Don’t Fear the Blog

So you’ve started your online community page, and it’s finally time to start inviting colleagues, prospects, and others. “Come; learn; contribute,” you urge, hoping to gather as much content as possible. Then comes the slap in the face: you log into your page, and there, underneath the latest blog post, next to that innocuous little icon that says Post a Comment, is a scathing assessment of your company.

Unfortunately, not all feedback that your community site garners is going to be positive; there are, however, ways that you can deal with this. You can manage your site like a vigilante, eradicating any offending comments and the articles that spawned them, and shrieking “I will make us look good!” into the night; you can choose to ignore the negative comments and hope that other visitors to your blog do the same; or you can see the comments as constructive feedback and use them as a basis for improvement. As strategists in relationships, we suggest the latter.

It is possible to make sure that undesirable content never reaches the eyes of your viewers to begin with: most blogs offer the site administrator the opportunity to preview comments before publishing; if you don’t like it, you can delete it. The danger here is the reputation that you earn for your company when a handful of people submitting honest, productive criticism notice that their postings are conspicuously always missing (can you say “Big Brother”?). You also don’t do yourself any favors when you publish a negative post without addressing the issue therein. That tells your readers that either you don’t pay enough attention to your blog to know what’s posted there or that you don’t pay enough attention to your clients to acknowledge their feedback. Plus, any other visitors to your site will believe those critical comments unless you give them a reason not to.

The best rule of thumb is to treat a belligerent blogger or negative entry the same way that you would treat a difficult client, employee or colleague in person: acknowledge the complaint, apologize, work through the issue, and always be constructive. Publish a counter-post as soon as possible; if you truly believe that the criticism is unfair, firmly reassert your standing and give evidence to support yourself. If you plan on actually changing company policy or procedures, say so, but don’t say that you’re going to change if you don’t really mean it. Hopefully, the criticism will stop once it’s been acknowledged; if you find yourself repeatedly defending yourself from the same reader, they may be unappeasable and just trying to harm your company or gain attention. It’s then that you may want to consider screening that user’s comments and refusing to post some of them.

Blogs actually allow a rare and previously non-existent outlet for expression from the masses; the anonymity afforded by the Internet opens the door to uninhibited, honest communication on an entirely new level. Before starting your online community, you must understand and be comfortable with the fact that everyone is going to use that forum to tell you exactly how they feel. It won’t always be what you want to hear. Embrace it, because that’s what relationships are about. With a little confidence and charm, you can turn even the most blatant criticism into an opportunity for growth, change, and even good PR. Open yourself to this possibility, and don’t fear the blog.