The Backside of Blogging - a Roundtable Discussion

"Bloggers (and vloggers) are a special breed and live enchanted lives. They are surrounded by thousands of loving followers, get free-flowing funds from eager sponsors, and enjoy oodles and oodles of freebies and goodies from every spot on the planet. In short, every blogger has it made".

Or so some seem to think.

From a readers point of view, I can see how the life of a blogger could appear a bit on the glamorous side, but there isn’t a single blogger or vlogger I know who experiences it like that.

There are some less fortunate sides to 'putting yourself out there' that aren’t made public and may only be mentioned privately in the company of close friends.

That's what we're looking at today.

The Other Side of the Coin

I wish I could say negative comments and personal attacks from readers is extremely rare, but it is (unfortunately) not as uncommon as you might imagine.

My own worst experience in this area was what I now refer to as 'the baking soda incident'. It was a barrage of insults and indignation that came about when this post went public in 2012 and it continued for well over a year. I had apparently touched on a hot button issue that got everyones hackles up. The most scathing comments and mails did not get answered (or published), but I read every one and have to admit they made an impression.

Well let’s face it, nastiness is never fun to experience. The attacks can be crushing and remove all motivation to continue.

Yet, bloggers continue to blog.

A chat with a fellow blogger recently got me thinking about what it is that makes us keep going – even when we experience nastiness.

So I asked a few of my favorite blogging and vlogging colleagues if they would be willing to discuss the flip side of the blogging coin, and here they are!

Meet the Participants

Joining me in this round-table-style chat is this lovely collection of people:

Ariane Arsenault of La Fille De La Mer (youTube) and website

Barb Misiuda of Scrub me Down Soap

Colin Sanders of Colins Beauty Pages

Lorraine Dallmeier of Herb & Hedgerow and Formula Botanica Blog

Marie Rayma of Humblebee and Me

Michelle Wong of Lab Muffin Beauty Science

Welcome and thank you one and all for participating! 

As a guesstimate, what percentage of comments to your blog or v-log are negative and/or personal?

Less than 1%

After getting past the 'baking soda incident', I think the negative comments I get today are about the same as you, Colin.

I actually have only ever received one nasty personal comment in two years of blogging and being on social media and four years on Chinese social media. I have received a couple of negative reviews/comments in all that time.

On my blog it's probably one in every 30, on my Youtube channel more like one in 20.

That sounds like a lot to deal with Michelle!

It is and it isn't - most of the time the really personal ones are ridiculous enough that they're easy to ignore. But I do think it tends to happen more with creators who put themselves in front of the camera, and unfortunately it tends to happen more to female creators.

Thankfully the vast majority of the comments/emails I receive are positive—I’d bet 5% or less of what I hear is negative. Unfortunately, that 5% is what ends up spinning around and sticking out in my mind, sometimes for days or weeks. I know I shouldn’t give the trolls free rent in my head, but it’s hard not to when comments often leave you wondering if you have inadvertently wronged somebody.

For me it is a very small percentage, maybe 1 to 3%. But like Marie says, those are the ones we tend to remember the most. It is very interesting how one single negative comment can affect someone.

I put my heart and soul in what I do, so I can't always comprehend when hatred shows. I now understand that all bloggers go through this and it is not just me. This is how the virtual world goes round... unfortunately!

I think I fall into the rare category of bloggers who rarely receive any negative or personal comments on their blog or vlog. The Formula Botanica website and its blog attracts in over 100,000 readers per month, and our podcast receives around 10,000 downloads per month at the moment, but virtually everyone who leaves us a comment does so in a respectful and considerate manner.

Of course we get frequent spammy comments which we have to moderate. We don't receive any personal comments, thankfully, but that’s because we publish our blog like a news outlet and it’s less personal.

The worst place we receive comments is on our social media ads, when people just blurt out the first thing that enters their head and don’t take the time to read up on who we are. In recent years, the worst I’ve personally been accused of is ’scientific snobbery’ when one of my readers took offence to the fact that I said there was no such thing as chemical-free skincare!

Oh yes Lorraine, I will definitely get 'poked at' on social media every time I remind people plants contain chemicals. Some people get quite upset about that.

Constructive criticism of content or an opposing view is one thing, but some commenters cross the line and get personal. How have you dealt with negative comments?

I usually leave them up and reply to them - if they seem to be genuinely open to a response, I'll be polite, but if it's obvious they're just being a dickhead I'll reply in the same tone.

I have a block button.

I have a very strict personal guideline that I use to "filter" comments. Living in China for a very long time taught me one amazing thing, censorship can be a good thing. A person who makes personal attacks in public, is classified as a bully or harassing a business or individual. And these are not acceptable. Why should a person sitting behind a computer screen enjoying the anonymity be allowed to have any voice that is downright nasty and cruel? That is not freedom of speech.

