Is blog commenting really, truly dead?
There was a time, not so long ago, when a lively comments section was vital to running a successful blog. Comments created value for bloggers and their community, providing space for additional viewpoints, reactions and questions. Sometimes the comments sparked a conversation so good that bloggers would append notes or updates to their posts to ensure that everyone would see the additional insight.
But the times, they have a-changed. Today’s comment sections are frequently filled with spam, overrun by trolls, or disabled altogether (see Copyblogger, Popular Science, The Daily Beast, and any small-town newspaper that knows what’s good for it). Vibrant, thought-provoking conversations have been replaced with unenlightened observations and insults, leading many to the logical conclusion that the good old days of blog commenting are over. Yes, blog commenting, like email and RSS feeds and SEO before it, is D-E-A-D.
But is it really? Or has the conversation just shifted? As content creators, is there something we can do to generate more discussion and engagement with our articles and topics? In today’s post, we’ll try to find some answers.
Where did all the comments go?
For years, comment sections were part and parcel of the online experience. They were everywhere, from the New York Times to CNN to Perez Hilton. But as the internet has grown—and as the number of people using it has exploded—our attention has fractured. Whereas once we subscribed to only a handful of blogs, now thousands of them vie for our attention, not to mention our overflowing inboxes and the multitude of other online tasks. Who has time to compose a substantive comment when there are bills to pay, investments to check, and flights to book?
But just because people aren’t taking the time to comment on blog posts in the designated section doesn’t mean the conversation has stopped. As author and content expert Ann Handley put it, “Comments and conversation are not dead. But what is dead is the expectation that either happens in the place you want them to.” Sites that are shutting down their comment sections are simply shifting the conversation to where they see the most interaction—mainly social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Reddit.
What’s a blogger to do?
In a 2014 survey by Impact, nearly three quarters of respondents said they were more likely to discuss online content on social media than in the publisher’s comments section. With numbers like that, it might be time to adopt an “if you can’t beat them, join them” attitude. Take a page out of Copyblogger’s book and move the conversation to social media—even if that means sending readers away from your blog.
Figure out where your articles are being shared, and become more active on those networks. Make a routine of cross-posting everything you write, and look for creative ways to make those posts as enticing and interactive as possible. If you can strike a chord with readers through a tweet or Facebook post, you’re much more likely to get them thinking and commenting. And when readers do take the time to leave comments, make sure you respond to them. After all, if you don’t fuel the fire, it’ll fizzle out.
Why all this might actually be a good thing
It was nice when blog comments were thriving, and you can pine for those days all you want, but the fact is that the shift to social media is actually great for blogs. You can still have the same conversations you used to have in the comments, only instead of getting read by a limited group of dedicated readers, they’ll get read by virtually everyone you know, plus all their friends, acquaintances, colleagues and relatives.
Another positive side effect of the shift to social media is that it cuts down on spammy, nasty comments on your posts. As NPR—which is closing comments on its website as of today—recently noted, “The Facebook discussions that do take place tend to be more civil, most likely because users are required to use their own names.” By removing the mask of anonymity that most blog commenting systems allow, you force commenters to stand behind their words—or face the very real consequences of trolling people on social media.
While it’s way too soon to declare blog commenting officially “dead,” it’s safe to say things are changing. People may not be leaving the same thoughtful, substantive responses they once did in your blog’s comment section, but they’re still talking, and they always will be. Comments and conversations are still alive and well—you just need to find out where the conversation is happening, and focus your energies there.