Saturday, July 8, 2006

Is it okay to censor comments in a business blog?

Recently, I stumbled upon a great discussion about the propriety and wisdom of censoring comments on a business blog. As an online marketer and a friend of a friend of the blogger (that'd be CeeElCee and Dr. Funkenswine, respectively), I felt compelled to offer a few observations and suggestions. My thoughts ran kind of long, so I shortened my post at the original blog to something more appropriate to "comments" and opted to run the longer version here.

If I understand correctly, three concerns were raised: whether or not it is okay to censor comments on a business blog; if so, whether or not you should do it for this blog; and, if so, where to draw the line on what to accept. I think the discussion that ensued got a little off-track by trying to address the questions simultaneously rather than sequentially.

I spend a lot of time on the Internet as well as reading about it. Blogs are not by definition a free-for-all, anything-goes medium. Some people choose to host open comments and many others do not. As the publisher of the blog, it's your choice, not the readers, about what is acceptable. Blogs that support businesses do have different rules than personal blogs which also have different rules than journalist blogs. I believe the answer to the first question is, yes, it is okay to censor comments on a blog – as long as the degree and type of censorship are consistent with the purpose of the blog.

Further, you are absolutely right to be concerned about what content you allow to remain in the comments. What you choose to leave on a business blog reflects not just on the person who posted it, but also on that business and its principles – specifically because you choose to leave it posted. If you see your business as an anything-goes kind of place, then by all means avoid censoring the comments. If you see it more as a family-friendly, mutual-respect-for-others operation, then you should make sure it's blog reflects that. As others noted, this is not your personal blog, this is your business’s blog.

Also, don't forget about liability. As a business, you are a target for lawsuits. I'd hate to see a great business tank because someone sued for libel or defamation and drained the lifeblood (and cash) out of the business. As the owner of the blog, you are responsible for what you allow to get posted, even if you didn't write it.

So not only is it okay to censor the comments, it’s wise to do so, and to a certain extent, impossible to avoid. The real difficulty is in deciding where to draw the line.

I infer from the discussion that the primary concern is balancing the harm of potential offense (from posted comments or their deletion) against the benefit of open, genuine discussion so as not to undermine the primary marketing purpose of the blog.

I think you will find that you drastically reduce the chance of offending someone whose comments are moderated if you make it clear upfront where you have decided to draw the line on acceptable commentary. If your readers know that you are open to honest opinions, even criticisms, but not personal attacks or profanity, and that you will delete such comments, then they don't have too much room to complain if they post objectionable material. The key is to spell out your policy and stick to it (including in your own writings). Commenters tend to get upset when something gets deleted that they thought was acceptable according to the observed rules of the place, not simply because they got moderated.

Yet you are also correct to be wary of drawing the line too strictly. The research clearly shows that overly moderated comments on business sites are seen negatively (as in worse than corporate propaganda). Too much moderation actually causes harm, as people don't trust sites where all the comments are positive.

From my experience, the right balance is derived from the purpose of the blog and the values of the business. I read this blog as a discussion of the issues and challenges you’ve faced in launching (and now running) this business. A large part of the value of the blog has been the discussion of these issues in the comments. The marketing value of this particular blog is NOT showing how great the product is; it’s in showing how real people run the business. This is not Corporate BBQ, it’s Mothership BBQ. I believe your premise is that people who are intrigued by your story and appreciate your business values will be more inclined to try your BBQ. And more inclined to keep trying it.

So anything that’s contrary to that purpose and those values doesn’t belong and should be excluded from the blog. If you make your purpose for the blog clear as well as what you consider objectionable, readers will give you some leeway on the openness of the content as well as its moderation.



  1. Paper Direct sucks!

    Feel free to delete. 8^)

  2. Hahaha!!! That's why you won't find any mention or link to my place of employment here. Wouldn't want anyone outside the fold linking my ramblings to the company in some web search.