Thursday, June 24, 2010

You Asked For It: What to Do When You Offend Your Readers


I received an e-mail recently from a lovely lady blogger (who didn't want her e-mail posted here), Emily, wishing to know what you do when you write a post and-- oops!-- the subject matter doesn't go over so well. I'm not a huge expert on this, since I haven't been blogging with people actually reading what I write for too long (love you guys! seriously!), but I've been musing on the subject and felt I could offer up a little advice on how to handle the aftermath of writing a post that offends your audience.

Identify The Reason

Why are people getting offended? Unless you tried to stir up controversy, you probably didn't expect your post to anger anyone. After all, I know, at least in my case, I try to write posts that will generally please myself and the people who read here. If people simply don't seem to be reading and commenting like they normally do, you've probably just misjudged your audience-- but if people are commenting that they don't like what you've posted, listen, even if you might feel hurt. See if there are common threads to the complaints so you can figure out what went wrong. This will help if you know what to address if you decide to apologize and give you some more insight into what your readership really wants.

Assess the Risk

My instincts tend to say that if you have a very large, loyal readership, you can "afford" a little more controversy as far as readers go. If your readers have come to know and love you, they may feel betrayed to see content they really don't like, but they'll probably come back to you. If you have a blog with a smaller audience, you may be inclined to be more careful, since you're probably trying to build up your readership. It could also go the other way entirely in both cases. You need to decide for yourself what offending your readers means and what is most important to you: your numbers, reader satisfaction, your satisfaction, your cause, etc. Once you take all that into account you can start figuring out how much risk you're willing to take when writing entries and then deciding what to do if your risk turns into a scandal of sorts.

Stand Your Ground-- Or Not...

I think this is the part Emily is really curious about-- what do you actually do once it happens?

I haven't had any major controversies here. Sometimes people disagree with my posts politely and without expressing any sort of rage, which is more than cool with me. I don't expect you all to be my "yes men." If you disagree, I want to know. However, if a large amount of people disagree pretty fervently, it calls for stepping back and deciding what comes next.

There are a couple recent examples of popular bloggers who handled these sticky situations really well.

On Already Pretty, Sal wrote a link list in which she posted a link to story on female Viagra, saying the search for the drug "sickened" her. In the comments there were a couple of anonymous people who expressed feeling hurt by Sal's statement. Not only did she comment back to them in an intelligent, well-thought-out manner, but she ultimately decided to reword that part of the post.

Sarah Von at Yes and Yes put up a post about how much she loves the Diesel ads that praise being "stupid", and a lot of readers expressed feelings similar to shock that she liked them. Sarah Von always does a great job of addressing comments on all her posts, and this was no different. She went a step further, though, and wrote a whole 'nother post to address the comments she got and ask her readers-- ones who'd disagreed with her opinion-- to engage even further in conversation about the ads. I think that was a really awesome way to deal with the realization that a lot of people didn't see eye-to-eye with her and that it sets a great example for others bloggers facing similar incidents. Also, while acknowledging and respecting people's concerns, she didn't back down from her opinion, which is awesome.

There are times that we all say something we shouldn't have or simply miscommunicate. Those are the times that we have to man up, admit our "oops," apologize, and move on. We're human and we make mistakes. That's perfectly okay. Making mistakes can be good, too: it provides a chance to show yourself and others the strength of your character.

Of course, there are also times that apologizing simply isn't the best choice. If the scandal is over something you truly believe in and something you've decided you really do mean, then by all means don't ask for forgiveness. Personally, I think a post or a statement in the comments regarding your convictions would be appropriate: you know, saying this is how I feel about it even though you're offended, this is why, etc. and maybe addressing valid points made by the other side. You can be diplomatic and respectful without bowing to the peer pressure to apologize.

And one last thing? I think as we grow to really know and love the people who read our blogs, we forget something really important at times: it's your blog. No matter what, you get the final say in what kind of content you want to put out into the world. I think it's important to remember that your blog is yours first because once you forget that, you run the risk of trying to please all the people all the time. That just isn't possible. Write what you want to write no matter what others think. No matter if I agree with what you write or not, I have huge respect for someone that speaks their mind even when it might cause controversy-- especially if it will, even. Write what's in your heart, be true to yourself, and run the risk of raising some hackles: it's worth it.

Imagine you wrote a post that offended your readers: what would you do? Has it actually happened to you, and how did you handle it? Any other advice for Emily?


Anonymous said...

One of the things that most impressed me about Sarah from Yes and Yes is that she seemed genuinely interested in what her readers had to say. I didn't like those ads. So what? Both Sarah and myself said so in articulate, well thought out ways and no one got hurt. As long as you are respectful, it's your opinion, and I think it's ok.

Jem said...

I think that its important to hold fast to your opinion's just as long as are respectful of others views. I love how some bloggers when they recieve criticism respond to it and listen to what their readers have to say. This is the beauty of free speech and the internet everyone can have an opinion the only thing is you have to sort out the one's you agree with from the one's you don't. Love this post, it deffently made me think about how I would respond if I offended a reader. :)

Kelly said...

I have offended a few readers. For a while I was doing these posts about what I loved/hated in fashion magazines that month. But I got a few comments/emails about things I had said I hated, that the people actually owned. I didn't intend to offend anyone when I said "I thought X looked ugly" but I can definitely see why it was offensive to some. I told them I was sorry and didn't mean to upset them, and in one case I did change my mind and told her so (someone posted a link to a picture of herself wearing a nail polish that I thought looked terrible in the magazine - and in her real-life picture, I actually quite liked it).

So I've just stopped doing them - it's not worth it to me to write those posts if they are going to make my friends feel bad.

sui said...

I've offended one reader who thought it was improper for me to post up a certain photo (but they were from a conservative culture, and didn't actually read my post), and definitely some readers with my "It's the violinist, not the violin" post-- ironically, the very people I was talking about in that post (where I was implying that people who only focus on the equipment need to realize they have the skills necessary within themselves-- and they took it as an attack on their ego because they loved buying equipment)! But because it was all things I believed in (and I didn't expect them to be controversial) I stood with what I wrote.

If people become offended, and you feel your post is objectively right, it could be just their egos feeling threatened by truth. Or, if you're giving an opinion, it's a given that some people won't agree, or will feel defensive or angry. I've had people disagree with me that loving one's self will lead to happiness, but if that's what they believe, and I believe differently, that's just how it is! Unless you're openly attacking (readers or other people), I'd say stick to your gut.

~*Jess*~ said...

This was a great post! Thanks! I think we often start to wonder what it is we SHOULD be saying and we forget that at the end of the day it is all about what we think. If you're readers "know" you, they will be open to those opinions. At the end of the day, we're all entitled to our own!

Rachel Elizabeth said...

I haven't had this happen yet but it seems like mostly my readers just don't comment if they don't like what they see. I recently posted about gay pride month in San Diego and the post has a total of 0 comments on it.


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