“What Do You Think?” – The Social Cop Out

When people tag on “What do you think?” to the end of a blog post, I think it is a cop out for trying to be social. It’s done because, hey, we need to be social. But it really annnoys me  because I feel that my thoughts are just an afterthought to the blog post.

In my opinion, you should either:

  1. Broadcast Socially. Don’t write a complete thought, then ask “what do you think?” and then not respond to the blog posts — this is just comment vanity. Instead, admit that your are writing complete, fleshed out ideas, and that whilst your blog posts might adapt over time from the feedback in the comments, you aren’t actually looking to converse with your readers in the comments section that much. Get some balls and admit it.
  2. Go Social Social. Consider that you don’t have the complete picture, and begin making your blog just as much about the comments as the posts by carefully crafting questions that draw out the wisdom from your readers. Facilitate discussion in your comments. Consider your audience to be smarter than you are — because they are.

(To understand ‘Broadcast Socially’ and ‘Social Social’, view the Social / Broadcast Matrix.)

What I can’t stand is when people talk about ‘social’ and then don’t do it. Either value my comments, or don’t ask for them.

The best way to do all this? Be far, far more direct and focussed than “What do you think?” — actually ask me for feedback with deeper, more specific questions.

Of course, the unfortunate reality is that this above behaviour is pretty widely accepted by many professional bloggers and internet celebs. My hope is that those of us who are providing thought leading content will think enough to lead a new kind of blog where we don’t do that. That’s people-to-people. Together, we have the big picture. We learn with each other.

Archived Comments

  • Chris Hall

    I disagree a little on this one.

    Blog posts are generally written from a point of view but hopefully with the intention of engagement/discussion and a developing conversation. People may write 200-600 words, which are their thoughts on the subject – but that is not where the post ends.

    I often end each article with the words ‘What do you think?’ because I want to encourage and facilitate other peoples thoughts.

    Some of the follow up to these is in with a reply, but have discussed the posts and comments with people face-to-face, on the phone or more than often in other social arenas (Twitter, Facebook etc). I’ve often had long threaded discussions in the twitter stream about my posts.

    We also have to remember that sometimes there is no need or reason to reply to the comments (especially the ‘Great Post’ or ‘I agree’ type)

    “What do you think?” is one of the best questions that there is and more than anything it encourages conversation – in what ever medium that engagement happens in. That has to be a good thing.

    I hear you with regard to thinking about some thought-provoking questions to respond to at the end of the post, but we have to allow the reader to say whatever they want and not just be driven by what we want answered, but pointers and ideas for thought have to be a good idea as some want to comment but are unsure of the type of responses to leave.

    I think a mix of the two is probably the solution.

    Its a good debate. I’m tempted to write i wonder what others think, but we’ll pretend I didn’t say that :)

  • / Scott Gould

    Chris I think you might misunderstand me?

    I love blog comments – it’s the best bit. What I’m saying is I hate people tagging on “what do you think?” as a way to magically make it social – and THEN they don’t even respond in the comments.

    I completely disagree that “what do you think?” is the best question. I think it’s the worst question. It has had no thought put into it. If I value my audience’s opinion, I will ask far more detailed questions of them.

    Go to Robin Dickinson’s blog and see how he asks very specific questions and gets very specific, valued filled answers in return. He is facilitating a deep discussion.

    The worst thing about Like MInds for me was when panels got into “what do you think” territory, rather than sticking to the prepared, deep questions. We go from depth into winging it.

    A reader will also say whatever they want. The questions are a tool for THEM to help the know what to say.

    If someone just writes “Great post” I feel like I have failed in actually drawing their valuable insights out of them.

  • Chris Hall

    I think our opinions may converge more now with this discussion [which i suppose is the very point]. We agree that comments and engagement are a great thing and we agree that almost mono-syllabic responses are pointless.

    By the way I didn’t mean that “What do you think?” is THE best question, but it is a better place to start than just ending it and not encouraging a flowing and open debate.

    I agree with you about Robin’s blog (and excellent tweets). His approach is very distinctive and intelligent. Someone we both love to engage with.

    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.

    If it’s a high-level issue requiring deep thought and response then I agree 100% with what you’re saying. If it’s a subject matter is general and aimed at the masses then a more open-ended approach may be appropriate.

    From my point of view I find that both approaches work well.

  • http://www.joshchandlerblog.com/ Josh Chandler

    Scott,

    I’m guilty of this one at times. 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.

    Perhaps you could do a blog post, or even a short paragraph or two in this comments telling us how we should do this.

    Thanks,
    Josh

  • randydunning

    Hi Chris & Scott,

    Chris, when you rightly say “I think that for many people comments on blogs are actually quite intimidating,” this is all the more reason to ask focused questions. I would say the majority of people who approach blog reading are coming from a broadcast mindset – they’re there thinking they should just consume. After all, if they think that the comment section is the domain of “experts” or those who are really engaged, then they won’t even think to comment. But if asked a more pointed or direct question, they may be encouraged to dip their toes in the water.

