The Other Side Of Comments And Community

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What can someone new to the Social Media world do to find and attract readers while building their own community?

This was one question that was asked of Gini Dietrich during a recent Podcast. She answered today on her Spin Sucks Blog with a post titled, Building Your Online Community. Her answer was: "I always say social media, and building a community in general, is all about stroking other people’s egos and scratching their backs. If you do that, they’re much more willing to ask what they can do for you. And, in this case, visiting your blog and commenting is what they can do for you." Gini goes into detail about certain Bloggers who email a personal note of thanks to people who leave a comment on their Blog to others who send handwritten notes to those who leave comments.

I feel like a moron.

Part of me thinks that even a personalized email of thanks seems excessive… it’s just a comment on a Blog post (it’s like using a rocket launcher to get rid of a mosquito or sending a thank you note if someone calls you), but I understand the spirit of the act. It creates a much more human connection and probably lays the foundation for more real connections/relationships. What’s even more amazing is what comes out in the comment section of Gini’s Blog post. There’s a lot of passion, discussion and thought around how to make people like you.

It’s nice, but you need to ask yourself a bigger question first…

What are you trying to accomplish with your Blog and other Social Media efforts? It seems like everyone with an opinion assumes that the goal is to grow an audience that has a lot of engagement, maybe some conversation and a semblance of community. What if your goals are different? What if you Blog to establish yourself as a recognized authority? What if you Blog so that when potential clients come by, they can learn more about how you think? What if you Blog because the platform just makes it so easy to publish? Beyond that, what if you’re not a social creature by nature, but just want to share how you think?

I struggle with Blog comments because I don’t Blog for the back and forth. I Blog to make the content I think about as shareable and findable as possible.

I’ve Blogged about comments and their value over the years. I’ve changed my stance on Blog comments over the years, but none of that truly changes the reasons why I Blog: which is to publish my thoughts. It’s an important distinction. Not everyone is looking to Blog to engage with people at such a micro-level… and we should not judge those people based on that one use/application. It’s also important to note that many more people read this Blog, share it, etc… than those who comment on it. I can tell from our analytics that the most value for the majority of people here comes from reading it and not from the back and forth in the comments.

How does the person who is creating the content feel?

That is the true other side of comments and community. What does the person who owns the Blog and content want to have happen? Perhaps we need to take one step back and ask ourselves that very important question: how does the person creating the content feel and how important are the comments and communal aspects of the Blog to their growth? It seems to me that people admonish Seth Godin for not having comments because they feel there is no platform for conversation. The assumption is that Seth Godin created a Blog for conversation. Maybe he didn’t. Maybe he created it as a way for people who like his books to get pithy bits from his brain every now and again in between the publishing of his books, speaking engagements and new product launches. Beyond that, comments and communities no longer live in silos. Share your thoughts wherever you play. You don’t need a comment section on a Blog to create feedback or community. Anyone can now use platforms like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and even a Blog of their own to comment and feedback and extend the community or conversation. If the only way to build community is by making others feel important and valued, and this is not the strategy for your content play, it’s important to know this up front and set-up those expectations, so people can choose whether or not your content publishing adds value to their lives and meets their expectations.

Or am I missing something here?


  1. I don’t think you’re missing anything here. Different people have different reasons for doing what they do (examples here include you, Godin and Dietrich). Beyond quality content, “successful blogging” need not conform to any one vision.

  2. You nailed something here. We’ve been told for so many years that the main goal of blogs is interaction and conversations (ie, comments) we’ve been blinded to the possibility that blogs can have other purposes. I’ve never focused on comments- in fact, I can’t even accept them now (blog being redesigned). My interaction happens on Twitter, and to a lesser degree Facebook. My blog goal is to share (social media) thought leadership pieces with my clients and high-level marketing and other communications types. If I get comments, great-if I don’t, no problem. I also don’t need large audiences or thousands of readers–just the right readers. They can see immediately with my writing whether I’m the right fit for them or not. I’ve leveraged this into work for major clients like Cisco, Intel, HP and Sprint (none of which have ever left a comment).

