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BY Matthew Warner
Now for the exciting part-2 conclusion of last week’s surprisingly controversial post: 10 types of blog comments (Part 1). Make sure you read Part 1 first to get caught up.
I had a lot of excellent feedback on part 1, including some very funny comments. So, first of all, thank you for being such great contributors to the topic. We also had some suggestions/criticisms for a few “types of commenters” that I missed.
One suggestion was the “Clown,” who just tries to be funny and sometimes randomly silly. But I think the “Clown” comment can easily fit under either Contributor, Non-contributor, or Encourager. A Clown is just funny in the process…which is usually a bonus. There’s also the “Tome-ist,” as one creative commenter added. This is a commenter whose comment is so long it could be it’s own book. I like that one. There were many other creative ones like the “Diarist” or the “Political Activist” or the “Pinger.” Mark Shea even shared a funny site called “Flame Warriors” which takes all of this to a whole new level of entertainment. But, again, for our practical purposes here, I think they would all fit under one of our basic categories.
One more thing before moving on - there were many who thought I should have given “trolls” their own category. They are probably right. Trolls are basically commenters who intentionally try to get an emotional rise out of the community with the purpose of derailing the conversation. A Troll’s primary goal is chaos and destruction. They “troll” for reactions by leaving a controversial comment and then waiting to see if somebody takes the bait by getting upset and posting a response in kind. We Catholics fall for this all the time. Trolls (aka big, hairy, ugly, mythical beasts) usually also fall under the categories of Angries, Brawlers, or Destitutes - depending on their disposition. Don’t feed the Trolls.
The motivation behind a comment is just as - and perhaps more - important than the comment itself. This is true in normal conversation as well. In person, we have the advantage of seeing body language, hearing inflection and tone, sharing an atmosphere and better understanding where a person is coming from. With a blog comment we have none of that. So the purpose of this whole exercise is to tune our digital senses a bit better so we can have more effective blog-comment conversations.
Once we recognize the basic type/motivation of the comment, then we can respond more effectively. So how do we (bloggers and blog readers) respond to each of these types of comments? Some are much easier than others.
How to respond to different types of comments:
1) Encouragers Encouraging comments don’t naturally elicit a conversational response. That’s not a bad thing. That’s just the nature of compliment or encouragement. Often the only response is “thanks!” And that’s a fine response! Also, many times we can naturally pull these encouraging participants into the conversation further by agreeing with them, asking them questions, etc. I encourage you to be an Encourager. Bloggers (and commenters) love to know people are reading and enjoying what they’ve written. It’s a natural human thing. So, even if you don’t have something interesting to say about a topic, always feel free to say something encouraging. It brings with it a lot of Grace and Love. I don’t think you can have too much of it.
2) Non-contributors - It’s usually best to not respond to these comments. They can turn into tangents that are not helpful for other readers and such tangents can devalue a blog post’s entire comment section.
3) Contributors - These are easy. Contribute in return. Engage in thoughtful, respectful discussion. Ask them questions (they may have an answer). Encourage or thank them.
4) Destitutes - These kinds of comments can be difficult. On the one hand, their sincere questions often contribute quite a bit. That’s a very good thing. And if they ask a good question, hopefully somebody can respond with a good answer or some links to some resources. I’ve seen a lot of Destitutes get some excellent help from blog sections and other blog readers who were able to point them in the right direction, give them an encouraging word or answer a tough question. This is truly a powerful ministry within blogs and forums online. And it’s one we can all participate in. And for every Destitute that actually comments, there are a many more who are silently reading along. On the other hand, unfortunately, some Destitutes can take on destructive, chaotic behavior (like a troll). And the way their destitution manifests itself can be destructive, offensive or hurtful to other people and it may be appropriate to have their comment removed. Some people will not be helped over a blog comment section and it may be more effective to chat offline/privately with them if you feel called.