    Scott, your perspective on this reminds me very much of the days when I directed a college campus ministry and would spend my Sundays in various churches speaking. The custom then was that, after the sermon and service was over, I’d head to the back to shake hands as people walked out. Most would either avoid eye contact with me or politely say, “nice sermon,” or “I really enjoyed your sermon.” While this was cordial, it was almost as if they were saying “You know, that really didn’t do much for me.” I much more valued the people who approached me with questions or explained how something I had said connected with them.

    I know that a typical sermon, by nature, is broadcast-oriented. But, at the end of the sermon, if I had asked two or three specific questions and told people that I would hang out in the back indefinitely after the service and was excited to engage in discussion with them, I wonder if I wouldn’t have received a much different response.

  • / Scott Gould

    Josh – to be honest it is the product of a half job.

    Blog posts are celebrate, comments less so – so hey presto, we focus on the blog posts.

    The best post to read on this is by Robin Dickinson (@robin_dicksinon):

    http://www.radsmarts.com/2010/03/5-ways-to-incr...

    His 5 points for increasing comment value are:
    1. Posting topics that are easy for readers to discuss
    2. Posting topics that you like to discuss
    3. Under-cooking the topics
    4. Ask interesting questions
    5. Facilitate rather than opinionate

  • sytaylor

    That opening shot of you isn’t nice buddy… ;) I’m playin…

    I like your point, which is “Actually give a shit about the questions you ask” (Guess who has been watching Vaynerchuck videos). I feel told off ;)

    I mean, why ask a question if you don’t want to know the answer? This frame really helps me, because the vast majority of my ideas are half baked nuggets. Tasty, but they need that special sauce called conversation. I’m only useful when I have other people to engage with. For a long time I thought this was a weakness. Now I’m not so sure.

    I’m going to try this “underbaking” thing you mention. Terribly guilty of trying to be complete, and comprehensive. That’s not the point though.

    Good reframe, thank you.

  • sytaylor

    Had a thought too, wouldn’t it be good if Disqus sent you a note saying “10 new replies to XYZ post”, instead of just notifying you when you get a reply… or is that in my settings? *Goes to look*… Ahh yeah, there it is, subscribe to threads that I comment on.

    I’m tentative to click, but I’ll try it out for a week and see if it means more engagement.

  • / Scott Gould

    Agreed Chris – many people are intimidated and not sure what to say. What better than a specific question that they can answer to help them know what to say?

    Also, yes, different tactics work and clearly for many pro bloggers, “what do you think” works. Chris Brogan for instance – this is him.

    But take me – I’m about depth. I’m an Active Authority – like most people reading this blog. So i need to create deep value. I can’t play the volume game – it doesn’t work for me.

  • / Scott Gould

    Hey Randy,

    Thanks for the valuable insights here.

    You’re right – it’s nice to have the cordial greetings, but we need depth here. It’s value / volume, and it takes time to build value and help people get deep down.

    I think part of this is breaking the Broadcast mode. Sermons can be Social. Social Media can be social. Just needs a mindset change, and then sticking to it. Results won’t come overnight. Check my Social / Broadcast Matrix for more depth here.

  • / Scott Gould

    Hey Sy

    Yeah, I look butt ugly in the video. Good thing my ego doesn’t get in the way here!

    Like your interpretation. I’m not a fan of Gary actually – but this is a very good point form him.

    You do make a good point between half-baking and under-baking. I hate half-backed sloppy seconds – regurgitated ideas that are a mash of things that people already know – the typical “5 ways to use Foursquare” Mashable-type rubbish. Of course the 5 points are then shallow, weak, and smegging obvious.

    Underbaked doesn’t mean there isn’t depth – it means you cook it together – literally, through the comments. Any regular reader sees how my ideas grow from the comments. Happens all the time (and I should make that clearer I think)

    Let me know how the reframe goes!

  • / Scott Gould

    Yes it’s in there. I should ask my participators to do that actually. Creates more engagement for sure. Sometimes the best stuff I read all week (and I read a lot) is in a comment that Disqus emails to me.

  • Chris Hall

    Now on all of the above, I’m in complete agreement.

    Different tactics for different bloggers or blog posts. Its got me thinking too! Which will mean I’ll take from all of this and think through the right approach .

  • http://randelldesign.com/ Randy Dunning

    Scott,

    I reference the Social/Broadcast Matrix regularly and have employed it in several situations to explain the the two different mindsets. Thanks again for developing it.

    As I’ve mentioned before, we’re talking about changing culture here, and that is a slow but necessary process. People don’t get it initially (myself included) but once it starts to catch, the momentum can build quickly (e.g. the Twitter growth curve).

    But I believe that positive culture change (be it personal culture, organizational culture, or society at large) is a worthwhile endeavor, difficult as it may be.

  • / Scott Gould

    I do a few basic things. I sum up the blog post under “The Main Point” for those on the run, and then try to ask specific questions under “Your Leading Thoughts”

  • / Scott Gould

    Randy! Glad to hear the matrix is helpful and is being used to provide understanding. Blesses me to hear this really does.

