site.

I can also edit comments. Mostly when I edit it's to remove an obscene or offensive word, not to add "My mother wears army boots." Although the impulse is sometimes there.

Elizabeth,
I really like the Bozo Option.
That is ingenious. Make em think that they have gotten something they haven't.
The Emperor's New Comment

Jim,

Thanks for the post (hope that is OK to say). I appreciate all the things you mentioned and the lengthy list of "don'ts." The only issue I don't agree with is the name and which you suggested leaving "san diego real estate" as the name. I myself always sign in as "Santa Barbara Real Estate Voice" for the name since that is who I am online and the branding that I want. I don't feel this is in anyway a cheap SEO attempt or dumb...it simply is the name of my site. Outside of this I agree with all.

take care

Kevin (aka SBREV),

The above weren't all meant to be a list of categorical Don'ts... but rather a list that was an attempt at pointing out everything that a blog owner *may* find offensive in their comments.

The issue about the NAME... I too have a bit of a challenge with that. I am online, RET, no Jim Cronin. But I have actually gotten in the habit recently of posting my own name, ironically, in an SEO attempt to make the RET.com come up when searching my name.

Nonetheless, I figure if you are branding the name of your site, there should be some forgiveness given that you are adding something of value in the comments. That should be the golden rule.

Fantastic!

I was teaching a class in my office the other day that had to do with SEO stuff and while only peripherally connected, I make a point to tell people that there IS a right and a wrong out there on the internet. Specifically, my comments had to do with theft of intellectual property but this list you put together is a GREAT list of things NOT to do, even with good intentions!

Derek, you're in a category of your own :) You already know that you were the reason I implemented a comment policy in the first place, you envelope pusher, you!

I also think if a comment of mine is pulled, I probably won't be involved in commenting or even reading that blog anymore- I've been shown that I am not respected, valued, or needed in that arena and although I've never been banned or moderated, it would probably be merited had I been.

Congrats on this article winning on BHB, Jim!

My few cents:

Blog posts that contain language that falls into one of your categories are much worse than that which appears in the comments. The post is more likely to be read than the comments.

I do not automatically classify anonymous commenters as cowards or vermin. I respect anonymity as a privacy right. I prefer to deal with what they say, not their identity.

Blog owners have a right to control the conversation. But the more you control the conversation the less it becomes one. As you say, it is a matter of personal taste and tolerance. I prefer spirited debate and have never banned anyone or removed any comment (but I'm sure the spam filter has eaten some). The better way IMO is to defend your position. Ever watch the English debate in Parliament (or is it the House)?-- wow. Those chaps know how to make a point (& insult) with such grace.

If the post is controversial and opinionated, it is common sense to expect the comments will be controversial and opinionated too. Sometimes you have to give some slack on those, even if you moderate. This falls under the "if you can dish it, you should be able to take it" category.

In the end, if you don't want to attract strong comments don't write anything controversial.

Hopefully not falling into the White Noise category - Very well said Joe.

Nice policy. I will take most of the points for my own blog.

These tips can be used on all blogs, not just real estate ones.Very good article.
I am sorry to see that a dutch bloke used some previous comments for spamming his keywords, feel free to delete him.

That is quite a large list. I don't mind when people use a keyword instead of their name, after all blogging, and commenting is about getting traffic, and seo. Obviously lik everyone I hate spam. I don't get why people spam so much. I just delete those comments, and posts. Seems like most spam is coming from online pharmacies and adult sites. Can they not promote their websites in a legit manner? All they are doing is cheapening (if thats possible) the business they are in, and creating more distrust of their industries.

I like the idea of not having a policy unless things get out of control when you have a real estate website. I know that our reputations are on the line but if someone is going to take time to post, provided the language is appropriate, I think it should be addressed and that is the idea of a blog anyway is to have a conversation. I like dealing with comments on a case by case basis and dealing with it as publicly but politely as possible helps keep the discussions clean and moving in the same direction.

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