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.

The Issues

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?

Archived Comments

  • http://designresumes.com/ juliewalraven

    Well, Scott, I understand where you are going and your goal. As a blogger, I want comments and I respond to them on a timely basis. I have worked at making my comments easy to do, no hoops to jump through and reward commenters with CommentLuv for coming to visit.

    I do think that sometimes I personally feel speechless. When I read a very brilliant post, I often get stymied as to whether I have anything of value to say. It’s not that I don’t or even that I don’t see myself as able to think deeply, it is just that right then, I have no thoughts.

  • http://www.sytaylor.net sytaylor

    I learned something pretty cool from the boss at my current “Day Job”, a former consultant used to having to prove his value to a business in everything he does.

    Ask the “So what” question. What does it mean to me? What does it mean for us?… If either of those have compelling answers… follow up with the 5 regular questions. What is it? Who is it for? Why are we doing it? When will it be done? How will it work?

    Run most blog posts through that mill and it’s fairly tough NOT to find something compelling to say.

    I feel Scott’s frustration with Social Media, since there are so many layers of misunderstanding on top of it.

    – First of all you have the masses, who just don’t get it.
    – Then the regular users, who follow a few celebs, and still, don’t really get how it can be valuable.
    – Then in my humble opinion 20% or so, who retweet @Mashable.

    I’d say Scott’s blog is aimed at the misunderstanding of this 3rd group. (You’ll notice my list left out engager’s, because they are rare). The Social, Broadcast Matrix is something I’d use when presenting to my own company (if given the chance). Like anything new “Social Media” has become a buzzword big business is sceptical of, and small business wants to cash in on. Like anything new, we’ve been guilty of communication crimes and over hype.

    This is a useful business tool, but most importantly, a useful LIFE tool, if you come at it to get the right things from it. So my question is, what do you want from engaging?

  • / Scott Gould

    Hey Julie – sure there will be times where there is nothing to add, and that is fine. What annoys me is when that is the case, and the blogger still asks “what do you think?” when they know fully well what a kick ass bit of writing they need and that it needs no additions – like Seth Godin.

    And also, sure, there are times when perhaps you can comment later. I think this is then about cultivating connections with people. I know all the regulars who blog here – we have a community.

  • / Scott Gould

    Hey Sy

    I like that way of getting questions. A simple way to generate discussion. I’ll certainly be using it!

    I know what I want from engagement – to build rewards relationships that can cause change.

    What do you want?

  • http://www.sytaylor.net sytaylor

    I want to figure out the ‘Social Media’ space enough so that one day maybe I could find a calling outside the dayjob that drives me to be able to support myself & family. Simply put :)

  • http://radsmarts.com Robin Dickinson

    Hey Scott,

    The fact that the vast majority of web blog/SM activity appears to be centred on ‘me-cast/you-follow’ doesn’t surprise me when:

    * Blogging arose from the one-way logging of people’s lives on line;

    * Metrics are centred on volume readership, follower-ship, ‘friending’ etc;

    * Funnel-conversion of large numbers is the primary monetizing strategy;

    * Facilities to comment have been designed as an after-thought on websites;

    * SM channels like Facebook ask *me* What’s on your mind?; Twitter asks me “What’s happening?”; YouTube says “Broadcast Yourself”;

    * Search engines are about us being found, not about meaningful participation.

    We could go on all night.

    This is about culture – the norms – the way things are – driving and rewarding behaviour down a certain track. And many seem more than satisfied with this culture. Why? Because it works on many levels (another topic).

    For me, this is the perfect canvas on which one can differentiate her/himself from the crowd. What a wonderful opportunity! (another topic).

    Imagine an online world where re-tweet gets transformed into re-late!

    Yes, it’s up to people like your excellent readers – the bold, the brave, the strong…the dissatisfied.

    Let’s all work together to cast an alternative, participative way forward.

    Best, Robin :)

  • annholman

    Fabulous post Scott and the right way for a blog to be constructed using other peoples comments. Learnt a lot there! In terms of blogging, it is still something new and I agree we are still trying to find the balance between opinion and starting a conversation. And that’s what I believe blogging is about. Provoking thought and then providing an environment for people to discuss it!

    Conversations can spread ideas, solve problems, gain agreement, build trust, remove barriers, encourage laughter and promote enjoyment. In the future, the conversations people are having in and around companies will be the essence of success. That means allowing it, encouraging it and facilitating it. Its just we are still learning how to do this stuff!

