Blogging

Should Bloggers Respond to Comments?

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Sunday night’s #Blogchat featured guest co-host Mitch Joel, president of Twist Image and author of Ctrl-Alt-Delete. One of the highlights was a discussion about why he rarely responds to reader comments.

There was a time when receiving comments may have been regarded as a blogger’s most important measure of success. After all, many of reasoned at the time, if no one comments, surely no one is reading. A look at analytics, however, may suggest that while few leave comments, many more are at least reaching your posts.

It’s one thing to realize that comments — or even a lack thereof — are a poor measure of a blogger’s relative success. But it’s quite a jump to go from that realization to a policy that you generally won’t bother responding to comments or engaging with readers at all once the post is up.

Joel offered this during #blogchat on Sunday:

Well, sure. Given a choice of letting the content go stale or allowing new content to suffer in quality because I’m spending all of my writing time responding to comments surely doesn’t make sense.

And when every post I write is racking up 100+ posts consistently, I may well have to pull back a bit from the desire to somehow respond to each one, and thereby, engage with each reader.

At the moment, however, we aren’t at that point. As a blogger, I recognize that each comment represents an additional level of effort that a reader didn’t have to make. And to have a blanket “hands-off” policy where comments are concerned feels somewhat cold to me. At least for now, when most posts don’t receive a total of a dozen comments on this blog. (Some receive comments over Facebook, Twitter and now, even Triberr; I’d much prefer those comments to be here rather than there, but that’s not exactly something I can control.)

So when is it acceptable to say, “You know what? I’m going to let the readers handle reaction on their own?”

Good question, if I do say so myself.

For me, I think that would be when I’m getting more than several dozen comments regularly. One thing I have seen over the past year or so, and I love it when it happens, is that readers are engaging and responding with each other as discussion continues on my posts. I can’t think of a reason a blogger wouldn’t be happy to see real conversation happening in the comment section of his blog. Still, I feel compelled to try to acknowledge each comment.

That said, I must confess the sin of missing comments sometimes. I am working on this, even going back and trying to track down comments I may have missed. Livefyre (my comment platform of choice) allows me to do this through its own dashboard. Livefyre also allows one other option: a “Like” button on comments, similar to Facebook’s “Like” function. It’s a small gesture, of course, but it at least acknowledges that I’ve actually taken the time to read the remarks someone else took the time to leave. Even if a post receives 50 comments, I don’t think clicking “Like” on those to which you don’t necessarily have anything to add is too much to ask.

Again, it has to be up to the blogger.

Joel did say that there are times when he does respond. So even he doesn’t boycott his own blog’s comments. He just seems to prefer allowing readers to control the conversation after the post is up, much the way art enthusiasts admire a painting without getting to hear from the artist once it’s hung on the wall.

I checked out Joel’s blog, Six Pixels of Separation, and, interestingly enough, over the past few months, he generally receives fewer than 10 comments on a typical post. I spotted one from June that hit 38. But most are around five or so.

For me, I’d have a hard time convincing myself that responding — one way or another — to five comments per post is somehow so time consuming that it would threaten the quality of my next posts. Maybe I have too much time on my hands, but it certainly doesn’t feel that way from where I sit. Maybe I’m too concerned about “validating” a commenter; I don’t think that’s it, either: I don’t think people who comment here have some overwhelming need to be “validated” by me. To me, it’s merely a gesture of thanks, just as I say “thank you” when someone holds a door open for me.

Of course, to be fair, I don’t have 51,000+ followers on my Twitter account, and while I try to treat this blog as though it were a business in terms of my commitment to it, I’m not the head of my own social media company. (Though, I do have two jobs that keep me busy.) The point is that we all have demands on our time; we have to figure out what we do and don’t have time for.

The only way I think I could be comfortable with generally not responding is with a blatant message on the comment form that came right out and said that I’m unlikely to respond. If I wouldn’t be comfortable saying something like that, it tells me all I need to know about whether responding is worth my time.

