Author Blogging 101: Up With Comments!

by Joel Friedlander on October 31, 2011 · 22 comments

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One of the first experiences you’ll have when you start your blog is publishing a post and then wondering if anyone is reading it.

Especially at the beginning, author blogging can feel a little bit like “pouring from the empty into the void.” We all know that some of the best blogs are about the conversation going on between the blogger and the readers, but it can take a long time before you start getting those comments on your blog articles.

Commenting is central to the kind of blogging I like the most, and the one that seems to work best for most bloggers. There are lots of reasons commenting is a tool you should learn to cultivate and respect. And whatever you do, try to make it easy for your readers to comment. It will do many things for you:

  1. Comments allow you to engage one-on-one with readers. When we write for publication, we’re writing for some group of people, and we may or may not know very much about who is reading. But when a reader steps forward and writes a comment, they are opening a dialogue with you, one that can have profound implications.
  2. Readers will make your blog posts better with their comments. If you’ve missed something in an article, or made a factual error, astute readers may well point it out. And since none of us can know everything about a subject, comments can make a conversation more complete and well-rounded than it would have been with only one voice.
  3. The voices of many people can be heard in the comments. These other voices help to expand the range of your blog and its appeal to more kinds of people.
  4. Comments show that a community is building around your blog. Many of us follow dozens of blogs, but we can only give enough attention to become part of the community at a handful of sites.
  5. Commenting gives readers an opportunity to get to know you better. In fact, this is one of the most common pieces of advice given to bloggers who want to write guest posts for other blogs, and it certainly works. For instance, the wonderful article on Friday by Joan Reeves came about because of her comments on another article.

A Word About Blogs Without Comments

Although it seems like most bloggers are eager for comments, sometimes you come across a blog where the comments have been turned off. I don’t read many of these blogs, and it’s interesting how different the environment is on a blog without comments.

It feels more like a website where articles are posted regularly, and that’s about the only relation to a blog. Some bloggers have good reasons for blogging this way, and it does take time and attention to have a conversation with readers that just goes on and on.

So it can be done, and done very well by the right person, but I’m not talking about those kinds of blogs in this article.

What is “Social Proof”?

One of the reasons you want comments from your readers is because it contributes a great deal to “social proof.” What does that mean?

Social proof is a psychological trigger that affects our behavior. It’s the tendency, when you are undecided about something, to be influenced in your choice by the apparent choices of a group of other people.

What does that mean? What I mean is that suppose you happen onto the blog at Copyblogger.com, one of the internet’s premier resources on the subjects of copywriting and content marketing. You like the article you’re reading, then you notice the subscription box:

Copyblogger.com

When you see that over 155,000 other people have subscribed to the Copyblogger blog, you are assured it would not be a big mistake to take a chance and put your email address into the subscription box. The number of subscribers is a kind of proof of quality, a social proof that can influence our behavior.

The same is true for blog comments. If you see a blog article with 10, 30, 50 comments, you might automatically think that it has some value, that it’s not just an empty post parroting something some other blogger said. Otherwise, why would it have so many comments?

So having comments, and displaying the number of comments on your blog posts, naturally prompts more comments. And remember, the vast majority of your readers will never comment on the blog, so each person who does represents a whole swath of readers who likely have similar opinions.

How Can You Stimulate Interaction?

As a blogger trying to build community and relationships, your readers are vitally important. Encouraging comments makes your blog a better read and more attractive for interaction.

So how do you get those comments?

  • Ask—I know it seems obvious, but it’s not that easy when you start out. If you’re writing a post that centers on your opinion, ask for reader’s opinions. If it’s a how-to article, ask if they understood it. If it’s a survey, ask if readers know other resources.
  • Unfinished posts—I learned this from Chris Brogan and it works. Instead of writing all the way to the logical end of an article, stop and ask readers how they would finish it.
  • Controversy—One of the easiest ways to spark a discussion is to take a controversial stand, to oppose the current trends in your field, or pick a fight with a leading figure.
  • Revelation—Discussing your problems and your passions, revealing yourself to your audience in an emotional, contactful way will bring in comments from a variety of readers.
  • Co-creation—You may want to try creating a resource with the help of your readers. This can be a powerful community-building experience, especially if you can get enough people to participate, and the comments are a great way to do that.

