So you’ve created your blog and you’ve written your first posts. All you have to do now is sit back and wait for the readers to come, right? Wrong! Despite having been made famous by the movie “Field of Dreams,” the idea that you can build it and they will come just doesn’t work. This is true about any endeavor, not just blogging. People need to find out about you, and they need to get involved.
Over the next few weeks, we’re shifting focus from creating blog content to engaging readers and growing a following. As we go through this process, you’ll begin to see the unique characteristics of Web 2.0 coming to life. We’ll begin with blog comments.
What Are Blog Comments?
As we pointed out in an earlier post, as technology has changed, so has the way we communicate. I remember my summer camp days way back when. I used to send letters to friends and family to let them know that I was at camp for 3 weeks and I’d ask them to write to me. Admittedly, it was a simple ploy to get some attention as a kid–but it worked. My friends and family always sent me letters in return. Excited, I would respond immediately with a post card of my own. Before I knew it, I had a dialogue going. Every day at mail call there was either a letter or a package waiting for me. Of course, I would always share the candy, cookies, and other goodies I received, which helped me make instant friends, a side benefit I hadn’t anticipated but that I was grateful for.
My fellow campers wanted to know how I managed to always have so much mail waiting for me. My secret was simple. I wrote as many letters as possible, and I always included a request for a response. In fact, I asked my friends and family to respond with a letter or a postcard RIGHT AWAY, AS SOON AS THEY GOT THIS!!! I can only imagine that my family thought it was adorable and my friends thought it was exciting and fun, so everyone got into it.
If I were a camper today, I’d probably be exchanging emails instead of letters, and text messages instead of postcards. Or maybe I’d keep a blog of my time at camp and I’d be asking for comments in response.
You see, your blog is like the letters I wrote from camp. This is where you share your thoughts, experiences, and insights. And the comments section of the blog is where people have a chance to respond to what you’ve written—and even share a few goodies of their own.
Another way to think of comments is to compare them to letters to an editor at a newspaper. Most comments are conversational reactions, such as “Thanks for the post, great information,” or “That’s what I think too!,” or “I never thought of that, thanks!” or “I agree with most of what you said, but you forgot to mention xyz.” You can respond to the comments, and before you know it your blog has gone from a static (Web 1.0) to an interactive (Web 2.0) platform capable of sustaining a conversation and growing a community.
Comments let you know that someone out there is reading your blog and benefitting from it. This is not only great motivation on an emotional level, it also shows that your content is going in the right direction and can help you make editorial decisions.
How Can My Readers Leave Comments?
The mechanics of how to leave a comment will depend on your blogging platform, your template, and your settings. But generally, at the bottom of each post, there is usually an area for comments. On TwoPointUhOh, this area looks like this:
Our template doesn’t automatically display the comments area, but readers can always navigate to it. The options for accessing the comments area are either at the top or bottom of each post. In our case, you can access comments from both the top and bottom of our posts.
The access from the top of the post is via a visual icon of a speech bubble. A number in the speech bubble indicates how many comments have already been left. If the speech bubble is empty, that means no one has commented yet. From within our blog post, click on the bubble to access the comment area for that post.
The access from the bottom of the post is via a link in the footer. In our case, the link asks readers to “leave a reply” if there are no comments yet. Or it says “3 comments,” if people have already left comments. Again, by clicking here, readers will be taken to the comments area. Your blog may work differently, but generally the links to the comments area will be found in the post’s header or footer.
How Do I Handle Negative Comments or Spam?
As soon as you open the door to participation, you take the risk of dealing with negativity or spam. You do have the option of turning off all comments to your blog, but if you do that, you’ll be missing out on the opportunity to enter a conversation with engaged readers.
Fortunately, there is a solution, comment moderation. With this option, you will be asked to approve a comment before it goes live on your blog. If you choose to moderate comments, be aware that your readers want to see their comments on your blog. Try to approve them quickly. Also, make sure that you don’t censor comments. It’s one thing to not publish spam or racist, sexist, and vulgar comments; it’s another not to publish and address a legitimate disagreement or criticism. If you accept comments, you’ll also need to learn to allow all opinions to be voiced.
How to Encourage Comments
- Ask for Comments It worked for me in my letters from camp, and it will work for you. Throw the ball back in your readers’ court by asking: “What do you think?”, “Has this approach work for you?”, “Have you had a real life experience with this topic?”, or “Is there anything I forgot to add?”
- Respond to Comments Just as you want proof that someone is reading your posts and responding to them, your readers want proof that you’ve seen their comments and appreciate them. Make an effort to respond to every comment in a timely fashion—preferably within hours, but certainly within the same day. This keeps your blog post active and dynamic and builds community. Set up your notifications to receive an email each time someone posts so you can respond quickly.
- Be Grateful and Gracious In your response, thank the reader and let them know you appreciate their comment. Be sure to address something specific in their comment so they know you’ve actually read it. When people feel valued and heard, they will be more likely to want to keep interacting with you.
- Handle Negative Comments Like A Pro If someone voices a complaint, don’t take it personally, and in this case, don’t answer right away. Take time to think about your response, and then answer in a positive and professional manner. It’s up to you to set the tone of the conversation. Remember, it’s hard to read all the nuances in written communications, so always assume the best of the person. Treat their comment as a sincere desire to communicate with you and answer respectfully and in a cool-headed manner. Of course, if readers get out of hand and the conversation devolves into a nasty argument, this is unacceptable. This kind of behavior is known as a “flame war,” and it’s your responsibility to resist fanning the flames and find a way to put them out. One option is to publish a comments policy, clearly stating what you will and will not accept on your blog.
- Comment On Other Blogs If you want comments on your blog, then it’s only fair that you comment on the blogs you read! It will help you understand what readers feel and expect when they comment on your blog, and it’s another way to build community. We’ll talk more about this aspect next week, but for now just keep in mind that the effects of blog commenting can go further than you imagine.
You’ve come to the end of this blog post. Here’s your opportunity to become more familiar with comments! Go ahead, leave us your thoughts. Are you excited by the conversational aspect of blog comments? Or does the whole thing leave you feeling overwhelmed and uneasy? Let us know!