Tuesday, December 04, 2007

No One Has Ever Died From a Blog Comment

I thought I'd share this post that I wrote for the Stanford Social Innovation Review Opinion Blog:

"What is the worst thing that can happen?” I asked a nonprofit the other day when they expressed concern about receiving critical comments on their blog. I mean, really. Has anyone ever died from a blog comment? Has a nonprofit been brought down because they were too transparent and authentic online? Don’t most scandals happen because something is being hidden, rather than because it was revealed?

If your organization has so many skeletons in its closet, or is doing such a terrible job that you don’t want people to criticize it, maybe you need to look at how your organization works, or your staff, or whatever it is you are worried about, and make some changes. If someone has something bad to say about your nonprofit, they are probably not the only one, and they are probably already saying it to other people. Wouldn’t you rather that they tell you about it publicly, so you have an opportunity to address it?

I also hear a lot of fears that there will be too many comments. As if a staff of 50 will be needed to handle it. I say, 1. Let’s wait to see if you get any comments, and 2. If your supporters and potential supporters have so much to say about your organization, isn’t it important to fund a staff person to listen to them?

Finally, when talking to nonprofits about using blogs, I often hear fears around pointing to other organizations doing similar work. The best nonprofit blogs are ones that use a blog as a marketing and communication tool for their organization, and to establish themselves as a thought leader in their field. Being a thought leader means you feel comfortable pointing to other organizations doing similar work effectively (maybe even more effectively than you, gasp!). It also means sharing your own resources and tools for creating change, even if that means another organization (like your competitor) might use them to become a better changemaker (would that really be so terrible?).

Blogging is a very confident medium that by providing links to other sites says, “I believe you’ll be back.” It is also a generous medium that exists on the belief that if I share something with you, you’ll share something with me, and together we’ll have more than we did by ourselves.

If being authentic, truthful and generous while listening, sharing and collaborating are things nonprofits want to avoid, then, we’ve taken a wrong turn. Don’t be afraid of blog comments. We’ve got bigger things to worry about.


  1. Britt,

    Very well said. The non-profits I've consulted in the past haven't figured out what to write on yet, none-the-less consider the comment issue.

    BTW, I tried contacting you via email regarding your request for an interview and speaking engagement, and I didn't hear back, leading me to think you didn't get my exuberant acceptance! I've been having intermittent email problems lately, but please know I would love to fly up to speak and give an interview any time.

  2. I agree. Freedom of speech is a great thing.. and something that people have had to work hard for.
    Also, I believe that it is true that any imput is good imput!

  3. Anonymous4:54 PM

    Britt- EXACTLY!

    We have been putting on a series of events on new media for nonprofits and the most common thing we hear is concern about moderating comments and receiving an influx of them. I think that leaders in the field are trying their best to reassure nonprofits but the best approach I have found, like many other fields, is to have a nonprofit that has done it be the one to spread that reassuring message. Thanks for the post!

  4. Hey Nate!

    I didn't get your email. I'll try to email you again, but if you see this comment, email me at bbravo@techsoup.org

  5. Anonymous6:53 PM

    "What is the worst thing that can happen?” "Has anyone ever died from a blog comment? Has a nonprofit been brought down because they were too transparent and authentic online?"

    I'm sure I'm missing and ignoring the point, but I would say, ask Kathy Sierra. Her blog archive exists, but she is no longer actively blogging.

    I think that issues of cyberbullying and other forms of online intimidation are real and shouldn't be discounted so cavalierly amongst those who are not necessarily completely comfortable with something that we may be.

    It is simply not true that any input is good input.

  6. I think you're right on the money, Britt. And to the previous commenter, I would say that there is constructive input and destructive input, and what happened to Kathy Sierra was unquestionably destructive, but also very unusual. I try to encourage nonprofits to recognize that they can spend an awful amount of energy worrying about something going wrong in life, an unpleasant comment or a complaint. Chances are that it either won't happen, or if it does, well, that's life, sometimes people complain and the sky doesn't fall. American Cancer Society decided to create a blog, and were very worried about complaints, and it happened, and the world didn't stop.

  7. Thanks to everyone for their comments about comments (:


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