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.

image: Reilly Dow

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Danny Brown
Co-author Influence Marketing: How to Create, Manage and Measure Brand Influencers in Social Media Marketing. #1 marketing blog in world as per HubSpot. Husband. Father. Optimist. Pragmatist. Never says no to a good single malt. You can find me on Twitter - Google+ - LinkedIn.

58 comments
Jonathan Wells
Jonathan Wells

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. 

parkerwills
parkerwills

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!!

aimeemdoyle
aimeemdoyle

I appreciate the importance you hold on comments. Before I comment on any blog, I like to see other comments and to see if I can add value to their comments as well- more of that social component like you said. 

makeupobsessedmom
makeupobsessedmom

This is a great post with so many tips that I plan to use for my blog.  Thanks so much for posting!  Stacie

PeterJ42
PeterJ42

One reason blogs don't attract many contents is the "every marketer should be a publisher" mindset. The pressure is on to write a journalistic-style piece and in larger organisations the "we have to be in control" mindset means it has to stand alone for approval.

If you write for comments, the style is quite different. Deliberately interactive, with priming that the reader may have to do something, questions or thought points, perhaps even polls. This style turns casual readers into people who feel they have a stake in the subject and in the brand and is much more effective in creating engagement than journalism blogs.

True collaborative writing goes even further. It raises a question and lets others come up with answers, then asks subsidiary questions to meld these into a single consensus view. It really only works when the protagonists know eachother but it produces powerful problem solving results.

markevans
markevans

Great to see to a great blog post on blog comments attract so many comments! An idea that I suggested recently is creating a reward system for bloggers and blog commenters based on some kind of quality algorithm/score that would drive SEO and authority ratings. 

Marketing Bees
Marketing Bees

Great article Danny! It took a while to read it but it worth it! I agree with OpEdMarketing about taking away comments. It is one of the best parts in every article - possibility to share your opinion with author, ask question if you have one. Nothing can replace that! 

Once again, I really enjoyed reading this article!

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

Curation has always been a challenge with everything digital. As you know I love the Livefyre. I have issues with Disqus on my computer not sure why. Makes me log into two places vs at the blog level. I think the challenge for the content creators is participation in these conversations across many platforms. With listening tools we can see who is talking about us but usually after the fact. 

And the distribution challenge amplifies this. I post on LinkedIn, Twitter and G+ when I blog but since I don't spend time on G+ or LinkedIn and even worse I don't see any email alerts if anyone comments I tend to miss it for days or longer.

This was very informative and thought provoking dude! I mean @DannyBrown 

OpEdMarketing
OpEdMarketing

Well crafted blog sir.  I think taking away comments takes away the social component which makes blogging unique. It's like giving a presentation and skipping the questions people might have at the end.  Cheers, Robert

JayNineInc
JayNineInc

@arikhanson Really interesting read, it's certainly a changing realm with services like Disqus to help connect the dots.

davidjboozeronline
davidjboozeronline

Great post once again Danny! still reading it after I leave the comment here....and thanks for plusing mine about ridiculous comments from people who have no clue what comments are for....=) This is a place to share, engage and continue the conversation...nothing more.

DannyBrown
DannyBrown

@RavenTools Thanks for that, guys - the possibilities are kinda mind-boggling when you sit down and think where blog discussions can take us

dan_shure
dan_shure

"I blame crap content over social conversations when it comes to this complaint, but then I’m a grumpy bugger" - I couldn't agree more with that (and a lot of things in this post). Blaming social media for lack of comments, is in my opinion... lazy. And I'm not grumpy :)

As I pointed out in my Moz post, check out these brands who are just killing their blog engagement right now: http://www.wegmans.com/bloghttp://www.kingarthurflour.com/blog/http://www.blogs.marriott.com/ - are just a few company blogs with HUGE engagement on the blogs themselves, even in the age of social media.

But I truly never though much about the intelligence, insight and sentiment analysis comments can give you, as well as the idea of closing the loop. 

