Back in “the good old days”, conversations around a blog post would happen at source – the blog itself. This led to a few direct results:

  • The blogger would be seen as an “authority figure”, since the ability to spark conversation meant his or her thoughts were worth listening to and debating;
  • Commenters could share their thoughts and, by adding extra value to the conversation, potentially increase awareness and interest in their own blogs or social footprints.

Then social media happened (and, yes, I firmly place blogging as one of the granddaddy’s of social media, but for this post I’m going to separate the distinction).

Instead of blogs being the sole recipient of comments, now there were Facebook discussions, Twitter conversations and, more recently, Google+ threads. The domain of the blogger was no longer the domain of the conversation.

For bloggers, this was seen as a major problem – just Google has social media killed blog comments to see how much concern there is. Personally, I blame crap content over social conversations when it comes to this complaint, but then I’m a grumpy bugger.

For brands, who used blogging as a way to garner immediate and direct feedback on company culture, product launches, etc., the problem was more pronounced.

Instead of being able to monitor on a single domain, the question of scale reared its head as multi-channel conversations painted a much more fractured picture of how their brand was perceived.

The thing is, this new challenge shouldn’t be viewed as a challenge, but an opportunity.

The Hyper-Extended Conversation

While having multiple discussions going on at the same time causes its own set of problems as far as scale goes, it’s also nothing really new.

Just because a pre-social blog post kept comments on its domain, that doesn’t mean the topic wasn’t being discussed elsewhere. Email shares and forum posts, for example, continued the conversation away from the eyes of the blogger.

Additionally, despite what many bloggers might think, our blogs aren’t the centre of everyone’s digital universe. Web users have vastly different social behaviours – some prefer engaging on blogs, while others prefer their own “safety zones” in the shape of their chosen social network(s).

Future of social conversations

As people and as businesses, this is how we learn – by allowing people to share honest thoughts and acting on them.

Often, blog readers may be put off commenting on a post. The reasons can be many:

  • There’s already a lot of conversation happening, so why add more at the source?
  • The blog community seems like a clique.
  • The blogger doesn’t respond, so why should you leave a comment?
  • The reader simply doesn’t feel comfortable offering their details to comment.

All valid reasons to not comment – yet these very reasons (and more like them) don’t mean that same person won’t discuss the post elsewhere.

This unwillingness to comment on a blog directly, but still discuss elsewhere, offers a great learning opportunity for those looking to truly understand what makes an audience tick, both from a blog reader angle and potential customers through a business blog.

The Closing Loop of Fragmentation

Technology vendors are recognizing this need for closing the loop on fragmentation, and are trying to offer solutions that marry the best of blog commenting in their native form with their social counterparts.

For example, Livefyre – which I use on here and pretty much all my blog properties – took a big step in collating the conversations around a blog post with their SocialSync feature.

Livefyre SocialSync

This cool feature identifies conversations on Twitter (see above image) and Facebook Pages, and delivers them into a blog’s comment stream. This ensures any additional discussions on two of the bigger social networks aren’t missed, as well as enables the blogger to reply directly from their own comments back into that network.

While the SocialSync feature is perfect for bloggers looking to truly optimize the conversation, Livefyre’s business solutions for brands goes even deeper and offers social signals from multiple touch-points online.

Livefyre’s main competitor, Disqus, offers their own take on closing the conversation loop. As well as pulling in Reactions from Twitter, the company provides deeper insights into the community around your blog.

Disqus Audience

By analyzing the kind of content your readers consume elsewhere, as well as the content that encourages them to leave a comment, Disqus can recommend similar content on your site.

By providing this overview, you can tailor the content you produce based on the goals around your blog – discussion, consumption, lead acquisition, and more.

Disqus’s ability to implement these focused tactics based on comment intelligence, and Livefyre’s true social integration, offers a glimpse into where we’re going and how content producers can truly drive their own deliverables.

If you’re a self-hosted WordPress blogger, then Comments Evolved for WordPress offers a simple, out-of-the-box solution that collates the main comments around your posts in one place – on your blog itself.

Comments Evolved for WordPress

The plugin allows you to run either native WordPress comments (the standard system that comes with WordPress), or a choice of Facebook, Google+, Livefyre or Disqus.

