Friday, November 30, 2007

Elance Case Study: My Comment Moderation Peeves

I've already written about my position on Elance now that new changes have been made to the membership structure, and now they're at it again. Elance has an online forum where members can discuss issues and get answers from the staff. I've noticed a disturbing trend there lately: Elance is deleting posts it deems "inappropriate."

I think Elance is the perfect example of a site that gets it wrong when it comes to managing comments. The thread that was deleted was titled something like "How Many Service Providers are Considering Leaving Elance?" There were a few angry responses, but many of them were reasonable explanations of the reasons some providers were considering leaving and what it would take to get them to stay. In my opinion, it was valuable information for the Elance staff to understand exactly why providers were upset. When Elance deleted the post, it gave the impression that it was trying to stifle dissent--not a good move, especially when you've just ticked your customers off by making an unpopular change.

As a blogger myself, I understand the fine line bloggers and administrators face when it comes to censoring comments. Here are a few things I think Elance did wrong when it came to dealing with the forum discussions on their site.

Deleting posts or comments that question the company. When a company polices its forum and deletes posts that question their product or service in any way, it can make the users feel like they're in some sort of totalitarian state where the media is controlled by the evil dictator. It's definitely off-putting, especially if the dissenting comments are respectful and well-reasoned. Companies can make a better impression by standing up for themselves in a clear and non-defensive way.

Ignoring dozens of questions. There are plenty of responses from Elance staff on the Water Cooler forum, but what really bothered me about the discussions on the new changes was that for every response to a question, there were dozens of questions that went unanswered. Elance had just made a very unpopular change, and in my opinion the company could have worked harder to respond publicly to questions and criticism. The providers were owed some answers. Elance tended to ignore the more critical questions and respond more frequently to more neutral questions, such as "how do I sign up under the new plan?"

Being irregular about the threads it deleted. I understand that negative, abusive, and angry posts shouldn't be tolerated. But those weren't the posts Elance was targeting. Looking around the site, I found a lot of comments that are very negative and hostile left on, while a lot of thoughtful posts under threads like the one I mentioned earlier were deleted. Elance staff stated that they have a policy of removing posts they feel are too hostile or inappropriate, but it's tough to figure out what exactly their criteria is by looking at what they choose to delete.

Elance did do a few things right; they held a live discussion and they did make changes based on feedback, in a limited sense. But their policy of deleting dissenting views really bothers me. It makes the company look like it cares more about its image than it does about the people it serves--and that's never a good impression to make.


Kathy@TheFlawlessWord said...

I'm planning about blogging about this very same topic next week. They can censor me there, but they can't censor me at my own blog.

Unknown said...

They're so idiotic. Do they not understand basic PR? If they delete everything that's not pro-eLance, they'll soon have an empty board. Oh, and they'll have empty wallets, for this kind of censorship is what we loathe more than anything.

John said...

Its getting even worse now. I have a lifetime ban for embarrassing Elance on the message boards and its been made clear to me that if I post elsewhere on the net and it can be attributed to me I will find my account disconnected.