That is just... wrong.

So, give them no leg to stand on and just delete their comment and report them. If the comment is just negative, disagreeing opinion, problem with a product; that's a different story. I try to see where they are coming from and handle it with hopefully some form of grace.

I am not one for drama and won't 'fan the flames'. Like Barb, if I get negative comments, I simply delete them from my YouTube channel's comment section.

I also have a few moderators who help me and since YouTube allows it, also have a list of words that get blocked if someone tries to comment using them. I won't enumerate this list of words as they are somewhat... coarse!

When we receive negative comments (mainly on ads, rather than blogs), we have to make a call on whether to engage with them or delete them. If they’re offensive, we’ll hide/delete them, but if they raise a valid objection, then we’ll engage.

The other day, a follower left us an angry comment to tell us that it takes a long time to design good quality, safe skincare. We agreed with her, left a long response and it actually ended up receiving a lot more likes than the original post because we’d taken the time to address a negative comment.

I’m happy to engage in discussion with people presenting genuine criticisms or opposing sides to an argument, but once it crosses the line into insults (often about my appearance, or how I’m a murderer because the ingredients I use don’t meet their standards) I delete them and move on. If it’s particularly bonkers (apparently I resemble a giraffe?!) or creepy (the things I’ve heard about my breasts—yikes) I’ll screen capture it to laugh at with friends or for a “reading weird YouTube comments” video—I have another one coming out in a couple weeks!

I’ve had several male friends tell me that the gross comments I share with my Facebook friends have helped #metoo hit home for them.

Oh Marie it's good to hear that you've managed to turn something negative into a positive. Well done!

I experienced a positive from a negative as well on that baking soda post. For the longest time, I answered every criticism and negative comment (all the while keeping a polite tone) and I think there must have been almost 200 comments at the time when one day a gent posted a comment that he had read through every single comment and every reply. He then went on to praise me for 'how gracefully' I had handled some of the ruder folks. That just made my day.

If relevant to you, is there a difference in how people comment and react to live content (YouTube, etc) as opposed to a written blog?

Yes, people are much more vocal below the line on Youtube. It's just as well, as it is my experience that nobody ever seems to read the comments on YouTube.

I agree with Colin that YouTube comments are a lot harsher. Sometimes people will leave comments talking about you in third person! I think it comes from the fact that people are more likely to randomly stumble on your videos on YouTube than on your blog posts, so the atmosphere there is less personal and people feel OK about treating you with less respect.

Absolutely, Michelle. If somebody is going to attack my appearance, my voice, my hair, or my intelligence, it is almost always on YouTube—blog comments tend to be more about the content, and less about me. Part of that is definitely because I’m far more visible as a human on YouTube—you don’t see my face often, or hear my voice at all on my blog. I believe the other part of it is the YouTube algorithm bringing in new audience members who have no context for any given piece of content they may see from me. For many people the tendency seems to be to assume I’m a moron until proven otherwise, and the volume of condescending, off-topic, completely-missed-the-point comments I get from one-off commenters can be disheartening.

The most offensive seem to be on videos where I explain or demo things that can’t be done. For instance, one of my more popular videos is called “what will happen if you use beeswax instead of emulsifying wax”, and in that video I make a lotion formula that calls for emulsifying wax with beeswax instead. It, of course, fails catastrophically. While one can make emulsions with beeswax (ref), beeswax will never work in place of emulsifying wax in a recipe designed to work with an emulsifying wax like Polawax. The number of people I’ve had tell me I’m an idiot for "doing it wrong" is becoming hilarious. The biggest thing I do “wrong” is add water… of course, without water it can’t be an emulsion, and that is rather the point. Whoosh.

Oh yes, we get those too. Occasionally the odd trolls rears their head to argue that we are biased against beeswax not being an emulsifier, but we tackle those issues as a team and we tend to shake it off / laugh it off together.

I don't use Youtube personally, but I have watched and read a lot of comments posted on Youtube and various other social media as sometimes you get to see some really weird and downright horrible comments. I agree with Marie when she said that Youtube seems to bring out the worst of the worst in people in their comments. Everywhere else on social media, people seem to be pretty decent!

...unless you start talking about beeswax as an emulsifier.

I use YouTube and broadcast live regularly. Most comments during live broadcasting are from optimistic fans, but on occasion I will get a troll posting an inappropriate question or a mean statement.

My moderators help by deleting those comments on the spot while I am live. It is easy to be mean while hiding behind an avatar and fake username.

But whether I am broadcasting live or not, it is pretty much the same in regards to the type of comments.

