When running an online start up or business where you have facilities such as discussion forums or a comment system you might be tempted to remove mentions and discussion relating to the products and services of your competitors. It’s something we’ve thought a lot about when developing Construct 2 and are confident that our choice to allow discussion is the best direction to take.
There’s no point censoring if you have the best product
Do you have the best product between you and your competitors? If not then censorship might be one defence you can put up to stop users leaking over to competitors. Lack of confidence in your product or general fear of losing market share are a couple of reasons why a company might choose to censor mentions of competitors.
It’s not a very healthy indicator from a customer’s point of view if you choose to strictly censor mentions of competitors backed by these reasons. It’s also not addressing the root cause of why they feel they need to censor competitors and legitimate discussion around competitors. It can indicate a lack of confidence in their own offered product.
Censorship is a nonstop uphill battle
At Scirra we generally don’t believe in censorship of competitors. It’s not really what the Internet is about or was designed for so if you decide to pursue the censorship of competitors route it will be a tiring non-stop uphill battle for you and anyone that helps in the running of your website.
Nonstop uphill battles are generally something you want to avoid. At Scirra it’s just two of us working full time on Construct 2 and this website. If we also had to manage a strict policy on censorship of competitors it would take up a lot of our time which we would rather spend improving the product and services.
One of the great side effects of not censoring competitor’s names and product reviews and comparisons on your website is that you start to rank well on competitor’s names in searches.
Every day we see search engine referrals from people who are looking for competitor’s products who stumble across a forum post that another company might have decided to remove if it were posted on their website. Sometimes these users stick around and download our software. These are users we now have obtained who would otherwise have not found out about us if we decided to censor the post.
Not only will these visitors be landing on your website where you have a chance to make them aware of your option, the discussion will likely favour your product. It’s your website after all.
If you decide to censor you are putting up a wall around your website to stop people leaving. But what a lot of website owners don’t realise is that this wall will also sometimes stop people coming in, or stop them reading good things about your option.
You could argue censorship is beneficial to you
In some instances censorship could be argued to be beneficial. This perhaps would be in environments where there is no material difference between end delivery of the product. For example in online commerce ordering the same product from company A and company B has the same end result, you (hopefully) end up with the same product in both instances with only minor differences in delivery timeframe and other associated services/benefits. Censorship of competitors in those environments is a lot more understandable: software products are often significantly different, but stores generally send you the same product. Customers also tend to chop and change retailers at the drop of a hat anyway, but there are usually much bigger learning or technical obstacles to switching software.
Censorship isn’t beneficial to you
It’s important when developing a software product to keep in touch with people’s demands and needs. If a visitor comes on our site and says “I like Construct 2 but it doesn’t have this whistle like this company has in their software” we can respond actively to this query by planning on adding it to a future release. This tends to make people happy! And the end result is we have steered Construct 2 in a direction navigated by the demands of our users.
It’s too easy to lose touch with what people want and how they perceive your competitors product and your product if you wall yourself in with censorship of competitors. You can actively go out and find this information for yourself, but the extra dynamic of a visitor comparing a competitor on your website can sometimes reveal important information that won’t be available elsewhere. It also hands valuable information to you on a silver plate and forces response. If responses were not forced it would become easy to be complacent which can hurt you badly in the long term. It’s important to align yourself with the needs of your customers.
It puts a strain on the community
A strict censorship policy will put a strain on the people in charge of monitoring the website. It will also add more confusion when people post perfectly reasonable questions in your forum and their threads/posts are deleted/edited without notification. It will also cause confusion for borderline rule breaking discussions. It’s hard to treat everyone equally in such cases so it can also create an environment where people feel unequally treated.
Some users will also question why their posts were censored. It can have a significant downside on their perception of your business as well as not being very welcoming.
A difference between censoring and trolling
Censorship is a different issue to deleting messages on your site that are not constructive and serve no purpose but to aggravate. We do delete these messages as it’s not going to serve anyone positively but it’s important to note this should not be confused with censorship. There are many perfectly reasonable discussions and questions involving mentioning competitors and these should be allowed. Deliberate aggravation should not be!
Censorship shouldn’t be a big deal for you
If you firmly believe you have the best product of the available ones it might be worth reconsidering your censorship policy. It can provide unexpected benefits (for example new visitors from searches) as well as create a more interesting, open and honest community that hosts interesting debate and information.
These factors mean you end up with users who are more open minded, confident in their choice and who better understand the benefits of your product over the competitors. These users can also create strong arguments advocating use of your software to others. Open minded users help make Construct 2 what it is today, since many of their suggestions have made it in to the software, including many ideas we’d never have realised by ourselves.