  3. This kind of commenting was covered extensively in Gary Vaynerchuk’s Crush It — Gary goes to great lengths to stress the importance of thanking people who take the time to comment and reciprocating on their blogs / platforms. The obvious benefit of this kind of reciprocation is the establishment of links.

  4. Well, I’m a little hesitant to leave a comment now — kidding πŸ™‚
    This is an interesting post, Mitch, and I think you make some great points about the different purposes that blogs can have. And certainly if you just want to share what you think, you’re under no obligation to respond to or engage with commenters.
    But I don’t think most bloggers — including Gini Dietrich — post simply to gain fans or get people to like them more. I believe that engaging with people and building relationships gives someone a better shot at establishing themselves as a thought leader and an influencer. Plus, engaging with commenters/an online community can help shape more successful business ventures.
    I’ve learned a lot from your blog, and I’ve shared it several times, so I completely agree that for many bloggers, a lot of value comes from the posts themselves and not necessarily from the comment section.
    But I believe that bloggers can strike a balance that works for them. And if people are blogging because they want potential clients to drop by and see how they think, a blogger who doesn’t respond to any comments could easily risk looking like a jerk to at least some of those potential clients.
    Just my 2 cents, imho. @kansashealthorg @kamkansas

  5. I blog to publish my “profound” thoughts. Comments would be nice but aren’t essential. I measure traffic. It’s fascinating to see that some posts from 3-4 years ago are still being read.
    I comment when I think I’ve got something of value to contribute (or because it’s now lunch time and I need a break!)

  6. I don’t think you’re missing anything at all, Mitch! The point was to a larger question about building a community of engaged people; not that all bloggers have to have comments. In fact, I don’t think that was discussed at all.
    I remember one time you said that an engaged community does not mean comments, but that people are commenting to one another. That happens all the time on Spin Sucks and people ask me how I do it.
    If your goal is to build an engaged community (ours is because we’re launching Spin Sucks Pro in one month, which is a membership site, and people don’t pay for content unless they’re engaged with and trust the author(s)), then a great way to do that is to comment on other blogs, meet and converse with people on the social networks, AND provide great content that gets people talking.
    I think we’re in agreement that if your goal is one of the other things you describe, then building community isn’t necessary.

  7. Last year, someone I know stopped blogging because he was getting very little comments. I would show him the stats saying that people were definitely reading (or at least visiting the blog) every time he posted something new. For me, this was a great opportunity to reach his targeted audience in a different manner. However for him, blogging = interraction and he completely lost interest. It was a great lesson learned and now every time someone tells me they want to start a blog, one of my first questions is: what are your expectations?

  8. You’re right, Kathy! I don’t blog to get people to like me (though it sure is fun!). I sometimes blog to get people fired up (remember my jeans when speaking post anyone?). Our goal IS to create an engaged community for a very specific business reason and that’s what I was answering in the blog post yesterday…the question “how have you managed to created an engaged community?”
    P.S. I feel like I’m following you all over the web today.

  9. Mitch, You make an interesting point – “Not everyone is looking to Blog to engage with people at such a micro-level… and we should not judge those people based on that one use/application.” I am fairly new to the blogging world and personally look forward to reading the comments to get different perspectives on the subject. Even if someone is not writing to engage, I appreciate it when readers are able to give their opinion. That is as much a service as the blog post.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. It gave me more food for thought.

