For awhile, Google+ was a beautiful swimming pool filled with enchanting people making substantial, supportive and serene comments. Then hell broke loose On Sept. 21, 2011 when Google+ opened for anyone to join. Overnight, posts were inundated with clueless, crass or callous comments—is it possible to be nostalgic about the good old days when those days were only a few weeks ago?
On Sept. 22 I felt like I woke up feeling discouraged. The situation reminded me of Caddyshack when a kid throws a Baby Ruth bar into the pool, and widespread panic ensues. The geeks at Google are hard at work to discourage malicious "Baby Ruth" producers, but this still leaves a large group of people who need help with comments.
This post is not meant for spammers or sociopaths—nothing will alter their behavior. My goal is to help “the rest of us.” But first, you may wonder why anyone should care about crappy comments—after all, Google+ is a public forum, and readers can ignore the crap. Think of Google+ posts as a restaurant, and the comments are the public sidewalk in front to it.
Sure, you could ask the police to stop the litterers and hope that the police can enforce an effective solution. However, no matter how vigilant the police is, you still have to clean the detritus off the sidewalk because poor comments on your post affect your image just like a dirty sidewalk in front of your restaurant.
Before we get to the art of full-fledged comments that are at least a phrase long, there are other ways to provide feedback to the authors of posts. These actions require less effort and may be enough for what you want to communicate.
You can share a post. This means that you like it so much that you’re willing to bet your reputation on it by providing it to your readers too. This is probably the most powerful comment people can make. If I had a choice between someone leaving a comment and sharing my post, I would pick the latter because a share increases the exposure of the post whereas a comment does not.
A +1 is a like tip for the valet or bellman. Any single +1 is not a big deal, but like tips, they can add up to significant compensation. You should throw +1s around generously when you like a post. On the flip side, when you see a post with more than five to 10 +1s, it’s a good indication that IS interesting, amusing or useful. For Facebook users, a +1 is the equivalent of a Facebook “Like” and should be given and judged in the same way.
Many people leave one-word comments such as “cool,” “wow,’ “LOL,” and “hah!” On Twitter—this type of comment is okay because comments flow on a river of other tweets. Also, there is no Twitter equivalent to the +1, so you have little choice but to leave one-word "atta-boys." Google+ is different because posts and their comments are linked so that all the comments remain with the post—“floating in the pool”—and there is an alternative to one-word atta-boys.
Many people make one-word comments with good intention. Others do it to “join the party”out of sheer enthusiasm for the post. Unfortunately, a few people do it because they want attention and to just see their comments appear somewhere. You can see this when there are comments such as “cool” and “LOL” that don’t make sense for the post.
Although this is more complex than I’d like, I have three recommendations. First, try to make a comment that is longer than one word: “Cool, I’m glad that you posted this,” “Cool, I’ll have to try this too,” or “Cool, please keep this kind of post coming.” The goal is to differentiate yourself from the mindless spammers.
Second, use the +1 feature instead of making a one-word comment. Doing so provides the same positive feedback to the author, and +1s are automatically tallied so they communicate the quality of the post more clearly than a bunch of one-word comments.
Third, if the poster has fewer than 1,000 followers, it’s unlikely that his posts will be swamped with one-word comments. Then it’s okay—and even nice—to leave a comment of any length. Any feedback is likely to make them happy. However, if the poster has thousands of followers, a string of one-word comments is irksome.
Shares, +1s and one-word comments are not mutually exclusive, so you can do any combination of the three. In a perfect world, people would share the post with their followers, +1 it, and write a comment. If you really like a post, don’t hesitate to show your feelings in multiple ways.
Now let’s address the art of long-form comments that are at least a phrase. The quality, breadth and depth of Google+ comments compared to Twitter and Facebook blows me away. This level of interaction separates Google+ from those services, and it’s the reason that Robert Scoble and I and thousands of other early adopters love Google+.
A good model for comments is that you should behave as if you are a guest in someone’s home. Google Plus isn’t like Twitter where your comments float away in a river in less than in a minute. On Google+, your comments remain with a specific posting, so they are in your host’s pool, and they remain until your host scoops them out.
Here are my recommendations for long-than-one-word Google-Plus comments
Good comments provide information, analysis, assistance, entertainment or feedback. They make the post even better. This doesn’t mean that people should only say positive things—negative feedback is as valuable as positive feedback—but the spirit of the comment is what’s important. Is the commenter seeking to create value, or to simply attack the author and other commenters? Is the comment thoughtful and substantial, or simply inflammatory?
Stay on topic
Comments should be relevant to the post. You can supplement information and even add color and drama, but you shouldn’t go nuts. For example, if I make a post about hockey, God bless you if you want to talk about other sports or even about your non-sports passions. But don’t post a comment about how you think HP should not have discontinued its tablet or why Sarah Palin should be president. Certainly a link about your SEO consultancy or a site to meet singles is in poor and stupid form.
Show some class
People who want to swim in the Google+ pool—or at least my Google+ pool—should take a shower first. This means they should refrain from profanity and the big three isms: racism, sexism and ageism. The rest of the world might not know that you have no class, so why remove all doubt?
Limit arguments to three rounds
The best and worst interactions often occur between commenters—not between commenters and authors. It’s enchanting to watch strangers develop relationships and take posts in deeper and serendipitous (albeit related) directions. That’s the good news. The bad news is that commenters sometimes behave in ways they would never do in person and attack each other like boxers. But think about this: Does the outcome of an argument in comments really matter? Is anyone going to change their mind? HP will have the same CEO for 10 years before this happens.
My suggestion is to embrace the rules of amateur boxing and go for only three rounds. Here’s how this would work: the author says something—this is the opening bell. Round 1: Person A posts a comment. Round 2: Person B responds to your comment. Round 3: Person A responds to the response. End of fight—even if Person B responds again. If Person A and B want to go more rounds, they can start their own thread and fight someplace else. Frankly, by the end of three rounds, no one else is following the sequence of blows, and everyone couldn’t give a shiitake about the little urinating match.
“Reply to” the author
Type in “+” and then the author’s name until you see it her pop-up in a list of people with similar names—this is Google working its magic and finding the person for you. Then select her name, and it will turn blue and link to her profile. This is called a “+ mention” as opposed to simply mentioning her with plain, non-linked text. An easier way to create a + mention is to install a Chrome browser extension called “Replies and More for Google+.” This product makes it easy to “reply to” the author and commenters by adding a link to click on to select them. It’s the most valuable Google Plus extension in the world.
The reason that + mentions is important is that the people you mention receive notification. This is a huge advantage of Google Plus over Twitter and Facebook because people that you reply to or mention on Twitter and Facebook are much less likely to know you did so. These mentions also work for other commenters and not only posters—you want them to know the you’ve responded to their comments. Fortunately, Replies and More for Google+ works with other commenters too.
These are my recommendations for the art of commenting in Google+. Having said all this, an author’s post—like her pool, restaurant or house—is a person’s post. Authors are free to enforce rules and tolerate behaviors according to their own liking within the terms of service of Google. Some people on Google Plus are more tolerant of turds in their pool, but this how I’m running my little tub. If you want to follow me on Google Plus, go here.
*This post was excerpted from an upcoming book about Google+ by Guy Kawasaki
Image credit: wes.m