From a social network angle, if your post encourages discussion on Google+, these will show under the G+ tab. If the post is shared on a Facebook profile, any subsequent comments on Facebook will be pulled in.

It’s a quick solution for those looking to see the bigger conversational picture and offers more options for readers to use their preferred system.

The Future of Social Conversations

While these current platforms, and more like them including the likes of Echo and IntenseDebate, are looking to offer an all-round experience when it comes to blog commenting, the future should be looking to move way beyond even that.

Comments are merely the starting point of where we can go – the possibilities and insights comments can truly offer are limited only by the vision of what we see as important, and the technology to provide these goals.

Influencers and Advocates

While comments offer social proof and validation for the interest in a blog post topic, the actions after that are where we, both as bloggers and brands, can gain the real value from.

  • Which commenter drives even more interaction on the post with other commenters?
  • Which commenter extends the conversation and drives more traffic your way by sharing elsewhere?
  • Which commenter evokes you to rethink your position the most over time?
  • Which commenter jumps into other blog posts elsewhere to promote your argument over that blogger’s?

These are just some of the data points we can gather from following the social footprint of a commenter, and identifying who the influencers are in our community, and how that ties into blog or brand advocacy.

It helps us reward these folks and increase the loyalty we already enjoy with them, as well as identify who may be the best “community marketers” that can help us when we have something to share – an offer, promotion, news, etc.

Emotional Resonance and Content Strategy

One of the biggest advantages a blog has over more mainstream print media is the ability to connect on an emotional level.

While you can still find some excellent examples of emotional reporting, especially in Time Magazine, which seems to be going through a renaissence, most print publications don’t position themselves as emotional connectors, mainly due to editorial standards and restrictions.

Blogs, on the other hand, can offer a very distinctive and human voice behind the content, which can connect emotionally with the reader and build a long-term fan. While that reader may leave a comment advising of how much the post meant to them, on less emotional posts, it’s harder to decipher.

By combining sentiment analysis technology with Natural Language Processing (NLP) and a blog’s chosen comment system, the blogger (or brand) can start to see which content instilled which emotion.

  • Did the content leave the reader elated, happy, sad, blase, concerned, etc.?
  • Did certain parts of the content offer one reaction, and other parts of the same content offer another?
  • How did they share that content afterward – positively or negatively?
  • How did they feel when you responded in the comments to one of their questions – did you grow confidence in your ability to be conversational, or alienate a previously friendly face?

These are just some of the ways we can use social intelligence in comments and the reactions from our content, and start to see what works, what converts, what instils actions and reactions and how these compare to the actions we were hoping for.

Brand goals

By doing so, we tailor our content creation to be the strongest it can be, and – ideally – provide exactly the type of content that delivers on whatever our goals may be.

Social Conversations and the Win Factor

Now, for the average “hobby blogger”, this may seem like something that’s way overblown and unnecessary and that’s probably true.

But as we move towards content creators becoming mini-media operations, and brands looking to both connect with their creators as well as tailor their own corporate content more strategically, it’s a future that’s worth thinking about.

From the blogger’s side, they become more authorative and produce the content that makes their part of the web more attractive than others in their field. Subscriptions rise, content is shared, and the conversations around the blog – regardless of where they are – drive consistent and informed content.

From the brand’s side, they understand the consumption behaviour of their customers – existing and potential – and deliver the type of content and calls-to-action that increase ROI, loyalty and brand share of voice. They can also only identify the very best bloggers and content partners to work with, based on relevance to not only the brand but the brand’s goals, and how that blogger and his or her audience fits into them.

From the reader’s viewpoint, they receive only the very best content and non-invasive promotional offers and news, based on their own previous decisions that have helped shape the new consumption model they’re now part of.

Of course, there needs to be a strict adherence to respecting privacy. Data is powerful when used properly – but dangerous precedences can be set in motion when this power is abused.

But for the companies and content creators that build and use this data ethically, the future of social conversations awaits. And it’s even closer than we think it is today…

For an excellent complementary piece to this post, please check out The Broken Art of Company Blogging (And the Ignored Metric That Could Save Us All) from Dan Shure on the Moz blog.