  10. Very interesting post!
    First, I think everyone has their own reasons for blogging and so you might not be blogging to start a conversation, but frankly, I’m turned off by bloggers who don’t blog to have a conversation. If the conversation is happening elsewhere, fine, but to not want to have a conversation at all makes me feel like the blogger is condescending me. It’s a “I’ll talk, you listen” approach, and my personal taste isn’t to follow someone with that approach. I hope that bloggers are at least reading the comments and care, even if they can’t or don’t respond to every single one.
    Regarding building community through commenting on other blogs…I’m opposed to that. I mean, I get it. I know it works. But I really, really believe in only commenting when you have something to say. I can tell the people who are commenting on my blog just to say SOMETHING, and it comes across as fake. I’m less likely to go to their blog. But the people who read often and leave thought-provoking comments? That has led me to go back to their blog because I can see that they have a lot to say. I’ve built my best blogging relationships that way.
    Oh and I would never e-mail everyone who comments or even respond to every single comment. Not only is it sort of spammy, but it comes across as just as fake as the comments I just described. I think of a blog post as giving a speech to a large group of people and comments as Q & A. If someone were to come up to me afterward and say, “Great presentation!” I would probably just say, “Thanks!” I wouldn’t send a handwritten note. On the other hand, if someone came up to me and told me their story that related to my presentation and started a conversation, I’d definitely respond. And I’d respond right there, in public. The thank you is just implied when you give a genuine response.

  11. Interesting question being posed…
    I actually started my blog 5 years ago to “share my knowledge in the biggest way” and got the social media guru smack down about being too removed. Because I do enjoy connecting with people I upped my game and created more of a engagement with my readers.
    Interestingly, my comments went WAY up when I encouraged them to post. I do make a point to respond and keep the conversation going.
    I guess there is no wrong way if your goals and objectives are being met. It all goes back to my thought that there is no cookie-cutter approach. We have to do what works for our own unique goals.
    Thanks for the engaging thoughts!

  12. It’s just nice to say it once in a while. I’m starting to get the feeling that people judge the success of a Blog based on the comments (how many and how much back and forth) vs. the value the content provides… and how amazing it is that we can get this great stuff (for free!).

  13. Seems like this comes down to a distinction I’ve called out a lot lately: Is community a goal unto itself, or is it a strategy?
    To listen to some of the “kumbaya” tribe (credit to Sonia Simone), you’d think community, engagement, etc. are the goal. And for some, those things are perfectly good goals.
    But if you’re a business, “community” and “engagement” aren’t goals. They’re strategies…ways to achieve goals. And as altruistic and noble as they sound, they should be scrapped if they’re not the most effective strategy.
    Do communities, engagement, blog comments, etc. work well as a marketing strategy? You bet! In certain cases, and when done well. But it’s easy to apply them as to the wrong challenge or slouch on the execution.

  14. Very interesting discussion here. I am just starting out, and have to blog for my company and am going to start a personal blog that will be totally unrelated to my company blog.
    That being said, I comment on different blogs not just to share my thoughts but also to see if I can form relationships. I have made a few friends online from commenting on blogs, and even met one of those people in person yesterday.
    Both blogs would be to have conversations. To me, having no comments on the blog would mean no one read it. That is my view, and I know everyone sees that differently. If I want to talk to myself, I can always call my ex-husband!

  15. …or kids… that’s another direction to go with. Maybe bosses too… they don’t listen.
    This is less about whether you should have comments or not. For instance, you can have comments and that doesn’t mean there will be much interaction. I’m not talking about “open” vs. “closed” – this is much more about creating a Blogging strategy that is in line with your goals and not about a blanket assumption that every comment must be christened.

  16. Must be exhausting though – considering the volume of comments he must receive!

  17. Well, I hope I haven’t missed out on the fun when two of my favorite blog people are connecting on an issue.
    This is a topic very present for me because I just received the 10,000th comment on my blog. So I have my own take on this coming out Monday.
    But I do have to push you a bit Mitch on this notion that you “blog to make the content I think about as shareable and findable as possible.”
    There’s much more to it than that. There is a business purpose, whether it is to enhance the reputation of your agency, put you in a position for speaking engagements, or compile enough content to lead to a book, there is something more than benevolence that leads to writing a daily blog.
    Likewise, there are very good business reasons to nurture an active blog community. While it is true that many people may be reading and sharing your content without commenting, the fact is, you are not going to create business benefits unless they actually declare themselves and show up.
    Having phantom readers may feed the ego, but it won’t feed the coffers. So I contend there are many solid business readers to nurture the strong connections (versus Twitter-weak) in a blog community. I have many examples where these connections not only led to benefits for me, but among the people who meet on my blog as well.
    My thinking on the nature and possibilities of a blog community have changed radically. But you’ll have to wait until Monday to read about that! : )
    Great discussion. Thanks for hosting it Mitch!

