Welcome to a new series at Carrots! I often get emails and comments asking about various blogging-related things, so I thought it would be fun to answer some of them right here on the blog as a little on-going series. I hope you enjoy it and find it helpful! If you have a question about blogging, feel free to leave it in the comments and I may be able to answer it in a future For the Love of Blogging post.
This week’s question: How do you set the tone of your blog? How do you encourage kindness in the comments? How do you inspire readers to charitably dialogue with each other?
I think there’s two big ways that a blogger should set the tone, the way he/she responds to other bloggers and writers and the way he/she responds to commenters. Because I’ve made plenty of mistakes, I’ve learned a lot about this and I’m sure I still have a lot to learn…
The key word here is charity. If you say anything worth saying, someone will disagree. Not everyone is going to like you. You can have opinions and confidently express them and you should. Tip-toeing around isn’t necessary, but charity is. Stating the truth doesn’t always go hand-in-hand with being “nice.”
BUT criticize bad ideas, not people. If another writer has a piece you disagree with, critique their argument, do not make personal attacks. Say, “what’s problematic with this idea is…” rather than, “Sally Sue’s idiotic claim makes me gag because…” And consider who you are disagreeing with. It’s one thing to write critically about a public figure like Putin. It’s another to lambast a tiny blogger by name about a post only 10 people read.
Argue with charity. If there’s anything you can agree with, note it. Assume the best of the other argument, don’t make it into a straw man. Assume the best of the other writer. And don’t say anything that you wouldn’t want the writer you’re disagreeing with to read. (If you link to their piece, they probably will read it.) It’s hurtful to be personally attacked on someone else’s blog, whether you’re a big blogger, a little blogger, or somewhere in-between. A friend recently wrote a great post that to her surprise (and mine) really offended another blogger who misinterpreted it. Thinking my friend wouldn’t see her post, this blogger wrote about her and also allowed her readers to badmouth my friend in the comments. Even if you did nothing wrong, it’s very hurtful to see that and it’s just not classy blogging! The whole thing could have been avoided if the blogger had assumed the best of my friend and it could have been curtailed if she had been more charitable and encouraged her readers to be charitable as well. Speak with truth, but with charity, and encourage your commenters to do the same. It’s easy to forget that even though you don’t know someone in real life, they are a REAL PERSON with feelings.
And speaking of comments…..my oh my. The combox can be an ugly place. I am so lucky to have wonderful and kind readers who encourage me and one another in the combox. But if you have an opinion about anything, you will get some nasty comments from somebody. Even if you stand by what you wrote, even if what they said was unwarranted, it hurts.
So first of all, assume the best. Remember, charity is the key word. So assume that a negative comment is meant in the best way possible. Tone is everything and when you’re tired or grumpy or defensive, you can read criticism into a comment that was never meant to be critical.
If it’s impossible to read it with a positive spin, consider whether there is any truth to the criticism (this might be something you could tackle with a spouse or a blogging friend, but airing grievances about critiques of your writing on social media really isn’t helpful. Your followers will support you because they like you–which is great, I’m glad my readers like me and I like them, too!–but because they like you, they’ll be taking your side and what you need is help seeing the other side.)
If there’s truth to criticism, own up to it. I develop so much more respect for bloggers when they say, “You know what? That’s a great point. I’m going to think about what you said. Perhaps I was wrong there.” And sometimes critiques in the comments are so helpful and very well-meant. I’ve had readers ask me to correct phrasing that was offensive. I didn’t MEAN to be offensive, and thankfully, they assumed the best (charity! Thanks!) and helped me out, “I know you probably didn’t mean such-and-such, but the way you phrased blah-blah-blah makes it hurtful for this reason. Could you say it this way instead?” Yes. Yes, I absolutely can. Thank you for telling me so that I don’t unintentionally hurt someone.
But then again, critiques aren’t always right. When you disagree, be tactful and kind, but be confident and firm. Clarify where you disagree. Be respectful. Move on.
And if the comment is just nasty and name-call-y and awful, delete it. Assume that person had a really bad day. They took it out on you. It’s unfortunate, but it doesn’t have to ruin your day. Responding to someone who is personally attacking you isn’t going to go anywhere. Say a prayer for whatever is going on their life and get back to your real job: writing.
You’re in control of your response to any comment, but you’re not in control of how your readers respond to each other. You can, of course, delete comments that are nasty, but you set the tone of your blog with your own voice. By showing charity and respect to those who disagree with you, you encourage your readers to do the same. Nothing makes me happier than when someone leaves a negative comment that’s hostile in tone and before I can even comment, my awesome readers respond respectfully and charitably, taking the commenter seriously and addressing their concerns or claims in a kind way. Because what’s the point? If you want someone to consider your idea, they will only be able to hear you (and who knows, maybe change their mind) if you speak to them with charity.
The internet is forever which makes blogging and social media a very scary endeavor. But demonstrating charity is especially important if your blog is religious. If you’re a Christian blogger, your words are representing Christianity to people whether you signed up for that responsibility or not. That’s a weighty thing. Err on the side of charity, and you’ll have far fewer words to be ashamed of.
Thanks for joining me in this new little series and thanks for putting up with me over the years as I’m learning these lessons. Thanks also to any blogger whose post I’ve criticized and who has responded to me with grace and charity, teaching me how to follow suit.
As luck would have it, today Heidi Calma of Project Underblog is running an interview with me about the bloggin’ life. It was very fun to do and forced me to think about why and how I do things. So, check it out, and I hope you enjoy it!
Excellent post! All wonderful points. I was just addressing this in a way. I try to remember that it’s not about me. Maybe those words were meant for someone else. This is very helpful for a new blogger! Overall, great tips for humankind!