Mark Longbottom
Mark Longbottom

@aimeemdoyle I was intrigued when i saw your comment last week - so you never ever comment first, even when you have something of value to add, will you always follow?

Danny Brown
Danny Brown moderator

@PeterJ42 Interesting thoughts as usual, Peter. The "writing for comments" part intrigues me. Isn't that the same as "writing for Google", or "writing for links"? I understand that certain CTAs may encourage interaction, but if we're writing for the sole reason of garnering comments, doesn't that take away the authenticity of the post and play to the lowest denominator (in this case, the "ease" of getting comments)?

Danny Brown
Danny Brown moderator

@markevans Hey there mate, that sounds like a pretty nifty idea - did you post about it at all, I'd love to have a look at that. If not, maybe we could meet up for a beer soon - I have an idea to bounce off you, and your thoughts fall right into that. :)

Danny Brown
Danny Brown moderator

@Marketing Bees Agreed. And it helps cultivate a relationship between blogger and reader/commenter that I don't think you can ever truly replicate on the networks.

Thanks for the kind comment, and great to have you here!

Danny Brown
Danny Brown moderator

@Howie Goldfarb I really dislike the mobile experience with Disqus - seems to forever be loading, and then trying to post a comment can be a major pain in the ass. But I guess all systems have their pros and cons, mate.

The distribution angle (especially the "distribution is king" argument) is an interesting one. I've just been talking with @Frank_Strong about this over on G+, in reference to another post he'd shared there. Essentially, my take is,

I have to admit, I'm tired of the silo approach. Content is "nothing" without distribution; distribution isn't needed without content. Content sucks with poor creators; creators suck with poor direction. If anything,relevanceis "king". But then you're back to the silos. It's dumb. 

This is why I'm a huge fan of what @LivefyreDesign is trying to do with the SocialSync feature. It'll be interesting to see how this can evolve into a cohesive solution.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown moderator

@OpEdMarketing Cheers, mate, and completely agree. Yes, there are various outposts online where you can comment - but for me, the shared knowledge of commenters on the original post, and the exchanges between them like the ones between @dan_shure and @MartinGBEdwards on this post, make all the difference. And everyone can enjoy them - which would not happen if Martin had commented on Facebook and Dan had commented on G+....

Danny Brown
Danny Brown moderator

@dan_shure Hey there Dan,

Looking forward to reading your post - I've bookmarked so I can properly enjoy when I have quiet time to really savour it. Looks like it garnered a lot of feedback on both sides of the coin - for me, that's a great metric right there!

I love what Marriott are doing - it just goes to show, there's no black and white on what makes a success metric, but at the end of the day, if you're preaching engagement, community, and all that other warm stuff, it looks kinda out of place when you don't physically see that on your own part of the web. 

I really want to push ahead on where commenting intelligence can go from a business angle. There are some great companies doing that from a content angle - @Atomic_Reach spring to mind, for one - but not so much for comments. For me, this is where a Livefyre combined with Atomic Reach combined with Lymbix - http://www.lymbix.com/ - (over in Toronto, Canada) could really do some crazy stuff together.

DannyBrown
DannyBrown

@dan_shure Damn, mate, that is one epic post (and no hint of overused irony with the word "epic"). Bookmarking to savour later. :)

MartinGBEdwards
MartinGBEdwards

@dan_shure @DannyBrown Strangely enough, I was just about to mention your article Dan along with Marcus Sheridan's response http://www.thesaleslion.com/business-blogging-comments/  !  I think its fair to say you certainly got some commenting going on there! :)  I left a comment on Marcus's response pretty much agreeing with him.  I could see what you were sort of getting at but I think possibly you may have over-played it a little!  There is no doubt that having lots of comments on an article is a good thing (proper commnts!) but I am not sure that it is such a negative sign if you don't have them.

