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    An area where companies often voice their concerns as we discuss setting up their own blog is that of negative feedback. They worry that people will use the comments section of their blog to express their dissatisfaction with the company and their products or services. Theyre also keen to understand how best to deal with them.

    From a personal point of view, I totally understand this concern. As a rule, we dislike negative comments being made about us thats just natural – and companies and company bloggers are no different. Theres an instinctive reaction when we receive anything other than glowing praise for something we’ve written: for the individual blogger, there’s personal pride at stake; for businesses, there’s the concern that it will reflect badly on their organisation and alienate customers or prospects who see it.

    So, for some, the gut reaction is to suppress it … moderate it out … pretend it never happened. Better still, don’t allow anyone to comment! That will also take away the guilt factor of knowing that the comment was made but that you haven’t approved it!

    Why this really isn’t an option

    The trouble is that this is the digital equivalent of sticking your head in the sand or perhaps jabbing your fingers in your ears and shouting La la la very loudly. Conjures up a faintly ridiculous image? Well, in social media terms, its equally ridiculous, Im afraid. Why? Because the person who wanted to complain on your blog will still do so, they will just go elsewhere … generally somewhere where you won’t have the chance to respond and engage with them.

    So whats the alternative? Well, instead, give people the chance to raise the issue on your blog let them vent their frustration. And, in the process, you’ll be giving yourself the chance to answer their concerns.

    For me, there are three key reasons why I’d want to do that and they’re nothing to do with blogging and everything to do with business:

    • Firstly, it costs much more, both in terms of time and money, to find new clients than it does to keep your current ones.

    • Secondly, customers with negative experiences are more likely to tell people about them than customers with positive experiences. However, customers who have had a negative experience which has been solved tend to be the most vocal;

    • Thirdly, it costs more to fix a problem than to prevent it in the first place.

    By responding and resolving their issues, we have the chance not only to keep them as a customer but possibly turn them into an advocate for your company again. In any case, by openly allowing the criticisms and answering them, you are more likely to gain respect in the eyes of other readers than lose it.

    Feedback has other benefits

    You may also be receiving valuable feedback which could help improve an aspect of your company’s activities and fix a problem which already exists. Without this feedback, you could remain blissfully unaware of an issue which is costing you clients who have decided not to complain but rather “vote with their feet” and look for another supplier.

    Certainly you need to make sure that the comments comply with any guidelines that you have in place – and in a corporate blog, they should exist – but those should cover areas such as abusive or racist language rather than constructive criticism. So rather than suppressing negative comments, you should encourage comments and feedback of all types. While it might sometimes seem a painful process in the short-term, the long-term benefits will prove far more valuable.

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    Better Business Blogging - Quick Bloggers GuideOne of the key characteristics of a blog is the ability for people to comment on what you have posted there are some people who will even argue that it is not really a blog without them! Having this capability gives the blog its interactive element, opens up the opportunities for communications and can help forge the start of a real business connections.

    Hopefully, when looking at how to approach the question of comments, you won’t be deciding whether to allow them or not, but rather how to elicit comments and how to handle the ones you receive. As you are doing so, here are some points that you might want to bear in mind:

    a) How to allow comments
    Just because you open up your blog to comments doesnt mean that have to let anything and everything appear on your blog. You have control over comments which appear and, on most blog platforms, there are a range of options open to you these can range from readers having to be approved and logged in before they can comment at one end of the scale, through to an open policy of no moderation at the other. For most, the right approach lies somewhere in the middle and depends on you, your companys requirements and the aims of your blog. As a good default position, I recommend starting with a level of moderation (ie. you approve comments before they appear) and then develop it from there.

    b) Make sure you respond
    When people have taken the trouble to leave a comment on your blog then make sure you respond where appropriate – remember, in most cases, you are looking to engage with the people who leave comments, so if they respond and ask a question then make sure that you reply to it. This gives you the opportunity to develop the conversation and work towards establishing and then building on a connection with your readers.

    c) Consider a Comments Policy
    Not just appropriate for corporates, any business blog whether its run by an individual or a company can benefit from openly stating what their policy on comments is. If you moderate them, then let people know that there comments wont appear immediately – at the same time, if you are clear about what is acceptable on your business blog and therefore what is not, you can cut down the comments which contravene them.

    d) Encourage comments
    Dont sit back and just rely on the comments simply appearing actively encourage them! This could be in the way you write your posts or by posing open questions as a closing line in your blog inviting opinions from your readers or simply by asking for them. And if your template just says No comments when a posts is still waiting for its first reply, then why not change it to something like Come on – be the first to comment! You never know!