  • / Scott Gould

    So how Ann do you do this?

    Lets get down to some of the tactics that you employ!

  • annholman

    I think there are a number of things. Here we go, its not rocket science by the way.

    1. Content has got to be a killer and knock the socks off. For what its worth, I like the way you have constructed this last blog using other peoples comments. Its moved the blog from opinion to conversation straight away. It also adds to the validity and reliability of what you are saying.

    2. Not all people following blogs want to contribute, but as a blogger you have to find your top ten influencers and encourage them to provoke you as well as participate in the conversation. On top of that we are looking at how we encourage our offline clients online over the next couple of years. We’ve had a couple of huge successes recently in this area.

    3. Then I always in the few comments I get on mine, respond. Building a relationship online is the same as offline. Manners cost nothing and someone has spent time contributing to something you have said. The next step is to try and ensure that becomes a running commentary taking the conversation further than even you thought it would go.

    4. The last one I can think of is, solidifying those relationships offline. Meeting your most regular contributors in the flesh (well clothes are preferable.) If this is possible, I always try and ensure I have regular contact over coffee just to build the relationship.

    5. Actually, I’ve thought of another……I’d like to get to the point (hopefully everything will be in place soon) where I’m sitting down with the contributors to gain feedback on how to improve the blog content and how to increase the comments. I do this already but don’t manage it as well as I should. Perhaps this is collaboration?

    Just a few thoughts……

  • / Scott Gould

    Robin

    So good. What I find interesting is, in comparison, Social is out default communication mode. The greatest things that we have in life have come through social spreadability, not broadcast.

    “Participation is the future” – looking forward to talking this through with you and finding a scaleable way to move forward.

    Scott

  • http://randelldesign.com/ Randy Dunning

    Scott,

    I’m glad that you highlighted Disqus in this post by saying the following:

    “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.”

    It is through the last few discussions we’ve had that I realized the power of being able to follow comments. Disqus makes this delightfully possible.

    I immediately posted a Disqus badge and link to my Disqus profile on the main page of my site right under Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn buttons. I think it is that valuable. And when I start that blog of mine *cough, cough* it is the commenting system I plan to employ.

    I think it is very cool to see how this one video and post you made turned into something beyond the scope of what you initially envisioned and led to a lot of learning and even a very thorough follow-up post. I think it is the result of your commitment to comments! Thanks.

  • http://www.comradity.com K. Warman Kern

    Agreed. I do think that Social Media technology is part of the problem. So far, this potentially highly interactive medium, the internet, is largely activated by technology that is for one to many conversation. The result is a “culture of Me”. Social Media aggregates all those me’s into one chaotic mess to generate pageviews and ad $. And that doesn’t make a community. That’s a convoluted, derivative, indirect revenue stream that should not be the driving force behind technology r&d. But it is.

    The good news is this “Culture of Me” is building pent up demand for a better alternative that generates revenue by tapping into the direct value a real community has to the individuals who participate – or a community where both culture and commerce may flourish.

    Looking forward to the internet delivering better not cheaper solutions.

  • billzipp

    Your observations are perfect! I need a blog title, or a headline, that captures attention. Content that is remarkable. Then I need an engaging, thought-provoking question that continues the discussion or my blog becomes one-way communication–mere outbound/traditional marketing–rather that two-way interactive communication, i.e. SOCIAL media. Yes?

  • / Scott Gould

    Ann

    Thank you very much for this – excellent stuff.

    1. I agree – content has got to be a killer. Either by it’s originality, personality, individualism, etc.

    2. I also agree – not everyone wants to comment. I think crafting good questions helps people more tho.

    3. Manners cost nothing – right on. Just being polite makes a big difference.

    4. Solidifying relationships offline – totally. For me thats what I love about Like Minds – meeting people who I’ve engaged with online.

    Thanks for these

  • / Scott Gould

    Randy – I do look forward that blog of yours one day!

    I’m going to write a post about how people can connect to me, and then use the same tools themselves – some day.

    I do love Disqus because it means, like you say, the comment reach goes beyond this place. I think comments are SO SO valuable – why shouldn’t they be retweeted?

  • / Scott Gould

    Thanks for the comment!

    Yes there is a lot of tech talk, which is unfortunate as Social Media is largely psychological, supported by the technological.

    I love what you say about the “culture of me”. This is why, as you say, I think participation will increase heavily.

  • / Scott Gould

    Thanks for the compliment!

