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Just about everywhere you go, you see comments. All social media has commenting ability and everyone has a chance to voice their opinion.
This makes sense for social media. After all, the people are what make the platform. But what about for your own domain? Should people be able to comment on your website?
The immediate answer seems to be “yes,” but remember: your website is your platform and letting people comment is giving them some of your platform.
You are offering them an opportunity to be seen by your readers and that’s a very big responsibility.
Comments can be useful, and you’ll hear me acknowledge some of the upsides, but I’m also going to make some compelling arguments for disabling comments on your website entirely—as well as showing you what to do instead to maximize engagement.
Highlights, Takeaways, & Quick Wins:
- Do you want to leave the reader with your conclusion of the content or someone else’s conclusion?
- Links aren’t shared in isolation: they’re colored by commentary.
- Readers give a lot of weight to comments with up-votes which can make it hard for a message to be taken objectively.
- Most people tend to be silent admirers and the people who speak up often are the ones with something negative to say.
- Where does the conversation happen? If you say it happens within your membership site but you have public comments enabled on your posts, what is that communicating? You're not creating incentive.
- As much as possible, make it clear where the primary place to have discussion is and invest yourself there.
- Zero comments and zero shares looks worse than having no share button or comment section.
- You can still have a two-way discussion with people without having it publicly available for negative commentary.
- Take private comments and repurpose them as blog posts, highlighting the value for your readers.
- If social media went away tomorrow, what do you have?
- Give your readers a well-thought-out conclusion; a takeaway message.
- The people you want to reach will reach out to you—comments or not. The trolls likely won’t.
- People associate negativity with your brand when the negativity happens on your domain.
- When you don’t have filtration, you invite everyone in.
- 03:13 Sean: I think we can agree that when people come to your website or read a blog post, no one reads the comments first. They read the comments after they’ve at least looked at the content. Maybe they didn’t read it word for word but they at least looked at it for the context. That means the last thing the reader sees is the comments. My question for you is, what do you want to leave the reader with?
Do you want to leave the reader with your conclusion of the content, or someone else’s conclusion?
- 03:50 In the case of a podcast, do we want to end the podcast on someone’s comment in the chat room, or do we want to leave them with a conclusion we’ve prepared ahead of time? In that case, I would say we want to leave people with a conclusion, unless a comment came up that said it better than we could.
- 04:21 Ben: Could someone technically get to the end of your article feeling like they have something solid, and then find value in the discussion that’s happening around that topic? In a way, it’s added value to what you’ve already said. You don’t want people to take what you’ve said and follow it blindly, you want them to work it out for themselves and that can happen sooner if there’s discussion going on around it.
- 04:57 Sean: That’s definitely possible. I don’t want to ignore the fact that comments and discussion can bring about great things. I don’t deny that at all. I’ve observed that seems to be a more rare case. For the most part, if someone leaves a comment they say, “Great article, I liked it.” It doesn’t really say much, just that they thought the article was cool. If it does become something more than that, it’s the detractors—the people that want to take away from what you have in the article—and it’s not always constructive. I’m not against criticism but a lot of times it’s negative and you get trolls. When you give people a platform or an opportunity to express their voice, especially anonymously, the trolls tend to come out of the woodwork.
- 05:57 That’s something you’re risking when you open up comments. Maybe you can get away from it more if you have topics that aren’t super controversial but for me, I put stuff out like the One Concept Approach (Related: e037 The One Concept Approach: How a Professional Designs A Logo). I talk about how a professional designs a logo and how they should provide one concept to the client. A lot of people in the logo design industry pride themselves on the number of concepts they deliver. They charge more for the concepts, they want to make the client happy, and they change whatever the client wants them to change. I flip that on it’s head and say that a professional delivers one concept, which stirred things up.
- 06:45 A lot people actually learned a lot from that article and started applying that approach in their professional process, but since I don’t have comments on my site, someone submitted the article I wrote to Reddit, as a link in the design subReddit where some discussion ensued. There were a couple hundred comments in there and a lot of people were arguing about it. They were saying, “You shouldn’t be excluding the client,” which means they didn’t read it because I wasn’t saying to exclude the client. I was saying to refer to the client where they’re an expert and have domain knowledge—gather that information so you can apply it to your design process. You want do that upfront, before you start the design process, not in the middle!