    e) “Reward” comments
    In most blog software, the comments just appear on the individual posts, so why not highlight the people who are commenting and encourage other readers to join them by displaying a Latest Comments list in the sidebar of your main pages which will give both them and you additional visibility. For WordPress users, the Get Recent Comments plugin makes this easy to do.

    f) Don’t simply block negative comments
    Dont simply delete critical comments which come in. At least on your blog you have the chance to respond to them, while elsewhere they will go unchallenged and unanswered. You will find that by allowing and responding to them, you are more likely to gain greater respect by handling objections with grace and tact in the eyes of other readers of your blog. Also, if you are able to answer their points and solve the issue they have, then you have the opportunity not only to keep them as a customer but also perhaps turn them into an supporter for your company again.

    g) Avoiding spam comments
    Youll find that you do attract spam comments but there are ways to avoid them appearing as well as taking up your valuable time. You could use CAPTCHA methods or registration but, for me, the method that has least impact on your readers will be to use specialist software. In my opinion, the leader in this respect is Akismet which identifies the comments that it believes are spam and impounds them – free of charge, except for commercial use and very good.

    h) Help people follow the conversation
    Using a plugin such as Subscribe to Comments, you can allow your readers to sign up for an email notification of when any further comments have been left on the post. It’s a good way to help keep the conversation bubbling away and of course encouraging people to participate more. You could also encourage them to use comment tracking services such as CoComment, Co.mments and Commentful.

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    5. Comments, comments, comments …

    I’ve often talked about just how important comments are in the make up of a blog, most recently as part of the Business Blog Design series – indeed you could say that they are just as important as the post itself because they are what actually facilitates the communication element of a blog.

    Anyway, Mashable has published a nice list of plug-ins for WordPress which relate to comments which is well worth having a look at. Pick and choose a couple from there which are particularly relevant to you and try them out on your own blog – I’d suggest concentrating on those which encourage your readers to contribute or make it easier for them to do so.

    Another one not mentioned which I also think would be worth including is Subscribe to Comments which allows those who have already left a comment to receive notification when additional comments are made on the post – great for encouraging them to return and develop the conversation further.

    In the same vein, this might also be a relevant time to remember that services such as CoComment, Co.mments and Commentful exist which all allow you to follow the conversation on the blogs and posts where you have left comments yourself.

    All of these plugins and applications are designed to make the conversations in the blogosphere more “joined up” and that can only be a good thing. Have fun!!

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    Business Blog Design Series[This is part of a series following on from a post called “Business Blog Design“]


    Being able to open up a dialogue between author and readers by leaving comments is one of the key aspects of a blog and one of the elements that make them as effective as they are. They open a door onto the interactive side of the web and give the opportunity to engage with people, start conversations and create connections.

    However, just as in the real world, its important to show that you are willing to talk with people rather than turning your back on them (proverbially or otherwise) or give the impression that you are unapproachable and arent looking to engage with them.

    Allow and learn to love comments
    You should always allow people to comment on your blog, unless you have very specific reasons why not at the same time, you should make sure that you have the ability to deal with the comments that come back. I dont just mean in terms of time (for most that will not be an issue – and if it is, it’s often a good one to have!), but also in terms of responding appropriately.

    Whether the comments you receive contain information, praise or criticism, you need to deal with them openly and correctly. You can achieve a huge amount by doing this, gaining respect in the process, especially when responding to negative comments. You will also encourage additional comments by the way that you have dealt with previous ones, so take the time to do so.

    Actively encourage comments
    Creating dialogue through getting responses is a key element to a successful blog, so dont sit back and wait for comments help to initiate them, either on your own blog or on those of others. Dont be afraid to openly ask for comments you should feel comfortable enough to encourage or challenge people to reply, or ask them for information. Basically, start that conversation!

    You can also encourage comments simply by the way that you write, either through inspiring people to respond, goading them or by opening up a discussion on an area that you know people will have an opinion that that they want to express. Some other ways might include:

    • Asking for opinions in general or asking a direct question at the end of your posts;

    • Challenging people to put their point of view forward on the topic;

    • Writing in an open ended style which allows people to add further thoughts on the topic rather than consider you’ve covered all aspects of it;

    • asking for additional information to help build up a bigger collection of thoughts and ideas on the subject

    • Running a competition (prizes help encourage participation!)