Basically, if a Destitute’s comment is somewhat related to the post, then I try to answer it right there and encourage the conversation. That adds value for everyone. If the question is off-topic completely, I might make one single comment pointing them to another more appropriate post or resource while saying (without really saying) that this is not the proper place to have this conversation. Say a prayer for them. We all need those. We’re all Destitutes in our own way.
5) Slackers - I try (often unsuccessfully) to just ignore them. We all get this urge to respond with something like, “Hey bozo, why don’t you actually READ the post? And then you’d know the answer to your question.” But the only person this usually helps is the slacker…and the slacker generally does not want to be helped. If they did, they would have gone through the minimum effort of reading the post. Any intelligent reader will see that the Slacker is a slacker. There is usually no need to point it out. The Slacker just wants to express themselves. Just let them. Unfortunately, it reflects poorly upon them. Don’t be a slacker.
6) Brawlers - These can be hard to distinguish from legitimate Contributors at first. Engage them if you’d like. Make your point. And leave it be. You will never have the last word with a Brawler. Just accept that. If you get pulled in too far you’ll end up looking a fool and being annoying to other readers. Trust me…I know from experience (of being the fool). Observant readers know that having the last word doesn’t mean anything in terms of who is right. And they also know that leaving endless questions unanswered is not an admission of ignorance or defeat. Always remember that you are responding in a community (in a public place). It’s not a private argument between you and the brawler. Be respectful of others.
7) Angries - If you do respond to an Angry, do so while oozing love. Don’t be insincere. Just understand that we don’t know how this person has been hurt in the past. We don’t know what the circumstances are in their life. Just give them the benefit of the doubt. Respond with truth and love. Don’t get into a brawl with them. They probably aren’t disposed to listening to anything you say anyway. So your response is most likely not for the Angry, but more for other readers who may identify with what the Angry is expressing.
8) Posers - Ignore that Posers pretend not to care. They obviously care. Some just don’t know how to articulate why they believe something and are timid of the debate, so they are happy to express themselves (attack) and then hop back out under the guise of not caring. Others are recovering Brawlers, itching for a fight, trying hard to convince themselves that they don’t care. Just be nice. Respond appropriately.
9) Self-promoters - If a “promotional” comment is something positive and has to do with the topic, I leave it and perhaps thank them for it. It adds value to the community and discussion. If it’s obviously spam, I delete it. If it is promoting something that is dishonest or offensive, I delete that too. I often get people posting anti-catholic websites on my blog comments over on Fallible Blogma. If the link is to an honest site that just happens to disagree with the Catholic Church, I generally leave it as part of the discussion. If it is blatantly dishonest, I usually delete it. I have no obligation to help propagate dishonest lies.
10) Aliens - I don’t know if I’ve ever had a fruitful conversation with an Alien…unless it was somehow encouraging them not to be so alien-like. In my experience, most Aliens come in peace. But I think some may still be recovering from a little too much “peace and love” in their past. I’m not sure. There really is no good, consistent way to respond to an Alien. Trying to make sense of one is as fruitful as giving commands to a cat. So these are best ignored (and prayed for), as well. My only other hypothesis involves real aliens. And in that case, we are missing out on some real opportunities to engage extra-terrestrial life in some meaningful blog-comment conversations. But if that is true, extra-terrestrials are terrible conversationalists. And while that may be good news for the superior intelligence of human beings, it’s still bad news for blogs.
None of these “rules” are set in stone, of course. Every blog community is a little different. Every situation calls for a unique application of a lot of these principles. Any quick study of my own comments on my personal blog will find me on both sides of almost everything discussed above…immortalized in the eternal archives of the digital cloud…for better or worse. But it’s through them that I’ve learned quite a bit and continue to do so. I hope some of my thoughts here will help you as you go forth and comment. Please let me know what you think and feel free to leave any additional thoughts below.
Next week, in response to some requests, I’ll be doing an unofficial part 3 to this post on How to be a Great Blog Commenter.