  18. …which is why each Blog is different and should have a strategy that aligns with that individual’s needs. My experience has been dramatically different from yours. I’m not sure that I’ve forged as many relationships through the comments as I have in other places (and I’m also well aware that it could be one of things that holds this Blog back from the popularity that others have).
    And – I’m trying to be super-honest here – I am more about writing an article and watching people react than writing an article but really more interested in the back and forth of comments. I tend to be like this in real life as well: I don’t like to linger πŸ˜‰

  19. I think you couple that with things like AdAge (which looks at engagement, both in comments and social shares), Klout, and all the other “measurements” and it’s hard not to look at a blog without comments and think it’s not successful. We are, after all, a species that understands the bigger the number, the more successful it is. What not everyone understands is the hidden numbers (a good example of this is revenues vs. profits in a business). So yeah, if you want to be PERCEIVED as having a successful blog, comments count.

  20. Different strokes for different folks.
    I far prefer blogs that are lively and interactive (with the author being a key part of that) as opposed to blogs that are just set up to share thoughts and anything else is a bonus.
    Leaving your commenters to their own devices is all well and good, but if I’m looking for a potential partnership with someone, I want to know their thoughts on a valid point someone might raise in the comments. Otherwise it’s just a one-sided biased view (and one that might even misrepresent the author in the grander scheme of things).
    No right or wrong approach; though I’m far more likely to remember a blogger’s great answer than I am his or her stony silence.

  21. I remember it Gini, and IIRC I sorta disagreed with you. Which is part of what makes your community what it is, a place for professional, healthy debate and exchange of ideas .. yet another reason for blogging.

  22. I agree Danny – people can speak to what they prefer, but one person’s preference is another person’s annoyance. For every person that loves the comments, I constantly meet people who compliment the content, but admit to not enjoying the whole “play along in the comments” bit. My point? It’s not about having comments or not. It’s about knowing why you’re creating content and being true to yourself and your personality. As I’ve said before, I’m not great at it… but I can admit it. For me to do it – and have it not be authentic seems like I’m “gaming the system” vs. doing it because it’s “me.”

  23. I agree Danny on 1) different stokes, TEHO and 2) no right or wrong approach, YMMV. And now that I’ve annoyed everyone with my silly acronyms, I go back his point on Seth Godin not having comments.
    I’ve remarked that yes Mr. Godin’s posts offer great value to his readers and yet, per my own strategy and objectives, I define ‘blog’ as comments open. But I think Mitch is right; that Godin doesn’t write or post for comments, he has different goals and objectives, and perhaps conversation isn’t one of them.
    I wonder if you’ve hit on why someone hasn’t launched a “this is Seth’s Blog’s missing comments” site or something; is it b/c as you say people would want not to talk just to each other but also the blogger himself? IDK.. I then circle back to Mitch on different reasons for blogging and commenting, and your preferences for reading different blogs that have more author engagement. Hmm.. thinking.

  24. I agree with you Mitch about different strategies for blogging; my blog goals and objectives are just that: mine. I consider it part of my portfolio, so if a potential client reads it they can see this is how I do it.
    I’m also about building community. I don’t personalize TY emails to everyone but I do reply to comments; I do read and comment on their blogs if I can add some value to the discussion or maybe help them get it started; I do RT posts I think my followers would value and true to add something to it, make it share worthy. My style is probably more Gini, Mark, Danny in that I like the back and forth, I like the networking and have fun mixing it up this way. FWIW.

  25. The value of blogs include both the content and the experience of communicating back and forth. Of course for the writer, there is additional value in expressing oneself.
    With Facebook, Twitter, and You Tube are blogs still needed? No, but they are still in demand. Especially from certain individuals.