    If you’ve seen my Social / Broadcast Matrix, you’ll see the distinction I make between Broacast and Social, and One way and Multi way

  • karimacatherine

    Hi Scott,

    Well, first, nice picture. Have to say, I like Gabrielle and Olivier pretending to be serious there…
    As far as your observations, they are correct at large. Can I add this:

    You cannot pretend to be social, you are born social, an individual has its own style of communications; the diversity makes it interesting, at this point.

    A blog is the reflection of the individual that is writing the blog. You can learn to tweak your style to be more engaging. But there again, you need to already be a social being.

    What I am getting at is a the population is diverse (you know that) and it is as many temperaments and style out there. Wouldn’t it be too optimistic to expect that many people asking engaging questions all the time?

    At the same time, I appreciate what you are saying because in the absolute, it would be indeed the case. Taking it further, it is like having a Twitter account and not connecting and engaging with people. I actually tweeted about it a few months ago : you invite people into your house and you don’t speak to them. actually know someone who does that IRL.

    Karima-Catherine

  • / Scott Gould

    Hey Karima

    Thanks for stopping by as always :-)

    Sure it’s optimistic – but I’m only asking the people who TALK about social and engagement to actually DO it!

    :-)

  • saratraynor

    Hi Scott

    I really like the fact that you crafted this post using comments posted in response to your video. Two things resonated with me (which, in fact, are slightly at odds with each other):

    1. Your observation that when you invite friends for a dinner party you don’t bore them with “me, me, me” talk (which is linked to Chris Brogan’s analogy of a blog being like a house). These are useful analogies. In fact, it is far more hospitable to ask your guests about themselves, and their view.

    2. The flip-side to this is that, in my own experience, I am looking for a variety of things when I visit a blog. These range from information/entertainment/learning/a springboard to other info etc. In essence, I am looking for something that I don’t already have. What I *don’t* want is to be greeted by someone who has nothing to say but is asking for my views (on something I would like to find out more about, myself). In essence I use blogs as research. It is a bonus to engage in discussion over the content, but not essential to me (ultimately it is a better learning experience if discussion does take place though).

    My conclusion is that there is a difference between SOCIAL and SOCIALISING.

    Namely, I don’t invite friends over for dinner in order to pick their brains on the latest scientific theories (for example) BUT we may well get into a debate about the validity of spending millions on the Large Hadron Collider (and conceivably share lots of knowledge in the process). This example of SOCIALISING is completely different from me using SOCIAL to engage with @ProfBrianCox (Particle Physicist), @RogerHighfield (Editor of New Scientist) and others directly over Physics funding issues. (Example tweet below). Only very few of my friends would want to come to a dinner party this geeky! ;-)

    In summary, the SOCIAL etiquette is slightly different from the SOCIALISING etiquette. Does that make sense? I’m open to be shot down in flames (not that you would; you’re far too polite ;) but to play devil’s advocate, one could argue that the etiquette of both are on the same spectrum, just at slightly different points, so maybe they’re not so different after all?

    (I’m trying really hard not to end with “What do you think! ;-)
    Cheers
    Sara

    RT @ProfBrianCox: I am very worried about physics in the UK. After the accidental 25% cut to #stfc in 2007, there is practically no future left anyway.

  • / Scott Gould

    Sara,

    Thank you very much for the excellent comments. Your distinction between Social and Socialising are very true.

    Certainly, we find Socialising on Twitter and Facebook more than on blogs. Being “Social” is in my understanding framed by the Social / Broadcast Matrix – /the-social-broadcast-matrix/

    A debate at dinner is great, and this is more like what a blog is – a discussion and debate about a certain topic.

    What I don’t want is to debate by myself!

  • annholman

    Enjoying the conversation here it will make mine, once we’ve overhauled, so much better! Just a couple of more things I thought about overnight. The future of inspiring blogs will be about how we get them from broadcast to participation to enabling collaboration. And, a great blog starts a conversation and invites people to contribute!

  • http://www.ricardobueno.com Ricardo Bueno

    I was going to disagree with your point about “connections trump community” but then I read further and completely agree with what you’re saying.

    In closing, I respond to every comment people leave on my blog(s) (or at least I try to in a timely manner). That’s one of the things that I love about Disqus, it makes it really easy for you to respond to comments via email.

    Before, I used to send a welcome video comment to first-time commentators on my site. That was a great way to start a dialogue between two people that had met for the first time. I’m not sure why I stopped, by I did. It was a great exercise and perhaps one that I should pick up again…

  • / Scott Gould

    Ann as you can see, I’m trying to kick start Tags (again) lol

    Hopefully we can translate this into it

  • / Scott Gould

    It’s true isn’t it Ricardo – there has to be a connection to pull us from the intangible to the tangible.

