The art of blog commenting

We’ve all heard it before–the best part of many blogs isn’t the posts. It’s the comments.

Why? Because the comments represent the real discussion board. People with varying viewpoints adding valuable content. Folks starting productive conversation threads that go in a different direction from the original post. And people leaving tips and tools that are beneficial to us all. That’s the real gold of blog posts.

But, blog commenting shouldn’t be undersold as a PR/marketing tactic either. I know one colleague who employed a strategy of providing thoughtful comments on specific mega-industry blogs. As a result, he pulled in a number of leads. So, targeted, insightful comments can often times be as powerful as the actual posts. Remember, if you’re leaving a comment on a site/blog like Mashable or even a more personal blog like Jason Falls’ blog, Social Media Explorer, chances are, that comment in being read by a whole slew of people.

In fact, blog commenting has been a key component of a number of client projects, campaigns and everyday engagement for that very reason (visibilty and awareness in key, targeted areas).

Given the importance of commenting, it’s critical to practice and hone the art form. Below are a few tips to consider as you think about the comments you and your client’s leave in the coming weeks/months:

* Add just one piece of information. Don’t try to add 4-5 new pieces of content–just stick with one. It will seem less overwhelming will save you time and will allow you to comment on more blogs, more regularly. For instance, if it’s a list post, add 1-2 additional ideas/names (not 4-5) to the list and explain why.

* Play devil’s advocate. This one can be tricky, but, if done well, it can lead to a very healthy and productive conversation. And, we tend to see too many “Great post. Here’s why.” comments and not enough productive disagreements. Take a contrarian view (while being respectful) on the blogger’s topic and see where it leads.

* Don’t get too personal. In a way, blogging is a form of ranting. And, for many, rants can get personal quickly. That can spill into the comments very easily. And, when it does, things can get dicey. Stay away from personal battles in the comments. Keep your remarks “above the waist” and be respectful of the blogger and other commenters.

* Don’t be afraid to get personal. OK, wait, didn’t I just say don’t get too personal? Don’t worry–I’m not crazy. While I don’t think you should engage in personal attacks within the comments, I do think you should add a personal touch to them. Don’t be afraid to discuss your personal feelings on a subject. I find the more personal, the better. Not only when it comes to comments–but posts, too.

* Leave a bread crumb. Usually, this entails leaving your Twitter handle, so people know exactly who left the comment (and where to find you). But, it could also include a link to a post you wrote, if it’s applicable (don’t force it here). If you use a comment platform like DISQUS, the tool essentially includes the link back to your home base–whether that’s your blog, Twiter, etc.

* Don’t forget to comment on other comments. This one’s tougher to do if the blogger isn’t using a tool like DISQUS that allows for threaded comments, but it’s still applicable with other platforms. Oftentimes, the post won’t spark a thought–but a comment will. Don’t be afraid to respond to one of those comments with your own two cents–remember, it’s supposed to be an open dialogue, not just a blogger-to-commenter dialogue.

* Consider a blog comment management tool. I prefer DISQUS, but there are other tools to help you manage your comments. This way you can track the blogs you’re commenting on and how often. It’s always interesting to look back at month’s end and see where I’ve been spending my time commenting–same goes for clients.

What blog comment tips would you add to this list?

Note: Photo courtesy of Miss Miah via FlickR Creative Commons.

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48 comments on “The art of blog commenting

  1. adamcohen says:

    Excellent post Arik. Now I have to really think about what I say here 😉

    I think it's important for people to also think about how powerful an effect comments can have, especially for new bloggers. A comment is both a validation that someone has read the content and connected with it – that can inspire someone to continue on, or if too negative, make others consider shutting down.

    At any rate, I'll give this more thought but I'm bookmarking this post to share with clients. Thanks again.

  2. Thomas Wendt says:

    I might add something like “Don't force a comment.” Like tweets, comments should not be obligatory; they shouldn't be something one needs to conjure. I think you allude to this when you mention the “Great post. Here’s why” type of comments. Although these make bloggers feel nice–who doesn't like a compliment–they sometimes come off as an excuse for a backlink. We all love backlinks, but what good are they if you're known as the yes-man who agrees with and absolutely loves everything anyone ever says?