Update March 17, 2015: After almost three years of using Livefyre, I switched over to a mix of wpDiscuz and Postmatic. More information on that can be found here.

image: Reilly Dow

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Enjoy this post? Share your thoughts below:

92 Comments on "Blog Comments, Digital Universes, and the Future of Social Conversations"

1 month 21 hours ago

Hi Danny, i’m wondering if the livefyre subscription list is integrated with the WP Users list. Or if the WP user could comment without introducing their name and email

1 month 19 hours ago

Hi Juan.

I should update the end of this post – I switched from Livefyre a couple of months ago, to a combination of wpDiscuz (for the comment form template) and Postmatic (for commenting, replies, etc). Details can be found here:

With Postmatic, it automatically creates a WP user account (subscriber status). Co-founder of Postmatic, Jason, offers a little more on that here:

With regards Livefyre, the blogger can offer to enable social sign-in, so you can use that instead of name and email if preferred.

Hope that helps! » A Conversation About Conversations: Interview with Superblogger Danny Brown
2 months 14 days ago

[…] little late to the party, but I discovered Danny earlier this year when he wrote a post entitled, “Blog Comments, Digital Universes and the Future of Social Conversation.”  Just from the title, you can see why I might have found this topic interesting.  Danny wrote a […]

Frank Strong
3 months 28 days ago

Yep. I think I see it and just enabled responses. That is pretty cool.

3 months 28 days ago

Great – now I just need to work out how i’m going to make best use of this moving forward. :)

Danny Brown
3 months 28 days ago

Frank_Strong That’s where your friendly neighbourhood admin can come to the rescue, mate. :) Good suggestion, though, I’ll drop it in the plugin forum for a future update, cheers! grissombrad kevinweber

3 months 28 days ago

Danny Brown grissombrad kevinweber Just tried it out.  Pretty need.  Totally needs an “edit comment” function for those of us – me – that can’t proofread.

Frank Strong
3 months 28 days ago

What? Blogs are the center of the digital universe? Shocking!

I just saw your new comment below about inline commenting so jumped up here to check it out.

3 months 28 days ago

I also have to remember to switch on comment notification options again for WordPress comments, otherwise it’ll just be an empty echo.. echo.. echo. :)

Frank Strong
3 months 28 days ago

Ditto on notifications for the commenter (another feature?). I’d have missed this if it wasn’t for your Livefyre comment. Instead of echo it could be “Great post, love what you are saying. I’m just going to drop this link here.” Gah!

3 months 28 days ago

Hehe, I think that should be enabled now for commenters too (you should see a little subscriptions option box below your comment field).

Weird comment count though on the bubble – almost like it’s duplicating count. Will look into that – but I really like this inline option!

3 months 28 days ago

I know, right? Whoever said bloggers were narcissists were clearly delusional! ;-)

Danny Brown
3 months 29 days ago

BrandonMcGrath Hi Brandon,
To a large degree,  I agree – after all, if the content isn’t worth discussing, no-one will discuss it. :)
Having said that, I see a lot of discussions happening away from the post itself (sometimes, even in forum threads) – so it has evoked conversation, just not on the host platform. So, while lack of comments may suggest lack of quality, it’s not always the case.
Thanks for your own comment (and appreciate the kind words about the engagement on this post),

3 months 29 days ago

Highly recommend reading this piece, not only for the article itself but the discussion in the comments afterward.

Danny Brown
3 months 29 days ago

grissombrad Hey there Brad,
I’m a HUGE fan of the approach Medium takes to pretty much everything (as evidenced by my theme design) :)
The inline commenting is no exception – I was an immediate fan when I saw it in use. Livefyre has their own version called Sidenotes, which is good but has some big flaws (the main part being, they’re not classed as comments, so if you delete the Sidenotes plugin, you lose these comments completely).
I’ve just installed and activated the Inline Comments plugin by kevinweber – you can see it if you’re on desktop and using a mouse to scroll down the page (the comment bubbles appear to the right of the content). Looking to see how I can implement better in 2015, and it may involve changing the use of Livefyre on the blog, I’ll see. :)

3 months 29 days ago

As a lazy reader. I usually look at the comment section and see what kind of interaction people are having. If the interaction is contagious (such as this one), that means the content presents a good discussion. However’ if the comment section is dead, perhaps the content needed more work on truly getting the audience to interact more.