- 07:42 When the client says, “Do this. Change this,” it’s undermining the whole design process. They were thinking I was saying not to include the client but that’s not what was going on. The problem is when you go to Reddit, those are the most up-voted comments and it skews the value perception. You start looking at comments and, initially, you give a lot of weight to the comments that have a lot of up-votes. If you’re going to have to decide on your own objectively, it’s hard to do that. Here’s a photo with 1,000 likes and here’s a tweet with 10,000 retweets—this has weight to it. It actually takes a lot of effort to unpack that and ask yourself, “Wait, do I really agree with this? Can I imagine this without any of the stars or the like count next to it? Can I look at this objectively?”
- 08:37 Ben: Reddit, or any platform that uses stars, hearts, or likes is leveraging this idea of social proof. I’m reading Influence by Robert Cialdini and I’m on the chapter that talks about social proof. We’re lazy thinkers, we take shortcuts to conserve energy so we don’t have to put as much effort into thinking about things. One of the shortcuts we take is looking at what other people are saying and doing. What seems to be the most crowd-driven idea will be what’s easiest for us to grab a hold of if we don’t want to put some serious thought into it. I’m not saying the people going to Reddit are lazy thinkers, I’m saying that minus a fully formed conclusion they’ve come to on their own, more often than not, they’re going to see what’s most popular and they’ll give that the most weight.
- 09:53 Sean: It also starts to have a snowball effect. Notice the things that are most popular become even more popular—the most popular music, the most watched Vines or YouTube videos. My point here is, especially with controversial topics, if I were to have comments like that on my site, you better believe a lot of the unprofessional designers aren’t going to be happy at me calling them that. They’re going to be offended. There are a lot of people who have been working unprofessionally in the logo design industry for 15 years and I’m calling them out. That’s not pleasant or fun. That would make a huge mess in the comments and other people are going to read that and conclude with the comments.
Your website is your platform and letting people comment is giving them some of your platform.
- 10:59 You are offering them an opportunity to be seen by your readers and that’s a very big responsibility.
- 11:05 Ben: Look what happened at the Grammy’s! Taylor Swift won the Best Album of the Year Award and because Kanye West was given the opportunity to come up on stage, he interrupted her speech and went on to talk about how another artist should have won that award. Look at that example and think about the Kanye Wests out there you would be giving an audience to if you let them on your stage.
Links Aren’t Shared in Isolation: They’re Colored by Commentary
- 12:39 Sean: When someone links to your blogpost, you can’t just look at your traffic and think, “A bunch of people liked my post and are interested in reading what I have to say,” because it’s a pundit, like a news person that provides commentary. Maybe they tweet a link to a story, but there’s commentary along with it. It might not be, “This is cool, check this out,” it could be, “This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever read.” That colors your perception of the content, especially if you respect, know, like, and trust that person. If someone says, “Listen to how dumb this song is,” you go into it thinking it’s a dumb song, but what if you listened to that song on the radio or stream and you liked it? Would you have liked it if you’re sitting there in front of a friend, or saw a tweeted link, that said it was the dumbest song ever? Commentary colors your perception of content.
- 14:23 Ben: That’s one of the reasons I try hard not to look at reviews or ratings, like Rotten Tomatoes before watching a movie. This happened to me when I heard you talking about the Hobbit movie, you had given the movie a rating of six so I didn’t want to see it. I finally decided to go see it in theaters and I actually enjoyed it. I would have given it a higher rating than a six.
- 15:29 Sean: I colored your perception of it.
- 15:35 Ben: Part of is because your opinions about movies in the past have been on point and they’ve resonated with me after the fact. You’ve become a credible source for me in that. If you’ve got comments on your website, how credible can those sources be compared to the original content provider? There’s more weight given to the original content provider on your site.
- 16:15 Sean: I want to be fair and say there are many times the comment discussion enhances the experience of the reader or viewer. Many times the commenters can provide additional clarify or context to something that wouldn’t have been there before and benefits everyone—the content creator as well as the people consuming it. I would love to believe this is the case most often but it hasn’t been what I’ve observed.