  26. I’m a newbie blogger, writing for different business so it isn’t “my” blog by any means but i still want it to gain more traffic. I was under the impression comments = success but it is good to know that is not quite the case.
    The majority of people wouldn’t comment anyways but still appreciate the content itself. I know myself rarely make a comment on blogs or Facebook pages (This being one of my firsts), it depends on the audience.
    Providing strong content comes first than worry about building your community, it should be done for you.

  27. Funny that this blog post turns out to have a lot of comments. I’ve just been thinking lately about how to get our corporate blog more comments. Maybe that’s not what I should be thinking about. Maybe people come to the blog just to soak up more information. Maybe they just want information that can help them out. Maybe they just want to know that we are experts. Maybe they just want to come, read, and then go on with their work day.
    But this begs the question: What is the most important metric when measuring a blog’s success? Reads? Traffic? Time on page? How many retweets? What?

  28. Since you mentioned sharing, could you please make your twitter account visible somewhere? This would help your readers whenever they want to mention you. Since I often tweet some information you share, I find myself forgetting your username (always forget how to spell it correctly, my bad). “Tweet this” doesn’t do the trick for me either (very hidden btw), and I’m sure I’m not the only one. Just a tip πŸ™‚

  29. For a blog post about not blogging for comments, this has gotten a heck of a lot of COMMENTS! I am a writer using my blog for publishing my writing. I am not doing it for comments, but feel that it might be construed as “rude” or “egotistical” to take the comments feature off. Thanks for sharing your thoughts about this.

  30. Hi Matt,
    I wouldn’t give up on getting comments. I’m not sure that there is any “this or that” clear cut anything in Social Media. However, as Mitch points out, you need to determine what your objective is and more than that, what your objective will be months and maybe years from now. That is the tricky part πŸ™‚

  31. Hi Mitch,
    I guess my take on comments is that I still view them as gifts. Gifts of time. Gifts of brain power. Maybe that will wear off when I am less new to this game – just getting near my 1-year anniversary. However, with all of the buzz you hear about how much “noise” is out there, I truly appreciate the people who not only come to my site out of all of those millions, then read what I have to say, and then, as if the world couldn’t get grander, actually leave their thoughts there. That’s a lot for people to do these days, so I believe it’s good to show your appreciation.
    Just my take πŸ™‚

  32. I would agree regarding comments, but what are your thoughts then on the value of the ‘Tweet” or RT. Obviously backlinks or trackbacks are great, but does the consistent Tweet beat those old backlinks out?

  33. Oh, for sure Mitch – some folks prefer the solitude while others prefer the Mardi Gras. And that’s what makes blogging such a rich medium, because there will always be readers for any blog.
    Even one by Ke$ha… πŸ˜‰

  34. And some comments (like yours) don’t require anything additional from the Blogger. You took the topic and the Blogger’s perspective… and you ran with it. That’s another way to do it… and it works just fine (and it’s doesn’t need for me to say ‘thank you’)… even though I just did πŸ˜‰

  35. It’s funny how the conversation shifted from the Blogger’s perspective on comments (instead of what readers expect or the conventional Social Media wisdom) to a conversation about whether or not there should be comments at all. Amazing how things just shifted…

  36. It’s bandwidth too. As much fun as it is to connect in the comments, it’s a balance between doing that… and everything else. Yes, I believe we all make time for things that are important to us, but some things become more important as the day drones on.

  37. I view comments as gifts too… along with new perspectives… I’m just often left with a blank feeling of not knowing what to say. In many instances, the guts of my thought is in the post and the cool comments that follow either add or compliment to the thought. Again, I’m not sure what to add and feel that a simple “thank you” ruins the flow of the great comments.

  38. It’s right there on the “About” page. It’s at the bottom of every post (“tweet this”)… and if you do a search for “Mitch Joel Twitter” it’s right there. Not sure how much more I can do and I don’t really tweet all that much (2-3 times a day).

  39. …ummm… it’s not about not having comments. It’s about thinking about comments from the Blogger’s perspective instead of looking at it from the way most people do (the reader’s side of things).