  3. Arik Hanson says:

    Thanks for stopping by, Adam. You make a good point about the powerful nature of comments, but I might argue if you're going to blog, you need to develop some pretty thick skin. You need to be able to take the punches you're bound to get in the comments from time to time. Certainly, a great comment can motivate and inspire (I remember a few early on in my blogging that definitely did), but I think if you're going to blog, you need to be ready for disagreement and negativity, because it's definitely out there.

    And, funny you should mention sharing this post with clients. I was doing the very same thing with a few other posts and clients as you left that comment.

  4. Arik Hanson says:

    Exactly what I was getting at with the “great post” comment. If you're not going to add value, I usually suggest not commenting. There certainly are exceptions, but by and large, I think that's a pretty solid rule.

  5. davinabrewer says:

    Arik, Good touchstones for me.. think I'm doing it “right.” ITA with Thomas about not forcing a comment; have something to say, worth reading. With that in mind:

    It's your comment, own it. Yes be personal (not too much), take the counterargument (if that's what you really think) and respect the post that brought you there. Don't parrot back what everyone else has said; bring your own voice to the mix.

    Oh, and proofread before you hit post. FWIW.

  6. Arik Hanson says:

    Yes, proofread! I could stand to take that to heart every once in a while 😉 Thanks for the comment, Davina.

  7. ed han says:

    I found this courtesy of Danny Brown, but your points are well taken. As a general rule I feel that if I'm going to RT a blog, the least I can do is also comment on it.

    The principled contrarian stance can be difficult to pull off successfully, I agree–which is why I am not sure its inclusion is a good thing. I say this because not everyone can walk that line between polite disagreement and something that is ultimately unproductive.

    Or was that too self-referential?

  8. Danny Brown says:

    Great advice here, Arik – so many bloggers see their content as the gold, but to me the real gold is the comments area, everything else is the melting process.

    One of the things I like to do on some posts is comment and then see if there's a potential follow-up post of your own. This can be from your extended point of view, or even some of the other comments made on a post.

    Having a blog is a conversation starter, but having a great comments section is having an expertise network of voices.

  9. Great advice!
    I never really comment on other people's comments but I can see how this would build relationships.

  10. mikeschaffer says:

    I feel weird commenting on a blog posts about commenting on blog posts. I think the pressure to succeed is WAY too high right now.

    So, instead of offering a quality tidbit or something wise and/or witty, I'll just say…HAKUNA MATATA!

  11. Arik Hanson says:

    Two great quotes, Danny: “To me the real gold is the comments area, everything else is the melting process.” and “Having a blog is a conversation starter, but having a great comments section is having an expertise network of voices.”

    And your idea about posts coming out of comments–I'm going to try to take that to heart for the next month. We'll see what happens!

  12. Arik Hanson says:

    Good point Ed, the devils advocate approach is tough to maneuver. I just included it because I think we need more productive disagreements online. That's all. I would agree with you–that approach is definitely not for everyone (or every client).

  13. Arik Hanson says:

    Comedic relief. Your strong suit, Mr. Schaffer… 😉

  14. jeffespo says:

    Kind of like what your mom said way back when, but in a mom 2.0 kind of way. If you don't have an insightful comment, don't do it. The whole fluffy all in agreement thing is also annoying when you see it on posts.

    If you don't agree and can do it in a constructive way do it. It may lead to a rebuttal post that helps build a better relationship with the blogger as there is the chance for links to be shared.

  15. jeffespo says:

    The one piece that I would add to this is don't be scarfed to be first. I have seen a number of great posts that have had dozens of RTs with no comments. I have to wonder if it is folks blind RTing or if they just can't take the time to leave feedback or are scared to.

    If the blogger is like me, you'd rather one well-thought comment than dozens of RTs, because without the engagement you don't build a circle. While writing this, I know the numbers show that only 10% of folks comment on blogs, but we can all dream of a more fearless readership, no?

  16. jlbraaten says:

    I appreciated your take on blog comments, Arik – I think they're super important. I disagree with you, however, on using Disqus. I tried using them about a year ago and then had this issue (http://bit.ly/aESaIg) that basically led to duplicate content on my site. Ew. Plus, if Disqus ever goes away, sorry about your comments. How's that for devil's advocate?

  17. Arik Hanson says:

    Thanks for the note, Josh. Yikes–I hadn't heard of that issue before. Thanks for sharing. And yes, I went in eyes wide open on the Disqus front. But, I'm guessing if Disqus ever goes away, they will hopefully offer up some sort of alternative/option. Have you heard of a better alternative, by the way?

