Building an Audience with Commenting Communities: Smart, or Sleazy?

Comment strategies

This is a guest post by Danny Iny.

Have you heard of comment trading communities?

It’s a new fad that seems to be sweeping the blogosphere (or at least a few corners of it). Basically, the idea is that a bunch of people get together and agree to comment on all of each others’ posts.

Some bloggers are experimenting with the idea, some love it, and others hate it.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. A short while ago, I emailed a successful blogger whose audience I thought would be interested in a post I had written, asking for a link (this wasn’t out of the blue – I’ve corresponded with this blogger on a few occasions).

The blogger responded that I could go ahead and post the link in the comment community – everyone else would take a look and comment, just so long as I did the same for them.

I thanked the blogger and said that I would head on over, but I didn’t – and I probably never will.

Okay, before we go any further, it’s time for full disclosure: I had participated in one round of this blogging community, which means that I commented on nine blog posts, and nine other people commented on one of mine.

It wasn’t a great experience, for two reasons:

  1. A few of the blogs really stunk. Most were pretty decent, and some were great, but I felt very uncomfortable being committed to leave a comment on a blog that I was completely unimpressed with.
  2. A few of the blogs were about things in which I have no interest. They were good blogs, near as I can tell, but they were about subjects that I neither know anything about nor have any interest in exploring. And yet, I was committed to leave a comment.

So what did I do? Well, I had made a commitment, and I take commitments seriously – on the good blogs that interested me I left solid comments, and on the others I left comments that were friendly and encouraging, but vague and non-specific.

I feel like I’ve littered on the blogosphere.

Contrived, but reasonable?

My experience was mixed, but I’m not ready to make blanket condemnations. I discovered some really great blogs through it, and sparked a couple of great online relationships. And I’m not the only one.

The most commonly heard argument against these communities is that if people have to leave a comment, then that comment isn’t really worth anything, but I’m not sure that I agree.

I mean, sure, if people leave crappy, fluffy comments, then there’s no value to them, but if the comments are well thought-out, and insightful, then what’s the problem? Bloggers want others to read and interact with their stuff, and at the same time they’re looking for blogs for whom they can do the same. Isn’t this just a way of formalizing and adding some structure to what they want to be doing anyway?

In other words, some might see it as contrived, and I agree – it’s a contrived solution to a very specific problem, but maybe it works?

My hesitation from doing it again is that I’m not comfortable having to comment on blog posts that I don’t like, or have no interest in.

Maybe this is a solvable problem…

Niche-specific, approval-required communities?

What if a blog commenting community were created that met the following two criteria, to address the main issues that I had with my comment community experience:

  1. Each community is around a specific niche, so that everyone is – at least in principle – likely to be interested in everybody else’s writing.
  2. Each community is moderated, and blogs are reviewed before being admitted into the group. This will make sure that terrible blogs never make it in.

If these two criteria were in place, I would give it another shot, and my guess that a good number of other bloggers would do the same. But I may be wrong…

Now I’ll turn the conversation over to you – I had a feeling that this post would spark a lot of debate, which is why it’s being published here, where the microphone is a little bigger that over at Firepole Marketing.

What do you think? Do you think this middle ground solution makes sense? Do you think blog commenting communities are a false economy, or the best thing since sliced bread?

Let’s get the debate going!

About the author: Danny Iny is an author, strategist, serial entrepreneur, and proud co-founder of Firepole Marketing, the definitive marketing training program for small businesses, entrepreneurs, and non-marketers. Visit his site today for a free cheat sheet about Why Guru Strategies for Blog Growth DON’T WORK… and What Does!, or follow him on Twitter @DannyIny.

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