4 Issues With Comments, And Why Most Blogs Are Anti-Social
Last Friday I posted a video about the gripe I have with bloggers who tag “What do you think?” onto the end of blog posts in order to make them social. What followed was a really great discussion in the comments section that I want to highlight and then add some more ideas to mixing pot.
I have four issues that I’ve drawn from the comments you made, and bolded the main points, as this has turned out to be a longer post than usual.
Why Comments Matter
They matter because that’s when blogging becomes social. When I look at where I’ve come in the last year, I can direct much of it to the comments on this blog, and the follow discussions on Skype and face to face. I always say that connections trump community, that is, a connection with someone who is engaging two-way with you is far more valuable than someone in the community that just blindly ‘likes’ or ‘retweets’ your stuff on Facebook or Twitter (and the offline equivilents of such tokenism.)
Forget about audiences, attendance and readership. It’s about participation. (The first words are one way, participation is two way.)
Comments matter because that’s where ideas are shared and adapted, and then those adaptions are documented online. I’m not into getting comments for vanity and ego. I’m in it because I want participation in order for us to ACT and DO.
Someone that I respect who doesn’t ask “What do you think?” only to not respond to the comments is Seth Godin. People have been up in arms about Seth’s no comment policy (he has them switched off), but there is a refreshing authenticity to this: he doesn’t want them and therefore doesn’t allow them. I can handle that.
For me, there are two angles on my gripe. The first is the poor question of “What do you think?” and the following poor comment engagement. The second is the poor comments from readers such as “great post” and “I agree”, which are mindless responses to generally what was a mindless question (“What do you think?”). Based on Friday’s comments, here are the issues that we discussed:
1 – Readers don’t know what to comment
Chris Hall said in the comments:
“I think that for many people comments on blogs are actually quite intimidating. I suppose what I’m saying is that we all have to aim our parting remarks as we conclude our posts at the relevant audience or debate.”
The thing here is that the readers don’t know how to comment, often because there is no direction on how to do so. We read loads of blog posts about writing better blog posts and getting more comments, but who is writing about being a better commenter? (Will get to that a moment)
Chris answers his question in the same sentence – we need to help commenters with what to comment. Randy Dunning agreed with that the answer to the fear of commenting is “all the more reason to ask focused question” which leads us to the second issue:
2 – Bloggers don’t know what questions to ask
For all our talk of community and curation, I think the skills of facilitation are really absent in a lot of bloggers and on a lot of blogs.
This is what Josh Chandler brought up, and I agree with him:
“I find myself getting to the end of an article and finding I’ve constructed my side of the opinion, but not exactly formulated primers to get people thinking as they read through the post.”
The solution here is to practice – and this isn’t something you can read a blog post on Mashable for. Get good at offline engagement and then transfer it. Start valuing people – I mean really valuing people – individual people. Look at what you’re writing and then ask what you’re very smart, informed, expertised readers can add to the thoughts you’ve started, and then get specific about it.
3 – The community focusses on Blog Posts, not Blog Comments
I can tell you right now that every Social Media update newsletter, feedburner feed, retweet, Facebook share and the rest are all for Blog Posts, not Blog Comments. On one hand that’s fine because that’s what we lead with, but seriously, when was the last time you really engaged in a comments section and were retweeting it because of the comments? Like I said, my comments have made me and taken me to where I am at the moment – I wouldn’t trade them for anything.
Robin Dickinson pointed to the undervaluing of people being part of the cause with this:
“As you say – it’s all about people. And the secret to really honoring people is to truly engage with questions rather than lecture with opinions. Yes, have a balance – but online the balance seems to have weighed very much in favour of ‘me-cast first’, and then ask a token question.”
Totally. Anybody who is any good at hosting dinner parties knows this. You put others first, rather than inviting people over to your house to talk about yourself the whole time.
Sy Taylor then brought up the point of using technology to stay in touch with comments. I’ve actually done you a diservice in not explaining that I use Disqus because you can subscribe to comments using it. When it comes to taking your community and developing connections out of it, I know of few better ways online.
I think the fact that we emphasise the blog post first, and then the comments are our second ‘tag on’, cannot just be left to “well thats the way that the technology was developed.” I think it is because:
4 – We don’t understand Social
Social is all about people and relating with them (not to them). The word comes from the Latin for companion. Dictionary.com posts 12 definitions of the adjective of Social, the first 8 being:
1. pertaining to, devoted to, or characterized by friendly companionship or relations: a social club.
2. seeking or enjoying the companionship of others; friendly; sociable; gregarious.
3. of, pertaining to, connected with, or suited to polite or fashionable society: a social event.
4. living or disposed to live in companionship with others or in a community, rather than in isolation: People are social beings.
5. of or pertaining to human society, esp. as a body divided into classes according to status: social rank.
6. involved in many social activities: We’re so busy working, we have to be a little less social now.
7. of or pertaining to the life, welfare, and relations of human beings in a community: social problems.
8. noting or pertaining to activities designed to remedy or alleviate certain unfavorable conditions of life in a community, esp. among the poor.
Where is that on most blogs?
The whole thing about Social Media was that it is relational and in its simplest form, is two way. So what happened to two way when blogs are just one way – the author broadcasting?
I hate to promote myself at this point, but the Social / Broadcast Matrix helps tidy so much of this up and provides a clear way to understand what is social and what is not. I really do wish SmartBrief or Mashable would break out of their usual rubbish and post that framework because I really think it would help clarify a whole bunch of mess and make us realise just how unsocial a lot of ‘social media’ is.
Social Media, once again, are tools built around relationship. Wikipedia:
“Social media is a term used to describe the type of media that is based on conversation and interaction between people online.”
I’m just going to go and ahead and say it: in my opinion, any blogger that invites comments but 1. doesn’t ask meaningful questions, and 2. doesn’t engage with meaningful responses, 1. just doesn’t value their readers, and 2. is an anti-social blogger.
Bloggers like this are reproducing more and more egotistical megalomaniacs who are blogging for fame under the guise of Social. A note to them: either be like Seth and others like him and be straight about it and tell us what you’re here for, or stop using the community that I love so much and put so much into for your selfish gains.
The Main Point
Blogs that don’t ask meaningful, thought through questions and don’t engage in meaningful responses don’t value their readers and are anti-social.
Your Leading Thoughts
I need to wrap here before I launch into other things I have to say, but let me finish with this:
My friend Chris Brogan uses the analogy of a blog being like a house, that you invite people back to when you meet them on Twitter or Facebook. At your house, you have your content, etc.
My question for you is:
- Do you invite people to your house to then just talk about yourself, and reply to nothing your guests have to say?