Tuesday, January 17, 2012
Commenting on Blog Posts: The Art and the Science
One of the more dynamic aspects of the blogging world is the comment thread. The emergence of the blog as more than just a platform for personal expression into a potential tool for marketing of ideas, products, and services has brought with it a desperate need for traffic and followers. The “worth” of a blog no longer lies in the value of the content; instead, the value of the content is now measured in terms of hits, bounce rates, and time on site. Content is now created keeping keywords and SEO in mind, and creativity often is forced to play second fiddle to them. To this end, the blog comment has also undergone a revolution of sorts and the art of commenting is slowly losing out to the onslaught of social media marketing and promotion.
In the early 2000’s, one hardly bothered about the market-ability of what one wrote, and the blog posts and the discussions that followed were profound yet informal. Comments would be few, but relevant and insightful, often adding greater value to the post itself. Nowadays, popular blog posts attracts hundreds of comments. These start flowing in and getting approved and published as soon as the post goes live, more as an indicator of the quantity of readers and popularity of the blog than as reflection on the content of the post itself.
While there are two sides to this state of affairs, it is not hard to understand why it is so. Comments have come to be identified as more of a tool for self promotion than one of dialog. One of the leading experts on blogging says, “To grow your blog, commenting on other people’s blog is the way most blogger start off promoting their websites. It’s easy to do because most of the times you don’t need the permission of the website owner to comment on their site.” One can see how this has translated to reality in the quality of comments that one commonly finds on blogs these days.
For many blogger, a comment on another blog has become a tool for getting a comment back or at least a single hit on their own blogs. What most commenters ignore is that the comment thread is a tool for a dialog that is initiated by the blog post. The only reason why one would click through to a link on the comment is if one finds the comment to be relevant and thought provoking enough to check out the content on the commenter’s link. Of course, the reality is different. I regularly click through to links on comments like “nice post” and “great article.” Part of it is out of a compulsion to reciprocate, and part of it is to seek an opportunity to leave a comment on a post out there. I do not pride myself for this behavior, yet cannot ignore the effort taken by someone to leave a comment on my post.
Given the ongoing dissonance between my beliefs on this subject and my behavior, and the frequent annoyance that arises from it, I decided to jot down my guidelines for commenting for myself. These are not necessarily guidelines for commenting on this blog, though I would love it if you looked at them that way.
The art of commenting
1. Comment only when you have something to say. Instead of just saying “nice post,” let the blogger know why you thought it was nice. While “nice post” is something to say, if you are saying that for all posts on all blogs, it really boils down to nothing. If you have nothing to say, please do not say it here.
2. Disagree courteously. Disagreements are often opportunities to explore new ways of thinking and looking at things. It is only natural that you may have a point of view that is contrary to what is put out in a post. Feel free to put your point across but refrain from being unpleasant. This planet and cyberspace both afford each of us enough room to disagree and cohabit. If you feel so strongly about your viewpoint that it is not possible for you to express yourself without being uncivil, refrain from commenting.
3. In the realm of wisdom and spirituality, we keep what we have only by giving it away. It is likely that you have greater knowledge and understanding of the subject of a post than the person who has written it. Please do share your wisdom in the comments so that all can benefit from it.
4. Do not use the comment thread to settle scores or personal disputes. Use your cellphone, bedroom or the courts for that.
5. Provide links to resources. If you are providing data that readers will want to verify, quote your sources. If you have already written at length on what you are saying in your comment, add a link to your post, instead of writing it out all over again. A comment is not a blog post.
6. Use your comments for shameless self promotion. Yes, you read that correctly. Comment in a manner that establishes you as someone whose opinions and comments are worth listening to, and someone whose blog is worth following. Most of the bloggers whose work I share or refer to in my social media presence are bloggers I have discovered by virtue of the quality of their comments on my posts and elsewhere. That means making sure that your comments bring value to the post, to the blogger, and to the readers.
7. Very often comments are left in a hurry, as if the commenter’s time is more valuable than the post being commented on. While that may be true, that is not what a blogger will want a comment on his post to reflect. Proofread your comments for spelling and grammatical errors. Nothing speaks as poorly of your intent as a sloppily written comment.
8. Comment from your heart. If your heart dictates a “nice post” or a smiley only, so be it. A genuine comment, regardless of whether it is disagreement, criticism, or adoration, is more valuable than one which is contrived and artificial.
You are free to reproduce these guidelines on your blog with or without modifications, with or without any credit or backlink to me, and you do not need my permission to do so. If you do let me know that you used it or do offer me credit, I will be overjoyed and will send you a free audiobook of me reading the Concise Oxford. If these guidelines can bring about an improvement in the quality of comments anywhere in the blogosphere, I will consider my mission to have been accomplished.