I recently shared a video detailing why I shut down my online store, the gist of it being that I really didn’t enjoy it. The volume of comments I received from people telling me that I am an idiot, a loser, a do-nothing low-life who will never go anywhere in life… wow. You would’ve thought I’d announced that I was dropping my dog off on the side of the highway! The condescension was also astounding; after literally watching a video where I detailed precise actions I intentionally did not take, people would then lecture me in the comments about how I needed to do those things, and how dumb I am.

The only reason they knew I hadn’t done those things was because I had just told them. I was obviously self-aware enough to cite the lack of doing that thing as a problem, and yet, I am a total moron who will starve to death in her own home because she does not like running errands.

Marie, sometimes the best thing one can do for oneself is to pack in something that is no longer or never brought you joy in the first place! Doesn’t make you an idiot, makes you stronger than most!

Amazingly, our content seems to be laser focused on exactly the right people, so I’ve generally never had to deal with negative video comments. Apart from one woman who told me my top was too low cut in one of my videos and informed me that she wouldn’t be following me any further, because it offended her religious views!

We also receive the occasional snarky comment from the self-appointed online chemistry police, but that’s about it.

What do you do to ‘get back on track’ and continue blogging when you experience negative comments?

My blog is no longer my blog. There are 8 of us producing content for the Formula Botanica blog now, so it’s an online magazine, run by our content team. We deal with any negative comments as a team and the person who wrote the article is generally not on the frontlines, so doesn’t have to be exposed to any comments.

However, when we need to get back on track, we do so as a team. Someone will generally screenshot any comments, we’ll discuss them together and then decide how to proceed together. Generally the answer is we delete, focus on the hundreds of positive comments that keep flooding in and just get back to work.

I am an optimistic person by nature. I'll usually have a chat about these issues with friends that are also bloggers or vloggers. Once I express myself privately to people I trust and love and get this out of my system, I usually feel better and just delete and move on.

Most my viewers are happy, optimistic people. They outnumber the trolls and the drama peeps. I feel the love and support of my community and I keep reminding myself that.

At the end of the day, I know I am doing my best, giving the time I have when I can. Haters will be haters. I prefer to be on the kind, the grateful and loving side.

Sharing the crazier remarks with friends always helps! I know I need to work at being better at letting the negative comments roll off me, but so often the comment leaves you wondering if you really did do something awful—did I accidentally say something dreadfully offensive or incorrect?

I take a step back from social media and blogging and spend some time on other things until I feel recharged... or I write a rant about it.

The negative comments don't bother me much in the first place. Though there is always a chance to get some content out them. People love a bit of conflict.

I think I've gotten much better at stepping back from rude and negative comments. Nowadays when they happen I will just think 'who peed on your sugar sandwich?' (that's a Danish expression – hopefully self-explanatory!)

Colin makes a good point about some of it being good for a bit of content. I like a good rant as much as Michelle and have written a few myself.

At the end of the day? I've just got to accept and respect that people think and act differently than me.

And with Barbs wise words, I'd like to thank you one and all for your participation and for putting out such great content for the rest of the world to learn from and enjoy.

Keep on blogging and vlogging, everyone!


Laurie said…
I have the utmost respect for all of you wonderful people and have learnt so much from you. Not only in the content but in the grace and humour in how to respond to the baking soda and giraffe style comments! Marie I love your You Tube videos! In Australia we call it the “tall poppy sydrome”. When people get successful there always seem to be people who want to cut you down. So when you get those ridiculous comments be assured there are probably thousands more who are loving what you do. Keep on blogging everyone!
James said…
The other day i was doing a program with the kid: it goes like this
9 × 1 = 9
9 × 2 =17

2min into the program the children were telling me about the one thing i did wrong
And never told me about the 8 i did right. We laughed said to them think positive bless folks for there hard work.

Love all your hard work it doesn't come easy.
Many blessings God bless you all
Anonymous said…
Here’s my 2 pence worth. Most of the comments left on you tube are probably left by viewers or kids that have no idea or probably not interested in the content. It just happens to turn up in their feed. So don’t take it personally. It’s a different story if it’s left on your websites or personal blogs. Let it go over your head. If you have thousands of subscribers then why are you worrying? And to be fair, if you discuss and laugh with your friends about your viewers then that makes you equally guilty.. That’s my take. Take it as you wish. Peace x
LisaLise said…
@Laurie - Thank you for your kind comment and your support. Taking time to share it with us all is greatly appreciated

@James - Oh that's amusing about the children! Good for them for paying attention and hopefully pointing out the mistake in a kind and loving manner. Thank you for sharing.

@Anonymous - You may very well be right about YouTube comments being left by children some of the time, but it is unfortunately not always the case. I cannot agree with you about bloggers and vloggers who have experienced being attacked, belittled and/or ridiculed by complete strangers being equally guilty if they share these hurtful experiences in private with friends. I also can't help wondering why you commented as Anonymous. But as you write, take it as you wish.