  18. Arik – a much needed list here. Thanks for putting this up!

    While everything on this list is a must-do, the one that is rarely done is to comment on other comments. We almost always get blinded putting in a new comment of our own, that we forget one key fact. Comments are not a multi-channel dialog between the author and the readers – they're a forum for everyone to participate!

    And one more addition to the list – keep it short and crisp. Avoid another rant to go hand in hand with the original post 😉

  19. jlbraaten says:

    I really haven't heard of anything better, Arik. My blog is on Squarespace and right now I'm just using the out-of-the-box comment functionality. It's not ideal and doesn't promote maximum engagement. They just got a $38.5 million investment so I'm hoping that they use some of it to beef up the commenting system. In the end it was a decision for me: less engagement until they improve the system or going with Disqus and seeing technical issues and/or “building on rented land.”

  20. mckra1g says:

    It's kinda like if Marty McFly hadn't gone back in time would he still have escaped the terrorists in the Delorean? 😉

  21. Jenna Langer says:

    I'm attempting to now, but how do you get your readers to engage with each other and not just the author? I'm in agreement that it is good practice to comment on other comments to create a conversation, but we rarely see it happening.

    Do bloggers need to phrase questions differently to encourage more communication between readers? What suggestions do you have?

  22. Aaron Lee says:

    I love DISQUS too but I am looking at commentluv now after seeing @dannybrown using it. I think it is a great plugin to quickly check out new blog post of others 😉

  23. Jenna – I'd say there are two parts to the answer:

    1. On-platform vs. off-platform. On-platform comment systems (not just in WP) tend to end after a comment is posted. How many times do we go back and check comments – and replies to comments – after we leave a specific comment?

    Off-platform solutions like Disqus make it a bit easier (at a price, with some tradeoffs) to keep the conversation going. Had it not been for Disqus, I probably would not be replying back to you!

    2. There's another strategy that would work very well. Can I as a blogger pick and connect multiple comments with open ended questions? Comment threading is one thing, but the ability to connect one comment to another (both visually and in semantics) and then elicit responses would a good recipe to get a conversation going.

    P.S.: Saw LiveFyre – and wondering if this is something you're already building in it – and how different it is going to be than Disqus and IntenseDebate!

  24. Jenna Langer says:

    Livefyre has notifications that bring readers back to the conversation. Users can follow a conversation to get updates, get notifications when their comments are replied to or someone mentions their name, and it is all tied in to the user's social graph.

    I like your idea about connecting commenters to each other. I'm going to do some brainstorming to figure out how to work that out.

    I think you'll find a lot of differences with Livefyre compared to the other comment systems. We're looking at conversations from a different perspective and want to bring commenting into the 21st century. Keep watching us for updates and sign up for the private beta to get the inside scoop!

  25. krusk says:

    I have been known to impatiently skim through a blog post–just to get to the comments… So you make a great point.

    On Disqus- I was reluctant to use it because years ago i had run into problems posting (a few frustrating times I re-wrote a comment several times only to have it disappear!) However, it not only seems reliable but certainly the best alternative. I also love the ability to “like” comments. It gives me great feedback on whether or not people find value in my comments.

  26. Good point–if you have nothing to say, then say nothing. Some people go crazy with their commenting efforts and digitally throw up everywhere.

    @davesaunders

  27. Man Suits says:

    this article is really great. it is quite true that in blogs comments is really important

  28. Gerrish says:

    i love your blog…why do people just comment on the blog they read…and give they idea about that blog.. its not just saying its a “great blog” just because they have something to say to that blog even they didn’t read the whole blog..

  29. Murlu says:

    I’d always recommend leaving open ended questions with your commenting because that opens the floor to continue a discussion instead of a comment/comment trade off (something you always see). Dig deep into the comment and then find that one piece of information that you can form a question out of; if the person comes back than you can keep it going and going 🙂

    The one thing I would disagree on is getting too personal. Sure, blogging is meant to be open and not pry too much into each personality but it’s still a communication channel and I don’t believe you should forgo the thought of adding in your own personal insights just to leave a sterile comment.

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  33. I was using disqus but then began using a facebook comment plugin for wordpress, because most of my audience doesn’t really use twitter or openid.

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  36. Anonymous says:

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    What are these “Blog comments” you speak of?

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