Most people tend to be silent admirers and the people who speak up usually have something negative to say.
- 16:52 Most people that have something negative to say don’t just move on, they have to say it. They have to know you heard it. I don’t know if that’s fair but it’s been the reality for me.
- 17:09 Ben: That’s one of the difficult things about navigating comments: when is someone genuinely expressing their feelings about something and when are they just trying to get the last word in?
- 17:21 Sean: If I didn’t have comments, would this person reach out through my contact form and send me a personally email that wouldn’t be seen by anyone else or give them the last word in other peoples’ minds? Would they send this on their own? Is it an objective enough critique to warrant someone’s time? In a lot of cases, if they wouldn’t reach out with something that stands alone, they’re doing it for the last word.
- 17:55 Ben: You mentioned anonymity but sometimes it goes two ways. It’s anonymous in the sense that you’re not face-to-face with someone. You don’t have to deal with standing in a room with someone and feeling the uncomfortable tension of having a physical person you’re up against, but at the same time, you have this persona online that you can potentially promote but coming at the argument from a different angle and sometimes offering value to the conversation. I like that question, though: would this person, whether their motives were good or not, go out of their way to give their perspective to the original content creator?
Where Does the Conversation Happen?
- 19:03 Sean: You need to know this for your audience so you can direct people to where the conversation is happening. Is the conversation happening on Twitter, your blog, your email, or forums? Where is the conversation happening? The more fragmented it is, the less effective it is—the less people are able to come together to form a whole audience that isn’t fragmented in different places. You see the most benefit from that kind of discussion coming together, instead of bits and pieces here and there. For the seanwes brand, the second reason I don’t have comments on my site is because the conversation happens in the Community.
- 19:50 I make a point of establishing, facilitating, reading, and responding to the comments that happen in the Community, whether it’s in the forums or in the live chat. We don’t have comments on the episodes but if you want to engage, we do live broadcasts where you can be in the chat or we have forum thread discussions for Community members. It ensures the people lending their voice, to whatever the matter is, have skin in the game. They’re not anonymous or faceless and they had to invest to be here. They’re going to take this seriously and if they disagree, they disagree respectfully. We become better people by listening to their constructive arguments. It’s not about only wanting people who agree, we want people who disagree to do so constructively and respectfully.
- 21:01 Ben: Some people looking from the outside might think, “Sean is charging for this so he’s profiting from it,” but you’re investing so much into making the kind of environment that fosters those kind of valuable conversations right now. That kind of argument can’t really stand. Obviously, you’ll benefit from it long-term but at the heart of it, the person who gets to engage in these conversations can do so without feeling like they’re going to have to deal with negativity.
- 21:40 Sean: No one is going to harass them or down-vote them. It’s all constructive so even if we disagree, we’re going to do it respectfully. First of all, I charge for it because I built it and the reason it’s so good is because it’s selective. Not everyone can go put their voice in it because it’s my platform. I’m giving a little bit of my platform to someone, where they can come in and be heard and seen by my readers. People can share something in the chat right now and if it’s relevant, I’ll read it out and thousands of people get to hear it. The same happens with comments, I might repurpose it or mention someone in my newsletter, or write a case study or blog post about them.
- 22:36 We’ve talked about taking comments from haters and repurposing them as new content for your audience, framed in the right context. It’s not a flame war, you’re pulling out any of the objective critique and then improving or applying it to your situation.
- 23:24 Ben: If you don’t have a community set up yet, where do you send people or point the conversation?
- 23:35 Sean: Before I had the Community, I didn’t have comments on any of my blog posts or podcast episodes, so people would write in and we’d have long threads of discussions in email just between us. They were still able to interact, comment, and discuss the topic but we didn’t have the benefit of cross-pollination, where other people get to see it and engage. That’s where the Community came from. Every time I put something out, I would get tons of emails from people and we started talking back and forth. We started having these life-changing conversations that I realized a lot of people could benefit from.
- 24:31 You could say, “Why not have comments? Then you can have those life-changing conversations that other people can benefit from in public and other people get to see it!” They’re the exception, though. The people that are trolling aren’t going to go out of their way to write me almost all of the time, but the people that had something life-changing or constructive to say will write me. It seems like I had all this great feedback in email, why not just have it in comments? But that isn’t really how it manifests.