I’d love more comments; I’d be lying if I claimed otherwise.

But given a choice, I’d rather have fewer comments than the mystical amount that would make me think responding is, generally speaking, too much of a cost in my time.

What do you think? Do you respond to every comment? Should bloggers respond to comments?

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21 Comments

  1. theworld4realz patricksplace depends on the comment. Since only 10% of comments advance discussion positively, maybe 5% need response.

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    1. mfbenson1 patricksplace I can’t see what this is in reference to, but it sounds superficially like I might agree with the sentiment.

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        1. patricksplace ah, thanks! As it turns, I do agree. Kind of. Mostly. Sometimes. Depending on my mood and how much time I have.

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    2. mfbenson1 I try to comment on every one I receive that warrants a response. Some don’t. Some take me a little longer, too.

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  2. […] Phillips asked recently on his blog whether bloggers should respond to comments. One well-known blogger had tweeted that he was more […]

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  3. I don’t post comments anonymously. I used to do that in the past, but I find that I care more about what I say and particularly about the way I say it, if I post under my own name or at the very least a handle I use elsewhere too. I also don’t comment unless I am logged in through Facebook/Twitter/Livefyre/Google/Wordpress or some other such service. I don’t want to take the time to fill out my contact information every single time I comment, but I do want to receive notifications of any replies my comment may receive.
    I don’t write comments in an effort to seek validation of some kind. Perhaps considering commenters as validation-seekers is the stamp of, indeed, an “A-list” blogger; responding to people who aren’t verified on Twitter might make your blog seem, I don’t know, too accessible to the riff-raff.
    I also don’t comment out of any uncontrollable need to tell the world what my views are on some specific topic. I think commenting is a way of saying thanks for an informative and/or interesting, entertaining post. I find just saying “thanks for the fun post” to be kind of dull, so I try to offer my own two cents.
    Sometimes my comment gets a reply or a hit of the Like button, sometimes it is entirely ignored. If I’ve been following the blog for a while and know that the author does at least occasionally engage in dialogue with their readers, then it’s not a big deal. But if it’s consistent, I just stop commenting. I’m not sure why any blogger would ignore their readers when they take the time out of their day to get involved in the blog in some small way… Unless of course it’s one of those blogs which serve primarily as a bloated tweet feed focused on trying to sell me something. Then again, if one of the first things I see when landing on your blog is a mention of your “new e-book”, I’m not likely to read anything much less take the time to comment.

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  4. That’s a tough one!  I feel awkward replying to all of them, especially if they say the same thing.  And most commenters don’t even respond again, especially if they’re anon.

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    1. preppylogic15 Anonymous commenters may be a little different, too. If they don’t WANT to be identified, then presumably they aren’t that interested in being part of your community. Responding might make them more inclined to NOT be anonymous the next time, though.

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  5. Replying to comments is something I struggle with.  When I comment on someone’s blog I almost never go back to check to see if the author replied to my comment.  So I have a hard time imagining that if someone commented on a post I wrote that they would ever come back to see if I responded, which then causes me to rarely respond. It’s a vicious circle.  I feel like I should respond, but why bother if the commenter doesn’t come back to engage?  But if I did respond, maybe they would?

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    1. sunnyreads An interesting point.
      For me, if it’s a topic I know I’m interested in discussing more, I’ll usually check the “Alert me to follow-up comments” box if there is one. On my blog, Livefyre is designed to alert the commenter that they’ve received a like or a response so that interaction is actually encouraged. So for me, I feel it’s even more important to respond because I know the commenter WILL be notified. It also helps keep the conversation going!

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  6. I feel like it is important to at least respond to ONE comment on each post (that gets a comment that is) and so that is what I try to.  I see it as really spammy if I or any other blogger replies to every single comment, and it’s also a bit needy, so I don’t do that.  But I can show I did read their comment and do care by replying at least once.  I don’t agree that you should just flip the switch on the post once it’s published and forget about it.