  40. Mitch,
    One size fits all blogging strategies work as well as one-size fits all apparel. A small percentage of people will find that it fits just right while the others are sorely disappointed in the results. I blog to share my knowledge, attract clients, and sell books. The posts that have the most comments invariably have the lowest conversion rates. What I do and the way I do it works for my business, but by conventional blogging wisdom, my blog is unsuccessful.
    Before I started blogging several years ago, I researched it extensively. The “rules” included leaving comments on high ranked blogs so you would get reciprocal comments and linkbacks to increase your exposure and help build your community. I followed the rules and nothing happened. At first, I thought that I was doing it wrong, but then I discovered that most blogs have nofollow enabled on comments to reduce the benefits for spammers. So much for the linkbacks!
    It’s a good thing that my blogging objective wasn’t to generate comments because they didn’t appear. I regularly shared other people’s posts with my Twitter followers, left comments, and have even written guest posts, but the reciprocity rarely happened. Quite often, people don’t even acknowledge the effort! It doesn’t matter much to people like you and me who blog for other reasons. But what about the people who want an engaged community, follow the rules, and fail? They may never know that the conventional wisdom is flawed.
    And, what about the corporate bloggers who get the comments and lose their job because they didn’t generate revenue?
    It’s time to stop identifying comments and community as the only measurement for a successful blog and accept that winning strategies come in a variety of shapes and sizes.

  41. Everyone has got his own goals with his blog. Someone looks for engagement, someone, like you, looks for just publishing their thoughts.
    What I think, regarding the first part of your post, is that even though you – and me – think a Thank you note might be excessive, it falls in the category of things a single person can’t really have much of a clue about. What I mean is, through all these years I ditched ideas that seemed ridiculous to me at the moment, but showed later to be completely huge hits for everyone else. This brings me to the old motto of “don’t build for yourself or for your peers”, which in terms of entrepreneurship is a golden rule. Even the simple fact we are entrepreneurs puts us in a weird, particular condition and outside of the group of people who might end up loving what we think not worth, and hate what we think awesome.

  42. I agree! I think both bloggers and commenters should be able to judge when responses (from either sides) are necessary and when they aren’t. (That said, while I didn’t need a response in this case, I’m still totally thrilled I got one!)

  43. For that reason, I wish all commenting systems had a “like” or up vote mechanism. There are so many comments where I want to do that as a blogger, and oftentimes as a reader. It’s simple, shows appreciation, and doesn’t break the flow.

  44. Hi Mitch,
    How ironic that I published a post today about using the comment before you blog approach as a strategy for the small business owners I work with, having not a clue about your post. John Falchetto suggested I head over and I’m so glad I did. You’ve certainly given me a new perspective.
    In my video post, I recommend folks go to other blogs and begin commenting before they actually publish their own blog posts. This is just one particular strategy. That’s your point, right? One person’s strategy of commenting to create community or engage community is not necessarily the best strategy for someone else who is not interested in that, but rather wants to publish their content purely to put it out there and relies on the fact that it is shared or discussed elsewhere.
    For the folks that I work with (1-5 person shops), that’s a scary approach. They need a little social capital before they start -as did I. Commenting and engaging is one way to do that. By the time they are ready to publish their own content, they have a group of folks who already know them and might stop by to comment or RT their stuff.
    Again, I’m glad I headed over. And to your point, there isn’t a need to say thank you if you don’t feel it. I am always curious however to know the reactions and the thoughts. If you feel moved to share those, please do! πŸ™‚

  45. It’s about knowing why you’re creating content and being true to yourself and your personality.
    This is one of the finest comments about blogging that I have ever read. It resonates with me because I blog first for me and then for everyone else. Blogging is where I air out the thoughts in my head and figure out what it is that I really think and why.
    I am big on engagement and interaction because I truly enjoy it. I also am quite interested in building a platform that makes it possible to make blogging a full time gig.
    I don’t hide that from anyone. But I happen to love this medium. I love to write. I love the interaction and opportunity to learn from and with others I never would have met.
    In almost seven years of blogging the truest thing I have learned is that you don’t last unless you love it. So we are tasked with finding what works for us and following that wherever it leads.

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