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How I Made My Online Diet Healthier in August: Do We Need to Just Get Over Comments?
In August, I thought a lot about blog comments.
"How do I get more comments?" is the second most-frequent question I get asked about blogging. (The first is still "How can I get more readers?")
And yet, sadly, I think we can mostly agree that blog-commenting is on the decline. I'm hearing from more and more bloggers that their comment numbers are down, and have been for the past year or so. I'm definitely seeing that here, too. I started up a discussion on Google+ about this subject last week, and heard a lot of interesting viewpoints. Some people seem to have let go of comments entirely, while others seem to feel angst over not getting enough comments.
I feel like it might be time to talk openly about comments as a community. I feel like our collective (and largely unrequited) longing for more comments is an energy that we might be using in more positive ways, if we'd only try to put comments into perspective.
Image by ewanmcdowall, via Flickr
Why aren't we getting many comments anymore?
I think we can blame it on a few factors:
• Increasingly, we're all talking to each other all day in social media spaces like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+. There comes a point, in all this chatting, where blog comments start to feel a bit redundant.
• Not only that, comments simply require more effort than talking in social media spaces – When I can click a Like button or dash off a 140-character tweet to you, the idea of formulating a string of coherent thoughts and then filling out a comment form starts to feel like too much work.
• Similarly, there's a certain pressure to say something substantive in comments, and increasingly, we just don't have the bandwidth for that very often. Sometimes, all you want to say to someone is "Nice post!" And while that's legit on Twitter or Facebook, it seems a bit skimpy to write on someone's blog.
The more I think about why we don't comment so much anymore, I realized that none of the reasons are personal! None of them have to do with anyone's worth or talent. We're just commenting less because the internet has evolved, and our behaviors are evolving alongside it.
Image by dreamsjung, via Flickr
So, can we accept the decline of comments?
I've been saying for the past several years that we all need to comment on more blogs. And I still believe that! But you know what? My own commenting activity has been on the decline over time. I used to make it a practice to leave one comment somewhere every single weekday. But increasingly, even though I do a lot of reciprocal conversing via social media and email, I'm lucky if I get more than one comment off a week. I don't like that at all, but it's become a reality I can't ignore.
…And increasingly, I think it's also a reality most of us can't ignore. I don't think that any amount of good intention is likely to bring back blog-commenting on a large scale. Is there some kind of balance between what we put out there and what we get back? In general, I believe there is. However, in a comment-hungry community where everyone's mostly too busy to comment, this classic karmic balance goes awry. The fact is, if we were all commenting more, we'd all be receiving more comments. But we aren't, and so we aren't.
Instead of lamenting that nobody comments on our blogs, what if we recognized the role we're each playing in the general lack of comments in the crafty blogosphere? And what if we let ourselves off this commenting hook? What if we let everyone off that hook? Can we let go of wanting more comments altogether?
Image by dilatedpupul87, via Flickr
Why, specifically, does feedback matter so dang much?
I know that when I get a comment on my blog, it's a sign that someone got actual use out of something I made, and that always, always feels wonderful. For someone else, wishing for comments might be a very human desire to feel part of the social group. For someone else, it might be the feeling that what they've made is good and worthwhile, and therefore, so are they. And for still others, comments are a signal that they might be able to make money as a result of blogging.
The reasons will be different for every blogger, but I do feel this: if we can figure out what, specifically, it is that comments bring us, then we have some basis for getting those needs met in other ways. And honestly, it may be time for many of us to look for other ways. Luckily, the web offers a lot of possibilities.
Image by y3dua, via Flickr
Scattering attention to the four winds
I don't think the problem is that people aren't reading our blogs. It's that we can't easily see that they are, and we can't easily see what they enjoyed about our content. (Comments used to make these things easy to see.)
When I release a new blog post these days, and I want to get a gauge of how well it's been received in the world, I can't just watch for comments. Here are all the channels of input I have to watch: Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, StumbleUpon, email, and Google Analytics. That takes a lot of time! (And lest we forget, if I want to create any kind of real visibility for myself in most of these online spaces, then I also have to invest time in engagement.)
So, with tiny scraps of reader attention being scattered across so many venues, how much energy do we want to invest in trying to catch it all? How do we decide where to listen? Those answers are different for every blogger, too. There's no single authoritative gauge of what kind of impact we're having online. So the question becomes: can we learn to operate on the assumption that our work is having a positive impact in the community, without being able to see tangible evidence of that?
(And a side question: where does this scattering of attention leave people who don't want to juggle multiple social media presences? I think it leaves them at a bit of a disadvantage, because not enough of the communal conversation goes on in one place anymore. And it also leaves them at a great advantage, because they've freed up more time for creating.)
How do we make blogging intrinsic again?
I'm fully aware of the irony of me asking this question, because I teach bloggers about turning their blogs into more effective marketing tools. But even so, I can remember a time five years ago when I'd make something I was proud of, I'd post it to my blog, and that post itself was enough. Putting my words and images together into a presentation felt satisfying. But now, posting is often followed by a long, anxious period of waiting to see whether people say anything. And that rarely feels satisfying.
So I'm wondering these days: how do I learn to let go of that anxiety, and get back to simply enjoying the making and sharing? Can I even do it at this point? Has the recognition become more important than the self-expression? That's pretty human, I suppose, but is it conducive to happiness?
How are you feeling about comments these days? Are you leaving many? Are you getting enough? How many constitutes "enough?"