    What else are you doing to build connections?

  • http://www.ricardobueno.com Ricardo Bueno

    I’ve done such a wonderful job of connecting with people in the past (after conferences) through email, photos, face-to-face meetups, etc. At some point I just lost touch with my routine.

    I’m a big fan of connecting face-to-face with folks because as much as we connect online I think it’s important to translate those connections into offline. A monthly meetup at a local cafe just for the sake of connecting was how I went about this. I’m thinking it’s time to get back to doing this. Simple, but effective.

  • http://web-workathome.com Bill Masson

    So what’s wrong with being anti social? , as long as you make a point of explaining this to the reader, You can do whatever you want and if people like you don’t like it then tough. I don’t have any problem with blogs that don’t ask the question and sometimes I leave a comment and sometimes I don’t but I always leave a meaningful comment regardless. While there may well be those genuine commenter’s who leave the “Yes I agree” or “Wow great points” the majority of these comments are invariably produced by comment bots any way.
    You have brought some valid points about blog interaction and for sure “true blogging and commenting” can be a step too far for many. A lot of folks are just plain too busy to put real and meaningful responses into blogging.
    I often get lost in my articles and leave the obligatory “what do you think” at the end of the post, but lately I have tried to include questions from the beginning, it’s not easy when you aren’t a skilled writer. You live and learn and I have learned some valuable pointers today,
    Thanks for the read

  • / Scott Gould

    Hey Bil

    What I’m saying is more than if people SAY that are social and encourage comments, then they should take the according actions.

    Glad you’ve learned some pointers today on how to ask more searching questions!

    Scott

  • http://web-workathome.com Bill Masson

    Thanks for replying Scott and noted (-:

  • http://www.sytaylor.net sytaylor

    This feeds pretty nicely into the nature / nurture debate.

    The world is a personality zoo, but given the lens of this discussion aimed at those who want to bring engagement to their brand, this post makes a lot of sense. As a child my parents thought I may have had Autism, but the tests and support back then weren’t nearly as good as they are now.

    Not saying I do, but since then I’ve been diagnosed with traits shared by the autistic. At 7 years old I was a complete recluse, I hid in the cloak room to avoid doing PE lessons. If our nature was the only thing that defined our ability to communicate I’d be in trouble!

    I was lucky to have friends who brought me out of my shell, and helped me gain a modicum of self esteem in my teens… then I found books, learning and the internet. Through engaging on topics like video games, current events, politics, philosophy I was able to let out a lot of trapped ideas that weren’t valued by friends. In turn stumbling around, and making social mistakes calibrated me.

    There is nothing like a big fat mistake to learn a lesson. For me the key to learning how to engage is to do it wrong, recognise the problem and then learn how to do it right. As a former non social animal, I see the diverse population you speak of, especially in bloggers. Definitely a zoo! Can they learn how to engage? Why not? :)

  • / Scott Gould

    I’m all about face to face too, Ricardo :-)

  • karimacatherine

    Hello Sy (hope I got your name right)
    This is exactly what is amazing about an engaging blog, it bring people together and make them engage not only with the author but with each other.

    To take Scott’s analogy, if you have people over for a party/dinner, there is no one way to make them feel at home. I would like to think, everyone has their own style and way to make people not only discuss with the host but discover and interact with the other guests. And as you say, there is a learning process involved. I totally agree.

    Scott is doing a fab job at making people realize that it is all about people.

    And thank you Sy for connecting with me.

    Love this! Amazing.

  • karimacatherine

    Hello Sy (hope I got your name right)
    This is exactly what is amazing about an engaging blog, it bring people together and make them engage not only with the author but with each other.

    To take Scott’s analogy, if you have people over for a party/dinner, there is no one way to make them feel at home. I would like to think, everyone has their own style and way to make people not only discuss with the host but discover and interact with the other guests. And as you say, there is a learning process involved. I totally agree.

    Scott is doing a fab job at making people realize that it is all about people.

    And thank you Sy for connecting with me.

    Love this! Amazing.

  • / Scott Gould

    Karima – TOTALLY. This is what I wrote about today. If social networks are like a large cocktail party, then blogs are like a dinner party – a more concentrated network of people.

    I think everyone agres – they have more Twitter followers than Blog subscribers – so we have to behaviour differently.

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