Of course this article is more about the benefits of getting lots of discussion and the sort of validation it provides as well as insights into the way people are thinking.  Certainly anything which provokes intelligent conversation is going to be a universal benefit!

IrisSignals
IrisSignals

@Danny Brown @PeterJ42 you both make great points here. I think that as Peter says there are ways of wording things to make it more likely that the reader will interact, but I also agree with you Danny that attracting comments should not be your focus when writing. With that being said, you should always be thinking about engagement to some extent so isn't that part of writing to attract comments?, regards Kostas Chiotis

PeterJ42
PeterJ42

@Danny Brown @PeterJ42 When most people write a piece they write it as "Here are some facts I know". There is no inherent question. For example your opener: "Back in “the good old days”, conversations around a blog post would happen at source – the blog itself." That's a statement - it invites the reader to accept it, not to respond.

If you wrote it as: "I asked my friends what they thought about blogs. I started with "Conversations around a blog post used to happen at source – the blog itself. Is that still true?" 

One said "Blogs used to just be an ego trip - writers didn't really want comments.", one said "Blogs were a 2-way conversation between writer and reader", one said "Good blogs made you feel you had to add something" and another said "You only have to make a comment if you feel the author has missed something or is wrong". That's four different answers - which one do you think predominates? Are they all true? How should a good blog be written?

That is an entirely different writing style - it raises questions only the reader can answer. It seeks information, rather than pushing it - inbound blog writing, if you like.

When blogs were new they were sold to writers as thought leadership - your chance to show everyone you knew more than everyone else so they should buy from you. This encouraged the push style. 

But once you have established basic credibility, the questions and shared journey blogs engage more and turn readers into collaborators and writers into a direct connection with the company. It is why I always said that salespeople should write blogs, not marketers, so they could take the connection all the way to a relationship.

I hope you can see how this differs from writing for Google or links. It is pull, rather than push.

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

@Danny Brown @Frank_Strong @LivefyreDesign i blogged recently that the big media sites are really the distribution king pins. Nothing ever goes viral without the TV news or Huff Post etc covering it. So the small folks have to struggle to make it. YouTube can help. The myth of viral video is that the reason many videos that make it is because we share them. Actually if you get enough of a push to have it trend then that itself will have it take off. Watching a video that has a lot of views doesn't mean it's viral. Thats like saying a hit TV show is viral. Just happens to have a good distribution platform.

I am starting to fade from the content side into more a direct sales view of marketing. Pay for ads. Find people. Be done with it.

dan_shure
dan_shure

@Danny Brown It's refreshing to hear that someone will save a post to read for a "quiet time". One interesting thing I noticed was that despite what should be an average reading time of 10-15 minutes on my post, avg time on page was about 5:00 minutes (including people commenting). Which is just a round about way to state that this confirms people don't fully read things - and I have also been trying really hard to read less things, but more deeply.

Anyhow, this commenting intelligence made my head explode, and has given me a lot to think about! Thanks for the extra links and resources.

dan_shure
dan_shure

@MartinGBEdwards Hi Martin - ha yes I have read Marcus' article (and all the comments). I would agree I may have been a tad overstated - honestly I was being a tiny bit satirical and more black/white than "real life". Regardless I do firmly believe lack of comments when looked at in aggregate is a sign of poor quality content. I do understand at the end of the day it's about business goals, but in terms of just the content, to me it's about getting authentic reactions from readers. 

PeterJ42
PeterJ42

@IrisSignals @Danny Brown @PeterJ42 Useful input Kostas.

I'm about to put this to the test. I've written a book - Disrupt Yourself - about the old fashioned thoughts which stop us moving forward. But instead of it being a finished "this is what I know" piece, I'm using each chapter as the opener for a wider discussion on the topic to create a fuller, more rounded and hopefully more definitive answer to the questions and ideas put forward. The aim is to generate a Lean-startup style rapidly evolving debate with a constantly refined and multifaceted definitive work on the subject. Let's see if it works - it starts next month.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown moderator

@PeterJ42 Agree, you can use this approach to encourage comments. For me, though, as good as it is, it still doesn't completely equate to more comments, or more interactions. You can lead a horse to water, after all, but it still may not drink it when it gets there.