You have to have a layer of filtration to make sure you’re keeping out the negative stuff.
- 25:19 A lot of people that have membership sites or subscriptions still have comments on their blog or podcast, and it’s not clear as someone in the audience where the conversation happens. They say to go to the episode page to leave a comment and they also direct you to their community. It’s like, “What’s going on here?” When you have the conversation about the show or post in public, where anyone can leave a comment, there’s no incentive to join a community. There’s no reason for someone to join if the conversation happens out here. I guess some people aren’t really thinking about this but to me it was obvious. If you want people to join because this is where people are discussing things and having great conversation, you can’t have a version of that on the outside. That’s not going to incentivize people to go where the conversation is happening on your platform.
- 26:34 Ben: If you’re sharing stuff online and you’re not restricting access, those conversations are going to happen anyway on other platforms like Facebook, Reddit, or Twitter. Your blog posts and articles will get shared and as they’re shared, people are going to talk about it. Those conversations vs. the conversations you have in a comment section on your website can be higher quality than the ones that happen outside of your website, but it creates a conflict between what you’re offering exclusively in a community. I will say that the quality is going to be much lower than what you get in a community because of the exclusivity.
- 27:36 Sean: I was comparing a privatized community where discussions happen to public comments on your own site.
- 27:46 Ben: How involved should you be in conversations that happen on another platform?
- 27:56 Sean: You should engage people where they are, but:
As much as possible, make it clear where the primary place to have discussion is and invest yourself there.
- 28:13 People are going to notice that. I’m not saying to ignore all the comments elsewhere, but wherever the conversation is happening for you, you want to invest there. If you don’t have a community right now, but you’re second guessing having comments on your blog, zero comments and zero shares looks worse than having no share button or comment section. We have some Community members who don’t have comments on their websites, but they teach and establish themselves as an authority. I see the conclusion they have and the action they want me to take, like signing up for their newsletter. That’s the last thing I think! I’m not thinking, “They’ve got zero comments, they must not be very popular or have a high-traffic blog,” I just notice there’s no comments. I’m not thinking how popular the site is or how many people are, or are not, there.
- 29:45 Ben: When you were talking about a call to action vs. having comments, it made me think about our discussion on links in newsletters (Related: e159 Getting Started With Email Marketing). The more things you give people to do, the less likely they’re going to do any of them. After someone reads your content, if you’re trying to get them to do something, having a comments section actually takes away from the potential they’ll follow through with the action you wanted them to take. I also wanted to ask: if you have sharing buttons, but you don’t have the toggle that tells how many people shared it, does that look equally bad? Do people look at that and think, “There are no numbers across any of these icons?”
- 31:09 Sean: One day I just decided to remove all the share buttons from my site completely and I haven’t noticed any issues or dip in traffic. I got a lot too—we’re talking 13k pins, 100 tweets, and 40 Facebook shares. They were decent numbers and I still pulled them because I felt it detracted from the content on the site. That wasn’t the point for me. I don’t care how much stuff had been shared. I don’t care about social proof or wanting people to know it’s popular. I would rather make the content valuable and someone can decide that for themselves. I have nearly 20,000 subscribers on one newsletter and 20,000 on another, but I’m not going around saying, “Join 40,000…” I’m saying, “If this is relevant to you, subscribe.” I’m not worried about it too much. I pulled off the social buttons and I never had blog comments.
- 32:30 If you don’t have a community and you don’t want trolls or “zero comments” showing up on your blog, you want people to follow your call to action, you can make it clear where the conversation does happen. Say, “Did you enjoy this? Sign up for my newsletter,” or if you’re sending it as a newsletter, say, “Reply and let me know what you thought.” Tell people to use your contact form or send you an email. Brent asks, “Isn’t blogging more than just publishing content? Shouldn’t it be a two-way conversation with the community you’re building?” Yes, it should and by not having comments, I’m not saying not to make it a two-way discussion. I’m saying to let it happen selectively and to filter it, either by having it in a community or having people email you.
You can still have a two-way discussion with people without having it publicly available for negative commentary.