The Golden Rule of Comments

Okay, now you’ve got the story on blog comments. Comment on other people’s blogs so you can get inside the feeling and know what your readers are experiencing.

Use comments to ask your readers what their concerns are, what information they would like, or what they think of your new book cover. These conversations turn into relationships and the bond between you and your readers will grow strong.

The Golden Rule of blog comments, of course, is to never ignore them. What’s the point of asking people to comment if you never answer them?

You don’t have to answer every comment, but it makes a huge difference if readers sense that you are as much a part of the discussion as they are, and a well-placed response will be much appreciated.

So does that answer your questions about blog comments?

Photo by BarbaraLN

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    { 21 comments… read them below or add one }

    Dan Reich May 23, 2014 at 8:37 am

    Great article, and just what I needed. I’m not an author, but a realtor who has done a bit of writing and have launched a blog that is combines commerce, a love letter to my neighborhood, and the chronicling of the process of exploring a new area and setting down roots. I’m trying to build a sort of community around it, and you’ve given me some great strategies for generating some comments, which have been almost nonexistent up to this point. Thank you!

    Reply

    Barbie Beaton May 5, 2014 at 9:06 am

    “Pouring…into the void” nailed it! This post was helpful to me, and I will bookmark it for future reference. My posts have garnered comments from my family and a few friends, but this is what I needed to spread the word. Thanks!

    Reply

    Gaby Merch January 18, 2013 at 4:04 pm

    After reading several of your articles, especially this one I could not leave without leaving a message to let you know I was here.

    I am a novice in blogging as a fiction author and found here lots of ideas that will certainly put in action my first novel site http://GabyMerch.com that I will release soon.

    Thanks for your advice and have a great day!!

    Reply

    Lawrence November 19, 2011 at 2:32 pm

    Thanks for the article. But I guess it did not answer my question as to how to draw people to your blog.

    My blog at http://killmenow.org/blog is relatively new and I do publish to both twitter and facebook. I do get traffic, to the blog, but not much. I do average 50 people per day to the site in general.

    Lawrence Fisher
    Author of “Kill me now!”
    http://killmenow.org/blog

    Reply

    Dirk McFergus November 7, 2011 at 6:28 pm

    I just started a new blog and originally thought I’d just close the comments, eliminating the spam problem, and whatnot, but later felt it didn’t make sense to go that route. I agree with you about the social proof factor and wonder if someone goes to a blog open for comments and there are no comments that it works against the blog. I guess I’ll find out. Great article.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander November 7, 2011 at 6:55 pm

    Well, Dirk, I think Highku is great and I bet you’ll be glad you opened the comments once readers start to pick up the conversation.

    Reply

    Muriel Rand November 8, 2011 at 5:22 am

    Dirk, I am using Blogger, and even though I know it has a bad reputation compared to WordPress, the nice part is that Google has spam detection for comments. So far, it has caught the spam comments I’ve gotten and automatically removed them. I don’t have a ton of readers yet, so I’m hoping it will keep working!

    Reply

    Muriel Rand November 4, 2011 at 5:07 am

    Comments are the best part of blogs for me, but I’m still trying to find a good blog reader that makes it easy to subscribe to and view comments. I’m regularly going to the original websites from my reader to make it easier. Any sugestions on how to streamline this?

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander November 7, 2011 at 2:54 pm

    Muriel, I use Feedburner but I don’t know if you can jigger it so people can leave comments on the feed, it seems like if the comments are intended for the comment area of a blog post (like here) you would have to go to the blog to make the comment. But if you find another way I hope you’ll let me know.

    Reply

    Hazel Anaka October 31, 2011 at 2:43 pm

    Joel,
    As someone new to the world of blogging, tweeting and building an online author platform, I find your site and your posts to be content-rich and without all the self-promotion overwhelming some. And you’ve done it again with this one. Thank you.

    I’m learning it takes a leap of faith to persist with all this effort despite little evidence that it is working—guess that’s where the faith part comes in!

    I’d love to read about a day-in-the-life of Joel Friedlander because part of the challenge is time management. How do you manage to write substantial posts, tweet, read blogs, comment, eat, bathe and get any real work done day in and day out?