Thanks, sweetie! <3
This is exactly why I disagree with angry responses from commenters whose tone triggered me to hit “DELETE” – they call it censorship. I call it setting the tone I want, for my own space. I am so much more likely to delete a comment that calls someone else some sort of horrible name than I am to delete something criticizing me. I feel more protective of my readers than of my reputation.
In short, I want a safe, clear, kind tone.
I don’t think any kind of productive dialogue can occur if people are afraid of being ridiculed or called names. There are blogs that I simply don’t comment on, because I’m scared of sharp tongues. I would hate for someone to feel that way about my blog. I figure, there’s plenty of space on the internet for people to rant, but they don’t have a right to do it on my blog 😉
This is a really wonderful post! I’d never thought about the tone that I want to set on my own blog as a charitable one, but the way you’ve laid it out here make so much sense.
I guess my next question is how do you cultivate an online space that encourages people to comment? I can see that people are reading, but very few people comment.
That was me by the way. I accidentally used the wrong email address. I still have a face.
Man, I am riding the struggle bus today. Anyways! Lovely post! I’ve never really thought about the attitude with which I exist online being a charitable one, but the way you’ve laid it out makes perfect sense.
I’m sure you’ll answer this at some point, but one of my biggest questions is how do you cultivate an online space that encourages people to comment? I know that people are reading but very few of them join in for discussion.
Great question! I’ll have to cover that in the series 😉
This is a great set of points, although I’m not a big enough blog to get many comments at all. That’s probably for the best, since I’m conflict-averse and way too sensitive! God’s working on me…
Marie @ Joy Beyond the Cross says
Yes, yes, yes, a thousand YESES! I don’t comment regularily but I have read you on occasion. Jumped over from seeing this posted on Kendra’s fb page. Thank you, thank you!
I don’t know what particular dust-up you are referring to (and I don’t want to know) , but I did read one last week and so much of it left a nasty taste in my mouth. As such, your blog post is great and very timely I think. Seriously…infighting among Catholics…so not appealing to other people. I am all for a good dialogue, but name calling and profanity (yes, I saw profanity) in the com box are really not necessary (at least in my opinion) and I don’t know how that advances the Faith. Granted, it wasn’t the OPs that swore, but nonetheless the whole debacle I think detracted from the overall message.
Anyway, thanks for the call to return to our senses. God Bless!
The dust up I was referring to happened a couple of weeks ago, but unfortunately, I think they happen all the time. :/
What a neat idea for a new series! As a person who hates confrontation & doesn’t receive criticism well, these are great points! I think you hit the nail on the head: charity is KEY! Do all things in love…even in the blog-o-sphere:)
Great post, Haley! I always love reading your blog because of the positive tone you set. I would hardly have known you had ever received a negative comment.
Looking forward to this series!
Thank you, Steph! You’d be surprised at the comments. It’s typically not readers, but folks who just stop by and get upset about something. Usually they’re upset about books, which is surprising because I would have figured they’d get more riled up about things like NFP. Keeps you on your toes! 😉
Thank you for this post! I, too, saw a pretty awful exchange occur last week. The conflict spilled over onto Facebook, where I first stumbled upon it. I was so saddened by the exchange. I did not comment, because I was horrified, saddened, and embarrassed for the Catholic community, and I was truly afraid that some of my non-Catholic family and friends would see something that kept getting worse even hundreds of comments later. No one would want to be a part of that community if that was their snapshot into our world. Yes, we are all sinners, but I didn’t want to publicly display the sins any further for the sake of everyone involved. Your post is quite timely — I was starting to lose a little faith in the Catholic blogging community.
And if ever we fail one another at times, as clearly we have all experienced, a sincere apology and contrite heart would truly regain most people’s respect, I think. There is always forgiveness and redemption, so don’t lose heart :).
I too love blogging, and I am really happy to find this series–thank you for writing it! My problem is that I am actually very personal, and although I want to I struggle to really open up and write real rough stuff on my blog–instead I usually just hide behind projects/photos. I don’t know why. I look at your blog, and see the beautiful REAL things that you share and I am really inspired. What makes me hesitant to share is not negative comments…it’s no comments. I’d rather hear shouts of disagreement than crickets, but that’s likely just my own pride. Did you ever have this fear? Oh well–God is always pointing out ways for us to refine ourselves, even though blogging. Thanks again!
Abbey @ Surviving Our Blessings says
This is all such sound advice. I’ve always appreciated the constructive dialog that grows here in the comments- and it really is YOUR cultivating it that makes it happen that way. I’m glad you are so aware of your role in that conversation- clearly it has made a lot of people feel very safe having real discussions here. I’m so grateful for you and your little corner of the internet- proof that you can have discussion about things that matter, make room for a variety of opinions, and still promote charity and goodwill.
I would love to read a post about your and your husband’s tattoos– they are so cool.
Stacey D says
Thank you so much for this post and this series! I love what you’ve said about charity. It can be applied to so many areas of life and not just blogging. I don’t really blog for others as much as for myself (it’s a good thing since I have no readers 🙂 ) but I would love it if you could tackle the question of blogging ettiquete? There is so much I don’t know! When do you need to ask permission to like and cite other blogs and when is it ok not to? Things like that.
Ditto on this one! Also, what are affiliate links? Are they new? I’m seeing “this post contains my affiliate links” on every second post I read these days and am starting to get paranoid that I’m breaking copyright laws or something by NOT putting something similar up on my blog. I’m looking forward to the rest of this series 🙂
Thank you for this great post! 🙂
I have been wondering how to best support synergy in internet, either on a blog, in a FB group or elsewhere. It seems more difficult than in face-to-face situations because people can`t see each other`s expressions and it`s easy to just read without saying anything, expecting that someone else will.
Your blog is always so warm and welcoming and this post was very helpful:)