Having said that, I'm loving the interaction that's happening here with you, @Mark Longbottom@IrisSignals, etc. For me, this interaction is exactly the point you're all making - strip away the "it's all about me" veneer, encourage others to interact, and leave alone to let the magic happen. Thank you for some great thoughts from everyone here.

Frank_Strong
Frank_Strong

@Howie Goldfarb @Danny Brown @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. 

EdenSpodek
EdenSpodek

@dan_shure @Danny Brown See I'm not the only one who wanted to find a quiet, distraction-free time to read this insightful post. It's given me food for thought from the rich data POV and still stand behind my earlier FB comment that you've almost written an eBook disguised as a blog post. 

There seems to be a growing trend between snack blog posts you can read in a minute or two and those that take a solid 10 minutes to read and digest properly, let alone spend time crafting a comment. Thanks for taking the time to share your wisdom with the crowds.

MartinGBEdwards
MartinGBEdwards

@dan_shure Absolutely!  The sharing and "off blog" discussion is also a critical part of the mix.  There are a lot of blogs out there that have hundreds of comments but when you look at them a high proportion are of the "Great post" variety and whilst having a lot of those can be heart-warming it doesn't really take the conversation further.  If you are using comments as a metric then certainly the subjective nature of the comment has to be part of the analysis.

Mark Longbottom
Mark Longbottom

@PeterJ42 @IrisSignals @Danny Brown All really interesting you got my attention Peter with a book that isn't the final statement. My dad always said you can learn something from everyone whether beggar or millionaire. More importantly though he said nobody knows it all so don't assume you do. Too many books have males in loud suits wandering up and down a stage as if preaching - rather tan interacting too many are selling - that book before they get to the next book. The interesting ones sit back or look relaxed in themselves as they ask for people's thoughts and experiences to help develop their own.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown moderator

@MartinGBEdwards I have to admit, I was glad when I saw some of the sites that were shutting down comments, given they never bothered cleaning up the easy comments like that, or the spammy ones associated with them. As @dan_shure points out in his piece, and as I've discussed with Sonia Simone when chatting about the Copyblogger switch-off, there are numerous ways to deal with spam. Closing comments seems the lazy way out.

Ironically, though, I notice Chris Brogan's reasoning for closing comments (or t he main one) is because he got a whole load of them when switching platforms to the New Rainmaker. Which is a Copyblogger Media product. So, seems the recipient of spam could also be causing a lot on their new platform. ;-)

MartinGBEdwards
MartinGBEdwards

@Danny Brown @MartinGBEdwards @dan_shure I'm still not sure about the Copyblogger switch off.  As you say, if it was just to deal with spam then there are much better ways.  I think the "headline" idea was to move conversation onto social media and I suppose an increase in social sharing would be a by-product.

Another aspect of SM sharing is that the depth of information that can be gleaned from a social profile is probably much deeper than what is available for a drive-by commenter or even registered commenter.  This of course is where Livefyre is so good because you can join in the conversation wherever you happen to be.  I do keep having trouble deciding on some blogs whether to comment via G+, Twitter or direct on the Blog!  I usually opt for the channel I saw it on first.

dan_shure
dan_shure

@MartinGBEdwards @Danny Brown I basically took it like this - they are a much bigger online brand than .01% of sites/companies on the net. They have a huge community. This is a choice they have the luxury of making without it hurting them one bit, regardless of reasons. 

Danny Brown
Danny Brown moderator

@dan_shure Agreed. Same with Chris Brogan and Brian Gardner. Although, to be fair, Brian's reasons were for more personal use of the blog, and it has allowed him to open up and be truly transparent about what he's thinking about with no recourse, so to speak. For that, I can see the logic behind his decision. @MartinGBEdwards

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