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:
Ultimately, I am more concerned with great and fresh content over making sure that all commenters feel validated by me. #blogchat
— Mitch Joel (@mitchjoel) July 8, 2013
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.