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    1. GeoffreyISU Yes, I think responding to every comment is like the cute little teens in love who don’t want to be the first one to hang up on the other. So they keep going back and forth so no one has to end the conversation. 
      But it just wouldn’t occur to me to take a general attitude that I wouldn’t respond at all, or even that I’d rarely respond.
      I’d much rather, as you say, show that I did read the comment.

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  7. I also heard Mitch Joel on #blogchat, and I am glad you followed up w this post.  It came off as a bit elitist, but I really don’t think that’s right takeaway.
    Here’s the thing:  his biz dev doesn’t depend on engaging his blog commenters.  If you are all about thought leadership and harpooning your next big enterprise client … then what’s the downside to the MJ approach?   He has arrived … and while he might not have started out this way, he is an A lister and other A listers talk about his posts.  He can actively network for biz dev off the blog (twitter, conferences, etc.) …  the media will review his books and firms will hire him regardless.  Like Seth Godin.
    Building “community” is clearly not the goal.
    On a company blog I manage, just this week I  had a  commenter post a real life problem related to the company’s product in the comments … he also tried company’s product.  Ignoring that would be bad business.  Hopefully helping this one reader helps others, and creates some WOM
    Guess  it depends on blog/biz goals!

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    1. iCopyright A good point about basing things on your specific goals, Rhonda. But let me play Devil’s Advocate for a moment: 
      If the conversations are happening everywhere these days and if his biz doesn’t depend on engaging his commenters, why bother HAVING comments at all? Because he’s an A-lister, people will have the conversation about what he’s discussing wherever they want, anyway. 
      It’s not that I have a problem with not responding to every comment. But it seems a little off to me to go into it with the notion that you won’t respond to ANY unless there’s a really good reason. But maybe it’s just me.

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  8. […] Additional note: This blog post was inspired by questions asked by Mack Collier during our #BlogChat on Twitter. It also serves as a response to the blog post, Should Bloggers Respond to Comments?   […]

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  9. I almost always respond to comments – even if it’s just to thank someone for stopping by.  I don’t receive so many comments that I would have a problem finding time to respond so this works well for me.  
    If I were getting a lot of comments, I wouldn’t respond to every one.  I’m not sure what the limit is, however.

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    1. Cathryn (aka Strange) I like Livefyre’s “Like” function. It at least gives you a way to acknowledge the comment when you don’t have a true response that’ll add further to the discussion.
      Like you, I don’t know where the limit is, but I feel like there’s definitely a limit somewhere.

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  10. Ohhh, good one! I’m going to play devil’s advocate this one all the way around…
    I always find it interesting to hear the rationale of people who don’t respond to comments. I think that Joel’s point about having a preference for spending his time creating content (rather than responding to comments) is a good one. What I think, as you wrote, what gave a lot of people pause was his insinuation that commenters are looking for validation. I read a LOT of blogs and comment rarely (am working on this), but when I do, I can assure you I’m not looking for validation from anyone. I comment because the topic is interesting IMO, and I see fit to share my opinion / insight on it. 
    Joel did go on to say that, if engagement is what you’re seeking, then you should be commenting. “For all: comments are critical if your blog is about getting comments and engaging. Comments may not be critical for all” This reminds us that our decisions about responding to comments should be made relative to our goals. If you’re seeking to create a community on your blog, then I don’t see how that can be accomplished without commenting. 
    I would be interesting to have had the opportunity to ask Mitch how his philosophy on commenting has evolved over time. My guess is he likely didn’t hold those thoughts when he was just starting out.
    Great post!

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    1. SandeeJackson Thanks, Sandee. Like you, I don’t see how you can hope to create community on your blog AND simultaneously feel that you need to somehow detach yourself from the discussion of your content.
      As I said at one point during the chat, if the goal is “ongoing conversation,” that conversation REQUIRES two or more people. Otherwise, it’s not a conversation, it’s just a monologue. (Monologues are fine, but a bunch of individual monologues are not really community.)

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 29 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.