Whenever you set up a blog, a wiki, or any other social media tool that invites user comments, you’re making a choice. You are deciding that you want the communication to be a conversation. You want to talk with your readers, not just talk at them
How you do that says a lot about your own readiness for social media. There is a spectrum of approaches. The purist approach is exemplified by Lindy Dreyer and Maddie Grant in their Associations Now article on blogging. On commenting, they recommend “open and easy.” They mean: no login, no captchas, no moderator, and of course easy to use. If there’s a problem, the community takes of it.
How’s that work in practice? For personal blogs like this one, no problem. If someone says something hateful or off topic, I hit delete. Cool. For many small companies, the same thing applies.
For others, it’s a little trickier. Our Massachusetts Medical Society blog started with “open and easy” approach, and we became an easy mark. We were overrun by spam in no time flat. So I pulled the plug on “open and easy” and added comment moderation.
We have another issue, legal liability- but not the “what if the worst happens” kind of liability. With few exceptions, if independent doctors organize to talk about economic issues (i.e., their own reimbursement), even just two doctors, they break the law. So we must police anti-trust violations, or put an awful lot at risk. And it’s not up to me to take that risk, if you know what I mean!
The New York Times site takes the same approach. Its editors moderate comments on all of their articles. They let you know about it with nice, clean, non-legal language.
It doesn’t seem to affect their commenting volume very much. For example, on Oct. 3, within three hours of posting its article on the “bailout” bill, the Times had more than 300 comments. (Sure, it was the story of the year, and the Times has millions of visitors daily, but you get my point.)
The same considerations go for wikis, too – but maybe even more so, if you intend the wiki to be at least somewhat authoritative. What if someone makes a life-altering decision based on something erroneous in your public wiki during those 30 minutes that it was published? In many worlds, such as medical publishing, that is not an acceptable risk.
Has our moderated approach inhibited commenters on our site? Probably. But given the choice between a spam sandwich and a little dead air, I’ll take moderation any time.