People ask me all the time how we commit staff time to responding to comments. But it often depends on circumstances, and can change even hour to hour. Your goal is to find a sweet spot between responding to everyone (often poses impossible time demands) and responding to no one (not taking advantage of opportunities to connect with people).
Some people ask a question, get a response, and are satisfied. Others will follow up, but eventually accept your answer and stop asking. But some will never believe you, asking the same questions repeatedly. Still others might believe you, but keep coming up with new questions.
The challenge is to decide when to stop engaging. The answer depends on how much free time you have, how serious the issue is, how much you think your answer can help someone, etc.
For the past two months, I’ve been heavily involved in EPA’s online response to the Japanese nuclear emergency. I’m doing many things, but the role that relates to this blog post is that I’m the primary person responding to questions on Facebook.
It can be hard to not respond to people on any topic, but especially so with something scary like radiation. My public service ethic kicks in and I just want to help. And the whole point of being on Facebook is to help folks more directly. And sometimes, you want to respond even to someone you know from past experience isn’t really listening, just so others reading don’t think you’re ignoring valid questions.
It’s easy enough to handle commenters who yell at you or accuse you of lying: ignore them. Leave their comments unanswered; I don’t mean delete them.
For everything else, responding is “easy” in that I can sit there and respond over and over and over again. Eventually, though, my time is up and I have to go home, do other work, etc.
I know all that, but I still hate not responding.
How do you approach it?
Update to reflect a comment from Josh Kaufman: Often, we’ll get the same question from several people. It can be a good approach to just post the question and answer as a new post, usually starting with something like ‘Several folks have asked …” and then providing the response. This is also a good approach when people ask questions I don’t know the answer to, because it can take several days to get a solid, approved response. Meanwhile, the post where the person asked the question is quite old. We’ll do our best to go back and post the response there, but sometimes we can’t because of time demands, so creating a new post works well.
To help you find examples to ponder, here’s our main Facebook page, where we’ve posted more than 100 times about radiation. Just scroll back a bit to find them, or here’s a specific example: a note saying that we’re returning to routine radiation sampling and monitoring.