- 33:39 Point people to that, tell them to email you, and get a discussion going and if something good comes from that, repurpose it. Write a blog post about it and say, “I got this awesome comment from James. he emailed me and we started talking about this and he had this to say about this topic and I thought it was great.” You’re creating value for your audience and you’re showing them that the conversation is happening over email. They see that James emailed you and you turned it into a blog post.
- 34:17 Ben: Maybe out of a hundred people in your audience, there are only a handful that would be courageous enough to be the first ones. Someone sees the conversation happens over email, but they may feel shy about reaching out and think you probably don’t really want to hear from them. It doesn’t matter how open you are about saying you seriously want to hear from people, people will feel that hesitancy. When they see someone else do it, it’s like, “This other person did it, I guess I can do it.”
Do People Know Where to Find You?
- 35:30 Sean: Cory asks, “How does ‘Use your own platform’ work for this model, especially if my market doesn’t lend itself to paid-membership models? What if social media went away tomorrow? Where does that conversation happen? Does everyone need to have a membership, forum, chat room, or community?”
- 35:57 Ben: I’m hearing him say that he feels like he doesn’t have control over where the conversation happens. He doesn’t feel like he can set up an environment for people where quality conversation can happen, and that there has to be some other platform where that happens, but that platform could potentially just go away, so those conversations wouldn’t happen.
- 36:26 Sean: This is in the context of conversations happening on social media. It sounds like he’s asking where “Use your own platform” comes into play here and the answer is it always comes into play. You can’t control social media. What if social media went away tomorrow, what do you have? Where do you go? Where does your audience go? Where does your audience know that you are? What if Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, or YouTube is gone? What do you have? All of my people know seanwes.com. All the Community members would go into the chat room and say, “What the heck? It’s the apocalypse!” They’re talking with everyone because they know that’s where the conversation happens.
- 37:24 That’s why we have 50 people in their right now. They know this is where things are for all things seanwes. You don’t have to join some third party chat on another site and enter the Sean channel. We built something custom and everyone knows everything happens at seanwes.com. What happens for you if all social media is gone? Do your people know where you are? Do your people know where they can go? If YouTube goes away, people know seanwes.tv and they know seanwes tv has videos. Yes, I embed YouTube videos but I can use paid video hosting and imbed other videos, but the important thing is they know seanwes.tv.
- 38:52 Ben: Let people know where you are and where that conversation is happening, but it also needs to be coupled with going where the people are. If social media went away, there would still be some place where people go if the internet still existed.
- 39:15 Sean: People have a desire to share. They want to talk, connect, and communicate. They’re going to have these needs at a deep level and you’re going to have to facilitate if you want them to be on your platform.
- 39:32 Ben: I’m saying you want them to be on your platform but you also can’t deny that there is going to be some public forum where they end up. People have a tendency to seek out community and they’re going to seek the path of least resistance in order to find that, meaning the first place they’ll look is the free place. They’re not going to look for the paid membership sites, regardless of how wonderful your content is. The first place they’ll go is the place of least resistance. As a content creator who has a place where valuable conversation happens, it’s valuable to find where those conversations are happening outside of your platform and be present.
- 40:28 Don’t just put all of your value there, at the expense of the place where you’re trying to create quality conversation. Go where the people are and the taste that you give the ones who see the value you have to offer there is extremely powerful.
- 40:56 Sean: It’s a difficult thing because we’re saying to engage with people where they are but then bring them back to your platform, but don’t have comments and have discussion happening in a privatized form. It all sounds confusing but to clarify this: with the content you produce, you want to have a thought out conclusion, a takeaway message, to give people and have that be the last thing they think about. Then, within this content you’re putting out, let people know, directly or indirectly, where this conversation is happening. In my newsletters, I say, “Want to add a comment? Discuss this in the Community.”
- 41:53 People know that you can discuss this episode in the Community. I let them know explicitly that I can also let them know in other ways, like if someone leaves a comment in the Community chat, I’ll bring it into the podcast. Everyone who’s listening to the podcast knows there’s a chat going on. You’re listening to this podcast and thinking about comments, “I wish they would answer this one question.” You can come into the chat and leave your question right there. In the chat room right now, Levi says that he’s stubborn but he’s going to disable comments on his site. I pressed a little further and asked, “What are you hesitations? I want to address them.” If you’re not in the Community, you’re listening to this podcast after it’s recorded and you can’t send us questions that came up while listening. We can answer your questions when you’re in the Community and I let people know that.
