What is the true value of a comment on a blog?
If you go back in time (a little over a decade ago), the mainstreaming of blogging as a publishing platform brought with it a couple of unique features. Initially, these instant publishing platforms were seen as simple online journals for those who wanted to keep them. Eventually, additional features like the ability for a reader to comment on a post and the introduction of RSS (a syndication feature that would notify readers by email or web-based readers when the blogger updated or published to the blog) helped to propel the platform to the mainstream.
To this date, there is a constant slew of criticism and discourse on the importance of comments. Simply put, there is a strong legion of new media pundits who believe that a blog isn't a blog without comments and the back and forth between the key blogger and the readers. There are some famed bloggers (like Seth Godin) who don't even allow comments on their blog posts, there are people like yours truly who allow people to comment freely but rarely add to the discourse, and then there are those (like Gini Dietrich, Chris Brogan and Mark W. Schaefer) who spend a lot of time playing in the comments.
There are no wrong choices, so long as they are tied to a strategy.
Blogs are a publishing platform that allow anybody to have an idea and to publish said idea in text, instantly and (mostly) free to the world. Individuals and businesses need to best define how this type of media drives the overall strategy and adds true economic value to the brand. People like Godin, are simply looking for a way to share what they are thinking with their readers. Personally, blogging is a publishing medium that enables me to publish a thought, idea or perspective with the world, in the hopes that others will take it and add to it. For people like Dietrich, Brogan and Schaefer, they are trying to build an engaged community in the spirit of peer-based communication on their own platforms. Each individual is, hopefully, acutely in touch with what the end game is and laser-focused on ensuring that their blogging matches the strategy.
The conversation is everywhere.
The truth is that you no longer need Seth Godin, Chris Brogan or my blog as a destination to comment. As social media continues to expand, individuals interested in leaving a comment for a Seth Godin blog post can do so on their own Facebook page, on Twitter, on YouTube or even on their own blog. That's what makes the non-hierarchical and disintermediated publishing platform that social media affords us so fantastical. If something's upsetting to you, if something has inspired or if you feel that you just want to acknowledge something that a blogger published, you don't need their platform or their validation to add to the discourse. The idea of a centralized receptacle for everything surrounding one, particular, piece of content seems both silly and counterintuitive in these hyper-connected platforms.
Sharing and sharing alike.
A personal story: often when people leave a comment on my blog, I do not respond. It's not a policy. It's not the law. It's probably a character flaw. Ultimately, I feel like I have said everything that I need to say on the topic, and I'm hopeful that the comments from readers are additions to that piece. Some agree, some add perspective and some disagree with my content. There are many instances when other readers respond to comments left by other readers. There are instances when I jump in. All comments are being read, digested and considered, but the need to leave the digital equivalent of a high five doesn't fit with my personality. It's not an indication that I'm not appreciative of the discourse (quite the opposite, I'm extremely thankful that individuals read the content and feel compelled to comment).
I've had people leave a comment, then post to Twitter that they have left a comment, then posted a link to the blog post with an additional comment on LinkedIn, Google + and more. There are many social media "experts" who feel that every comment must be acknowledged on a blog post. Does this mean that bloggers must also acknowledge those additional comments, shares and more on every other channel as well? The power of social media and blogs comes from the ability to easily share something that matters. The additional content that gets bolted on by others (including comments) help turn this content into a more three-dimensional piece of text-based content. In the past, the amount of comments to a blog post used to be a major metric for success. In a world of abundance, perhaps the more important metrics should be:
- Did the content resonate?
- Do people talk about it beyond the blog (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, on other blogs, podcasts, etc...)?
- Do the readers keep coming back for more?
- Do the readers have the means to add their own perspective wherever they would like?
- Did the content amplify beyond these readers into their networks?
- Do the people who curate the type of content that the blogger writes about take notice and share it?
- Can the content be repurposed for the brand, the industry or the greater community at large?
- Does the blog act as a great entry point to learn more about the brand?
- Does the blog humanize the brand?
- Does the blog communicate in a more humane way?
Let's get over the comments.
Comments are great. They add perspective and personality. But, they may no longer be a key metric for success. At a more macro level, social media affords brands the opportunity to create unique and new metrics that aren't universal. An ad is about an impression, the amount of people who saw that impression, the amount of attention it created and, ultimately, did people buy and talk about the brand. Blogs can do myriad other things, and those metrics should not be dismissed or admonished simply because certain individuals feel that a blog (and the comments that go along with it) all need to act and play a certain way as a metric for success.
What's your take? Is a blog merely the sum of its comments and commenters or is time to redefine the value of comments on a blog?
Mitch Joel is president of Twist Image - one of North America's largest independent digital marketing agencies. His first book, Six Pixels of Separation, named after his highly successful blog and podcast of the same name is a business and marketing bestseller. His latest book, CTRL ALT Delete, is out now.