As a blogger, I love getting comments. This is one major way in which blogging is different from all other forms of writing. You get near-instant feedback. This is tremendously gratifying, but it can also be a challenge to keep up with them.
Over the last six months, I have seen my average number of comments per post double. This has been due, I think, to four reasons:
- Making the comment counts more visible. You’ll notice next to my post title three “talk bubbles”: one for Facebook shares, one for Twitter posts, and one for blog comments. (Note: this is not a WordPress plugin. It is custom code I had written.) This lets people know that a conversation is happening and subtly invites then to join in.
- Providing an incentive to comment. Each month, I post my top blog posts and commenters for the previous month. I also give my top 10 commenters a free book. This has its downside in that some commenters are just motivated by volume. But, on average, I think it is been helpful in “jump-starting” the conversation. I plan to continue.
- Installing the Disqus commenting system. Not only can my readers login using just about any method they chose, they can even post anonymously. I also don’t require authentication or approval before the comments are posted. (In my opinion, this just penalizes 99% of my commenters who play by the rules.) Most importantly, I can respond to comments via email, which makes it very easy to keep the conversation going.
- Engaging in the conversation myself. I think this is huge. The comments provide a forum for people to ask follow-up questions, provide additional links, or even disagree with me. But for this to work like it should, I have to engage with my readers. I have also styled (via CSS) my own comments, so they stand out from the rest.
The problem is that this system doesn’t scale if I think I need to respond to every comment. If your blog audience grows, it won’t scale for you either. Think about it: if you get fifty-plus comments per post, can you really reply to all of them. I doubt it—at least not consistently.
The good news is that you don’t have to. I don’t, and I don’t feel the least bit guilty about it. Here’s why:
- A blog conversation is like a dinner party. You have invited everyone to your home for some food and conversation. Your content is like the appetizers. You offer it up to get things rolling.
- The main course is the conversation itself. Sure, the food is important, but the difference between a good dinner party and a great one is not the food. It’s the interactions with the other people at the table.
- As the host, you don’t have to respond to every comment. In fact, at a real dinner party, it would seem downright weird. It would draw too much attention to you. Instead, the party has to be about them—your guests.
- You should be present and add value as appropriate. I comment occasionally just to let know people I haven’t invited them over and then disappeared. I also comment when I think I can add value by answering a question, clarifying something I said, or pointing my guests to additional resources.
The bottom line is that you don’t need to respond to every comment. Though this isn’t scientific, I tend to respond to about 20 percent of them. You may want to do more or less. For me—for right now—this seems about right.