3 months 29 days ago

Great post! What are your thoughts on the inline/context driven commenting approach that Medium uses?

il blog è morto?
5 months 20 days ago

[…] PENSO non abbia senso il sistema dei commenti se non legato al mondo social. Intendo dire che sposterei sul mondo social la gestione del post pubblicazione e dell’interazione sociale. In questo articolo un ottimo punto di vista sui commenti nei blog. […]

Il blog è morto? - condividere per crescere
5 months 22 days ago

[…] PENSO non abbia senso il sistema dei commenti se non legato al mondo social. Intendo dire che sposterei sul mondo social la gestione del post pubblicazione e dell’interazione sociale. In questo articolo un ottimo punto di vista sui commenti nei blog. […]

5 months 24 days ago

Livefyre ……. :) LivefyreDesign LivefyreEng

5 months 24 days ago

DannyBrown Can’t say yes or no there, but you definitely have LivefyreDesign and LivefyreEng’s attention with the prospect of free beer.

5 months 24 days ago

Livefyre Does it involve adding G+ Comments to SocialSync..? ;-) bobWP #prettyplease #iwillbuyyoubeer

5 months 24 days ago

bobWP DannyBrown Let us know if you have any questions! Team’s always happy to help. Also, some fun updates in the works for WP plugins ;)

5 months 24 days ago

DannyBrown yes, I do… and to be honest, if I make the step, likely that will be the direction Livefyre

5 months 24 days ago

bobWP Well you know where my vote would go if you did…. ;-) Although, bias aside, I do find the Livefyre mobile experience better, too.

5 months 24 days ago

DannyBrown yeah, I am tempted to head back to either LiveFyre or try Disqus, just haven’t taken the step yet.

5 months 24 days ago

bobWP Cheers, mate. Yeah, I’d love to see comment systems take the next step into identifying influential community members, etc. :)

5 months 24 days ago

DannyBrown cool, looking forward to that. Really enjoyed the post and so much rings true

5 months 24 days ago

bobWP Cheers, mate – thinking of doing a complementary piece on social sharing, and why we should push further beyond just social proof.

Danny Brown
6 months 1 day ago

Jonathan Wells Cheers, Jonathan, glad it was useful. While I still get the odd dedicated spammer here, it’s much easier to control and – best of all – block completely. Much more effective than trying to wade through tons of comments in the Akismet queue. :)

Jonathan Wells
6 months 1 day ago

Thanks for this Danny. Because of the spammers and spam bots I decided to close comments on my blog and I was looking for an alternative solution. This looks like it might be exactly what I was searching for.

Danny Brown
6 months 24 days ago

Wayne_Gosse Hey there Wayne, cheers mate, appreciated, and glad you enjoyed the piece. And cheers for the SEJ shout, that was a nice surprise, especially given the source. Have a great rest of week and upcoming weekend! :) Mark Longbottom

6 months 24 days ago

Mark Longbottom Danny Brown Great info here. You have a great site.I also want to congratulate you on your recent 1st place finish at the 2014 SEJ SEOlympics Canada! Well done!

Marketing Day: Pinversations, Facebook Events Get Insights & Google Lifts Secure Site Rankings « TLC Niche Marketing
7 months 6 days ago

[…] Blog Comments and the Future of Social Conversations, […]

7 months 21 days ago

Howie Goldfarb Danny Brown Frank_Strong LivefyreDesign I’m late to the party, but…

…distribution is an equal part of the equation more often than not.  I’m a big fan of building processes to earn consistent singles and doubles rather than aim for a home run. The latter requires a lot of effort and is liable to fail. 
Howie, I’m not quite with you on your assessment, though I appreciate a contrarian view point.  From my vantage point, by the time the big pubs start covering something — it’s already viral.  They just add to it in order to capitalize. The origins of viral tend to come from tightly nit and respected communities — that’s why Buzzfeed writers hover over Reddit looking for stories.

7 months 23 days ago

Well strategies are good but it wont be a best fit for all marketers rather each one has to come-up with a customized option of their own to rule the market of their kind!!