The Right People Will Reach Out to You Anyway
- 43:16 Here’s what Levi says, “People in my industry (filmmaking) have valuable and negative discussions. I want those who won’t spend the time to send an email to send relevant questions, like what they want to learn from me, etc. I have this image in my mind that my comment section can be different on my site if I’m intentional. I want people to discuss on my platform and not on some Facebook share. Someone shared one of my blog posts and the discussion on Facebook was valuable, I wish that had been on my site. I always knew that when I grow, I’ll need to remove comments but I’m going to try to remove them now.” I think he’s saying it can be different than all of these negative things we’re talking about if he’s intentional.
- 44:09 Ben: I want to bring in another question from Brookes to give some clarity to what Levi was saying. He asks, “Is keeping comments off your website worth the trade off for a negative person publicly taking to social media to attack or say something negative about you?” I personally agree with keeping negative comments off but it’s an interesting devil’s advocate question. Levi shared that the valuable conversation was happening on Facebook and the other side of that coin is what Brookes is saying. What’s to keep someone from taking to Facebook or Reddit and painting a bad picture of you?
- 45:00 Sean: The obvious answer is nothing.
- 45:09 Ben: Levi is concerned that the value that’s happening in that conversation isn’t happening on his platform but the value people see in a conversation about something you’ve written on your own platform, even if it’s on someone else’s, they’re going to attribute that value to your brand, especially if you show up in those conversations and direct them to where the real discussion is happening. Even if it doesn’t mean they land on your website today, in the long-term it’s going to have benefits for your brand perception. Alternatively, when someone is being a jerk on Facebook, Reddit, or Twitter, the negativity of that isn’t attributed to your brand, it’s attributed to the platform.
- 46:01 Sean: Imagine if the discussion about the One Concept Approach that was on Reddit was on my own site. When it’s on Reddit it’s a bunch of upset designers that don’t want to take responsibility for things they feel is the client’s problem. Here, we talk about everything being the professional’s responsibility. A lot of designers and budding professionals want to say, “I’m frustrated because the client didn’t do this,” but a mature professional takes responsibility and says, “How could I have prevented this problem? How can I take responsibility for not setting the right expectations? How can I preempt this issue in the future? How can I learn from this and build this into my process to make sure this doesn’t happen again?”
- 47:08 That’s how a professional thinks and a lot of these people don’t want that because it’s added responsibility. This isn’t easy stuff that’s fun to swallow. If that conversation happened on my own blog, people would remember the One Concept approach as the controversial mess on my site, where I talked about logo design and the comments were a mess. That’s what people remember!
People associate negativity with your brand when it happens on your domain.
- 47:38 Ben: If it’s happening on Reddit, it’s like, “Well, that’s Reddit for you.” You’re not surprised by that. If it happens on your own platform, it’s not the content of the discussion, it’s the overall tone and feeling of it. If you curate the discussion, how far can you take that without going overboard on the censorship? I can’t imagine the complexity of that and mentally having to worry about erasing peoples’ comments that might take valuable content out of context. Where the likelihood exists that the overall tone of the comments could be negative, people will associate that negativity with your brand if it exists on your platform.
- 48:43 Sean: Levi wraps it up for himself here, “I think for the people I actually care about reaching, they would have reached out in one way or another, comments or no comments. I just love that other people would get to see that and it would help build trust.” I think he nailed it right there, but this is where the repurposing comes in. The people you want to reach will reach out to you, comments or not. They’ll find a way and they’ll dig around, even if it means sending you snail mail. Those are the people you want leaving comments on your site but just like when you don’t have a questionnaire on you quote request form, you invite every type of client good and bad into your inbox, which is a filtration problem, or in the case of comments, you have a censoring problem. Is this a troll comment or just someone that disagrees and they’re putting it in a negative light? Should I leave it or is it coloring the discussion incorrectly?
When you don’t have filtration, you invite everyone in.
- 50:10 The people that matter will reach out to you. He also says he wishes other people could see that and it would help build trust, so repurpose it. Bring that discussion to light and put it out in public.