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander October 31, 2011 at 2:49 pm

    Hazel, you had me laughing out loud with that one. I actually did write a post like that about a year ago, a day in the life of a blogging book designer, but maybe the idea is worth a re-visit.

    To be honest, what I find even more important than time management (although TM is critical for anyone spending time online) is mindset. In other words, you need to have priorities and a clear understanding of where to focus to keep yourself on top of the waves and not disappearing beneath them.

    Sounds like another addition to the Author Blogging 101 series, no?

    Reply

    Hazel Anaka November 3, 2011 at 3:39 pm

    Please do. But please include some of those juicy nitty-gritty details from authors outlining how they do their best writing between 3 and 4 AM while wearing leopard pj’s and sipping ginger tea.

    God knows I’m not going to live long enough to make all the mistakes myself so if I can steal even one good idea from someone who’s gone before and make it part of my own approach then I will.

    Thank you for all you do!

    Reply

    Julia Rachel Barrett October 31, 2011 at 12:03 pm

    Comments, and a response to comments, allows the reader to feel valued and the blogger to participate in a larger community. I truly value my Wordpress comment function. Love to read what others have written and I have fun responding. Give and take. It’s nice.

    Reply

    Dwight Okita October 31, 2011 at 10:18 am

    Vidya, here’s a funny thing about comments turned off. For some unknown reason on Blogger, my posts DEFAULT to being turned off. And I don’t know how to default it to turning on. So every time I post, I have to turn it on manually. I didn’t know it until someone mentioned it to me. Weird.

    Reply

    Dwight Okita October 31, 2011 at 10:16 am

    Joel, thanks for the post about getting blog comments. You blog is great. I get it delivered by email. Every time I read your post headline, I often find it irresistible to read. I do need to spend more time commenting on other people’s blogs to. Even to set aside 10 minutes a day can help creating a reciprocal communication I think.

    There! I left a comment. Another thing that’s cool, on Blogger, you can see the statistics and see how many people visit your blog, whether they leave comments. One post had about 70 visitors and only 2 comments. that’s good to know. We’re trying to make the world more interactive.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander October 31, 2011 at 2:45 pm

    Hey Dwight, thanks for that. Headlines are really important, and I’ll have a whole post about writing headlines for your blog posts, but it’s awfully nice to hear that the headlines are drawing you into the content. They are doing their job!

    I wouldn’t expect the ratio of visitors to comments to change much. I’ve heard figures like 100 visitors per comment, but I don’t think there’s a “formula” necessarily. If you get 2 comments and the next post gets 4, your have a 100% increase.

    Reply

    barbara October 31, 2011 at 9:14 am

    Excellent advice. I recently wrote a post on The Blogstress Network about the importance of commenting and building community. I believe it’s very important, especially if you are trying to build your platform for a book.

    I heard Penelope Trunk say ‘if you’re a writer you don’t need a blog community’ and can’t for the life of me figure out where she came up with that idea. I find it to be even more important as a writer.

    Thanks Joel!
    b

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander October 31, 2011 at 2:43 pm

    Gee, that doesn’t make much sense, does it? Although I think a blog is the easiest and most natural tool for authors, there are certainly other ways to build your platform. It’s just that none of the other seems to have all the advantages of a blog and, to me, a blog means conversation. Thanks for your comment, Barbara

    Reply

    Vidya Sury October 31, 2011 at 6:37 am

    I particularly like the tip about an unfinished post. I’ve often wondered why comments are disabled on some blogs…but I guess diff. strokes for diff. folks. I know some people will lurk and never comment, as though by commenting they sacrifice something precious :-).

    Great post. Wait, let me share it ;-). And let me add it to my “resources” section in my blog for people to read.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander October 31, 2011 at 2:41 pm

    Thanks, Vidya, I appreciate that. Things get better when they are shared, don’t you think?

    Reply

    carol brill October 31, 2011 at 3:29 am

    thanks Joel, another timely post for me. Started a blog a little over a month ago and so far very few comments. friends who read it email me directly with their comments…they are reluctant to comment on the site. It helps knowing this is common with start-up and we need to keep at it

    Reply

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