Plenty of blogging support groups will tell you not to read the comments, and for good reason. Any blogger who has had a post go viral is likely to have seen themselves vilified therein.
This advice is meant to shield you from the inevitable insults that you’re a bad parent, bad at your job, bad at writing, and so on. This advice is also wrong, for two main reasons.
First, of course you are going to look at the comments. Advice not to do so only makes you feel guilty for seeking validation, thus compounding whatever insulting things you might discover.
Second, not reading the comments means ignoring a treasure trove of market research and focus group testing. When you read with a business point-of-view, you can use reader’s remarks to make smart choices about your blog.
Focusing on research is a different kind of approach. You’re not looking for praise. You’re not looking for heartwarming evidence that your words helped someone. You’re just looking at how people interpreted your message.
Here are 6 tips to help you ignore the trolls and mine for gold.
Remember that the comments are not about you
Once you click “submit” or “publish,” your piece, no matter how personal, is not about you anymore. It’s about the people reading it. If you can acknowledge this shift, that your piece may belong to you but it isn’t about you, you can view comments in a more productive way.
The commenter who claims you’re too easily offended? That person may be feeling defensive because your work called his or her own behaviors into question. People rarely change their behavior on a dime, but you may have planted a seed that will bear fruit later on. So when you read negative things about yourself in the comments, cede (seed!) the ground and move on.
Separate possible audience members from drive-by commenters
Only some of the commenters are potential future audience members. The person who complained your subject is not worth writing about? She didn’t bother to read past your headline, and she’s not reading your blog either. Ignore her.
Use constructive criticism to build your audience
Readers often don’t realize you can see them. Think about the last viral post you read. Can you remember the author’s name? Probably not. Chances are the person who just accused you of being a lazy narcissist has no idea who you are, or, in the case of a syndicated post, what your blog is called.
Writing “I’m the author and you hurt my feelings,” or any other defensive point, isn’t going to help. But if the commenter’s critique is valid, or at least interesting and thoughtful, respond with a simple, “Thanks for sharing your point of view. I’ll keep that in mind for future posts on [blog link here].”
This message validates the commenter, reminds her that you are a real, three-dimensional human being, and encourages her to read more of your work, all without being defensive or sales-y. And it may yield new followers for your blog.
Use questions to generate new material
If a commenter raises a question about your work, write “Great question!” and answer it. If the answer is well-addressed by another piece you’ve written, share a link. If you don’t know the answer to a question, but are inspired by the commenter, say so!
This strategy may help you develop new work. A respondent to my post on drinking while breastfeeding asked about medicating while breastfeeding. I didn’t know the answer, so I researched it for a follow-up article and shared the link with the commenter.
Take substantive criticism seriously
Did you ever take a writing class in which you had to do peer review? Those extra eyes on your work could help you puzzle out big issues before submitting a final draft. In the blogging world, many writers go it alone and don’t get much feedback on their work. Consider your commenters as your own peer review group. Do they take issue with one of your sources? Ask why, and file that research lesson away for future posts. Do they critique your logical reasoning? Ask yourself what steps you might have skipped.
Use readers’ reactions to adjust your tone
We’ve all had that email from someone who we thought was mad at us, only to find no problem at all. Tone is really tricky in a blog post, especially a syndicated one, because it’s the first time some readers are seeing your work. You might think you’re being sarcastic, but they might read you as sincere. You might be stating a fact, but they see you whining.
There’s no easy answer to this one, because you have no control over many of the conditions that lead readers to see a particular tone in your writing. But if you find that many of your readers don’t get your sarcasm, and you want to reach larger audiences, lighten up a bit. If many readers think you’re whining, ask yourself whether you might indeed be whining.
Note: The opinions expressed by guest bloggers at the Submittable blog are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Submittable.
Stephanie Loomis Pappas is a professor turned stay-at-home parent committed to debunking all of the bad parenting advice on the internet. She started snackdinner to remind Googling parents that whatever they’re doing, they’re doing just fine. You can find snackdinner on facebook and instagram.