    • Starting group writing projects such as a Metaphor for Blogging

    • Drawing attention to comments made either by referencing them or by displaying “Latest Comments” in your sidebar

    Make it easy to comment
    We want people to comment, so make it easy for your readers to do so and don’t put barriers in their way which may put them off. Probably the biggest barrier in this regard is where you ask people to register before they can leave a comment – while I recognise that comment spam is a very real issue, there are other ways around this which will not impact on the relationship between author and reader.

    How to deal with them
    You should try to respond to the comments that your readers leave where appropriate – in most cases, you are looking to engage with the people who leave comments, so if they respond and ask a question then make sure that you reply to it.

    Of course, there will be cases where the comments will not be favourable this is to be expected. You cannot please all the people all of the time. You should still try to respond to their points and present your point of view – its best not to ignore this type of comment because at least on your blog you have the chance to put forward your side. Elsewhere, negative comments will go unanswered. You will also often gain greater respect by handling objections with grace and tact by doing it this way.

    How to avoid Spam Comments
    Spam comments appearing in our comment section doesn’t give a good impression, but luckily there are a number of ways to avoid this. So what are our options – other than turning off comments all together, which I don’t advocate.

    The main ones you might consider are:

    • Specialist Software: like email, there are providers of specialist software which can help us and here, in my opinion, the leader in this respect is called Akismet. It identifies the comments that it believes are spam and impounds them – free of charge, except for commercial use and very good.

    • Comment Moderation: moderating out spam by looking at each comment which has been left and allow genuine ones to appear on your blog while deleting the spam comments. This can become very time consuming (not to mention frustrating!)

    • CAPTCHA methods: this is the distorted series of letters and numbers which appear on the page and that you have to type in to prove that you are a human and not an automated visitor. Good but a bit of a barrier to readers.

    • Registration: only accept comments from people that have already logged in to a registration system which you run on your blog secure but can dissuade people from commenting.

    Designing your business blog to encourage and display comments appropriately will hopefully help to develop more and more feedback, thereby developing an ongoing dialogue or relationship with your readers. This in turn should have a positive effect in terms of both reputation and trust.


    Learn to love comments (positive and negative), encourage readers to leave them and make it easy for them to do so!

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    Business blog designWhen I consider Business Blog Design, Im not just thinking about the graphics side of blog design, but rather all of the elements that go together to make a successful business blog. For me, the key aspect to the design is that it should enable your business blog to support the business goals that you are looking to achieve with it.

    Use your blog’s “prime real estate”
    To make this happen, you need to ensure that you place the elements which are most important in achieving these goals in the most prominent places. These are areas which are going to be viewed most often by your readers and so, in property terminology, would be your blogs prime real estate. Generally, these will the areas in the header and at the top of the columns and, to a lesser degree, all of the area above the fold (ie. what you can see on screen without scrolling). Use these areas carefully when designing your blog.

    What should be the focus?
    There is no single answer as to what should be there, simply that it should support the business objectives of your blog. So if you are looking to increase subscriptions to a free download, course or newsletter, then make sure that the sign-up box sits prominently at the top of your page. Likewise if you have a special promotion or service to push or perhaps a book that you want to publicise, then make sure that there is a clear link there through to a page where you can talk more about it.

    In addition to this, there are certain other key factors that you really need to be focusing on when it comes to the design of a business blog. To help on this, I’ll be doing a series of posts here which will cover these points in more depth starting next week – check it out, I think it’ll be useful! ;)

    Some key elements to consider
    However, in the meantime, these are the areas of blog design that I believe should carefully be looked at, with a brief overview of why that’s the case:

    • Profile and contact details
      At the end of the day, the goal of 95% of Business Blogs is to encourage people to engage in dialogue with you so make it easy for them to do so. And while you are at it, take the opportunity to let them know a bit more about you oh, and dont forget the information you need to provide by law now!

    • Navigation and usability
      While you want to use the key areas for the elements that you particularly want to promote, you still need to make it easy to find all the information that it contains. As a basic, use categories and archives sensibly and let the blog software do the work for you there are some other tips on that which I’ll expand on in the Blog Coach post.

    • Blogging software generic templates
      The templates supplied with blogging software are the basic building blocks for a blog – in most cases, a common denominator which, by its very nature, needs to be all things to all people. It supplies a good basic format but can never give you the real benefits which will truly differentiate you from others and allow you to promote your key business elements properly. If you use a template, take the best from it but then make it your own.

