Regular Doses of Common Sense™

Let’s Be Honest About the Blog Comment Problem

Bloggers want more comments, readers are leaving fewer comments, and that's leading to potentially bad decisions on websites that may discourage comments even more.
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Let’s Be Honest About the Blog Comment Problem

It’s about time to discuss the blog comment problem we have and why some of the most common solutions may not fix it.

There was a time when blogs regularly received comments.

Some still do. Some don’t. Perhaps that’s the nature of our overcommunicated world that when we encounter demands for our attention and time in every possible direction.

But we do have a blog comment problem.

We want more of them. Readers are leaving fewer of them. And too many bloggers, in a panic about how to get them back, are making decisions that may discourage would-be commenters from tossing in their two cents.

When you bring up the topic of comments around a group of bloggers, the first suggestion to get more comments is always the same: “Maybe you should try asking a question at the end of each post.”

I don’t fault those who make the suggestion. It is an obvious answer, and once in a while, it can work. But when more and more people ask a question, the reader feels inundated with a question at every turn, and unless they have an answer they’re really proud of or one they haven’t seen someone else already chime in with, chances are they’re not going to give you one.

What’s worse, some readers may be ready to react to one specific thing you said, only to encounter a question that focuses on something totally different, and they assume you only want to talk about what you asked, not what they were ready to say.

Some bloggers will insist that you should answer every comment you receive. I try to, but don’t always do it. I hope no one who’s ever left a comment here felt they were undervalued because of that. I value every comment and I’m trying to do better. I honestly don’t know where I stand on this; I don’t really think it bothers me if I comment and the writer doesn’t respond. For me, I think it’s usually enough that I get to have my say. Sure, a response is nice, but a comment that merely thanks me for commenting isn’t going to make me comment more often.

For me, commenting is about the subject matter and whether I feel I have something to add, not whether I know I’m going to get a “thank you” for adding it.

But maybe that’s just me.

Some bloggers have decided to shutter comments altogether, pushing their readers to take the extra step of discussing the matter on social media. On the surface, this sounds like a wonderful idea. More and more people are on social media, after all, and it’s a new place to engage with your audience where (it seems) more people are willing to engage.

Is killing comments on the blog a good idea?

I don’t think so. When you have a great conversation going on social media, that’s great for the readers who’ve found you there.

But it’s useless for new readers who stumble upon your content and don’t see (unless they go to your social media platform) that there’s a robust conversation happening at all. Just because it’s on social media doesn’t mean it’s on your site.

There was a wonderful commenting platform called Livefyre that used to pull in Tweets that responded to a blogger’s link post. So it actually did pull some social media content into a blog post’s comment section. Unfortunately, Livefyre decided that serving bloggers for free no longer fit their financial needs and they abandoned their WordPress plugin. Such a pity.

Some bloggers seem to think comments are an “either/or” proposition.

Well, they seem to say, if I’m going to push people to comment on my Facebook page, I shouldn’t have comments on the blog. Or, if I’m going to really work to get more comments on my site, I’m going to ignore social media.

Why take either approach? Why not do both?

I’d much rather give my readers the option to comment here or there, not one or the other. Yes, it means you have to watch two places for conversation, but unless you’re a top-tier blogger who’s getting more valid comments than you can truly handle — and chances are, you aren’t — that shouldn’t be that much of a concern.

If you’re out for engagement, allow it wherever you can.

And take it wherever you can get it.

Social media conversations have their own pitfall.So what’s the answer?

Make it as easy as you can for people to comment. You have to define what you think, for your audience, is “easy.” Forcing a login isn’t always easy for some readers, but it might help you weed out spam and focus on (and engage with) real people who do choose to leave a comment.

Give people the opportunity to join the conversation where they find you. If they come to your site and want to add to the discussion, allow them to. If they stumble upon your post via a link on Facebook or Twitter, they’re already going to say something there if they’re motivated enough.

Your challenge for those who comment off your site, whenever possible, is to find a way to get that content on your site.

When you see a particularly good comment on social media about your blog post, engage with the commenter there, but do a follow-up post that references your reader’s comment — or even embed it — on your site. Continue the conversation. Expand the conversation.

It gives you more content and it gives your readers a clear message: you actually do read what they have to say in a blog comment. And you value it enough to allow it to inspire more posts and more discussions.

Who wouldn’t appreciate that?

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