    We are in the culture changing business here and it does take time. As someone who is going for a value-based strategy, I have that to give. I’m hear to build depth over time.

  • http://randelldesign.com/ Randy Dunning

    Sy,

    Thanks for wondering aloud. Just figured out I didn’t have this clicked in my settings either.

  • http://www.sytaylor.net sytaylor

    …and that right there, that’s spreadability… I only saw this comment because I clicked “send notifications for all replies” or whatever it’s called; an hour or so ago.

  • / Scott Gould

    As the conversation winds down here for now, just wanted to thank you all for contributing. Seriously love talking with you and love you guys.

  • http://radsmarts.com Robin Dickinson

    Thank you, Scott for initiating this important discussion. I’m learning heaps by reading the contribution and interaction between Sy, Randy, Josh, Chris and your good self.

    ‘Questioning’ is a skill that I am continually sharpening. My database has collected literally 100s of questions that I’ve noticed over the years – from watching and listening to curious people. My library has many books about questioning. It’s something I am very interested in and passionate about – and continue to sharpen on a daily basis.

    Why?

    Questions help unlock the brilliance of humans. A thoughtful, well-phrased and well-timed question can provide a safe bridge over which people can walk to bring their opinions; their gifts; their very important contributions.

    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.

    And here in lies the real issue – real engagement takes time and thought.

    It takes humility and patience. If you ask a question that encourages a great response, the door is now open to a richer conversation. This works if you have a strategy that is more value-based than volume-based.

    It’s very difficult to have a rich, valuable ongoing conversation with 1000s of people. So decisions need to be made about how much engagement you really have the time and resources to facilitate.

    Many *think* they want to engage, but maybe haven’t really thought-through the implications of how they will handle it if it works on-mass.

    It’s a big topic.

    Let’s discuss it more.

    Well done.

    Robin :)

  • / Scott Gould

    Hey Robin.

    Thank *you* for starting this conversation with me that time on Skype months and months ago, and then going and making it happen. And thank you for brining your years of facilitation, mediation and business expertise to your blog and these comments.

    “Questions help unlock the brilliance of humans.” – awesome

    There’s this whole idea of a blog being your “home” – so then do you invite people back to not “entertain” them and engage them in the comments?

    Like you say, those questions are a bridge. I need them to help me move on. I can honestly say that comments of this blog (and yours, and others like them) have taken my thinking to where it is – easily.

    Then you say as well that it takes humility and patience. So true. Blog posts are what people tend to get famous for – and seeing as most people are grasping for the fame, they push the blog posts and then leave the comments as an afterthought.

    I’d far rather people were like Seth Godin and upfront just said “I don’t want your comments because I can’t answer them”.

    AND I wish bloggers would challenge the nonsense “great post” comments too. Whenever anyone says that to me, I challenge them by insisting that they DO have valuable insights to bring.

    Looking forward to discussion more

    Scott

  • http://radsmarts.com Robin Dickinson

    That happens to all of us at times, Josh. really appreciate your openness and transparency on this.

    Robin :)

  • http://radsmarts.com Robin Dickinson

    It’s a really interesting point you make, Chris. Certainly, there are situations where the question “What do you think?” can be used in an engaging and powerful way.

    Really like your approach, mate.

    Robin :)

  • Benjamin

    Interesting points. I think often i sit a bit on the edge as someone who reads many posts, and is considering in what way to engage with what is written. There is an extenet to which where sometimes the blog is quite a lot to absorb, by which point if i need time to think about it, i will go off think, and then forget to comment.

    Form this i guess my thought would be that blogs that are too long or too deep will not engage because they are too much to digest. Specific questions help, i think that an underbaked idea may be what is needed to engage with, otherwise you dont even feel you can add anyhting, whether you agree with it or not.

  • / Scott Gould

    Hey Ben

    Thanks for the comment.

    True – many times you want to read and digest. In which case, just pleonastically asking me “what do you think?” is just a tag on to appear social.

    Seth Godin is great here – he doesn’t want comments so turns them off bc he knows he won’t reply.

  • http://randelldesign.com/ Randy Dunning

    Scott, Robin, et al.

    I must say that this discussion is *very* helpful as I consider starting a focused blog. I’ve not done it yet because I want to have a solid philosophical foundation for why I start it and clear topical focus for it.

    This discussion is actually quite freeing as I realize all the more that I don’t need to have everything figured out but can make it a corporate learning center – mostly for my learning!

    I’m excited about how I’m thinking differently after reading, commenting and reading some more.

    Thanks for asking the questions and discussing.

  • Danny

    As I venture into the realm of social media, you provided some excellent ideas. I’signed up for “do, talk, do: yet I’ve been remiss in getting involved. My lack of engagement is based in fear and lack of motivation. Thank you!
    PS—Looks like Halladay was a good pick up for the Phillies! :)

  • / Scott Gould

    No probs Danny – just keep checking up!

  • / Scott Gould

    Glad is helpful Randy. About to publish a follow up post.

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