    • RSS Subscriptions / Signups
      Just like an ezine subscription box on a normal website (in fact, make sure you have one on your blog – they work well together), RSS subscribers are important or even key to developing your business blog. So make it easy to subscribe and give them options such as specific chicklets or subscribing by email – incentives such as a free ebook to RSS subscribers are an added bonus.

    • Onpage advertising
      Its so offputting having to wade through adverts to get at the posts and its the posts that are going to do the real work for you – if you have to include ads then keep them clearly differentiated. Ideally, unless you really need to directly monetise your blog, dont include them. Youll get all the benefits you need from the extra business your blog generates.

    • Make it easy to leave comments

      You want to encourage dialogue, so dont make it difficult for your readers to leave comments – having to log-in or fill in a CAPTCHA (one way to protect against comment spam) just puts up additional barriers. However, make sure that you dont allow rubbish comments either which could damage your blog. Ah, so much to think about!!

    • Search Box

      It’s important to include a Search facility on your site by its very nature, a blog focuses on your most recent posts but is meticulous about storing everything that you write. Its the cumulative information that is the real value both to your business and to your readers. So its important that you give readers every opportunity to access it and the Search function is of course at the centre of that.

    • Categories and Archives
      Keep the names relatively short and where possible have them contain some of your keyword phrases. Like the Search function, these are key ways for readers to explore what you have written in more depth.

    At the end of the day, making sure that you have the basics in place is key after all, you are spending a lot of time on your blog and you want it to be successful for you and fulfil your business objectives. So get the design right and make sure that it helps and not hinders what you want you blog to achieve.

    A blog is wonderfully flexible, despite first appearances, so incorporate different side bars on different pages where necessary and ensure that they help re-inforce your business objectives. After all, a business blog is a tool (albeit a very powerful one) so make the best use of it you can and make sure that the blog design supports the business goals … and not vice versa.

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    Companies still seem to get overly worried about receiving negative comments on their blog. Despite discussing this concern with a number (who have ultimately gone on to successfully run blogs, I might add), I remain uncertain as to the exact reason why.

    I think that it is either because they have a lot of “dirty washing” that they fear might be aired in public or simply that they just dont want to hear anything but positive feedback about their company, their products and their blog.

    For this reason, I wanted to share with you some recommended ways to avoid getting negative comments, taken both from the perspective of what you can do as a company and also some actions that you can take directly on your blog.

    From a company perspective:

    • Be mediocre – successful companies appear to polarise opinion and will always generate some negative feelings as well as all the positive ones. Just look at Microsoft and Google. To avoid encouraging negative sentiments which might then be expressed on your blog, avoid success like the plague and concentrate on remaining steadfastly average;
    • Supply faultless products – ensuring that your products never fail or break will cover you against any possible negative comments that might come from customers who expect that when they buy a product, it should work for life. Their life, that is … not the product’s.
    • Provide perfect service – we’re talking here about not only customers but suppliers, partners and staff too. This should make certain that people don’t need to resort to using your blog to ask service or support questions – in fact, hopefully they won’t really need to contact you at all or clog up your nice call centres.

    From a blog perspective:

    • Avoid expressing an opinion – there is nothing worse than opinions to get people’s backs up and there’s also a high risk that someone, somewhere will disagree with them. You may find that sharing information carries these same risks as it opens the door for dialogue and discussion.
    • Make your posts as bland as possible – by reporting little of relevance or interest in your blog, you will successfully be reducing the number of people reading it. An added bonus is that nobody is likely to make the effort to engage in conversation by posting comments, positive or negative. Longer-term strategy but still very effective.
    • Hide your blog – let’s face it, if people can’t find your blog then they are unlikely to react negatively to anything in it. This can either be done actively or passively: actively should involve regularly changing permalinks to break those unwanted inbound links, while passively you can simply sit back and steadfastly refuse to admit that the blog exists.

    Other Options:

    • Turn off comments – of course, this is a much easier way. You could simply not allow comments on your blog or perhaps refrain from posting regularly … or indeed at all. These are probably the best ways to avoid dialogue with customers and are very effective in annoying them as well. Luckily, they won’t be able to complain on your blog because you have cleverly sidestepped that possibility by not allowing comments (see above).

    Just as an aside: the trouble is that by making sure you don’t get negative comments on your blog, you won’t actually be stopping people from making negative comments – they’ll just go elsewhere with them. What it does do is stop you from hearing them and being able to respond to them.

    I trust that has helped and if anyone thinking of implementing these suggestions has a spare bucket of sand for me to put my head in, that would be much appreciated.

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