The evolving conversation ecosystem

Social share

One of the prime reasons to start and maintain a blog, especially for business purposes, is the conversation that might happen when you publish a post.

You have something to say that others might have some views on, in agreement or disagreement, perhaps branching out in a related topic direction. Enabling others to add their perspectives to your post in the form of a comment is the foundation point for making a conversation happen, and connecting all the points of view in one place so you can, well, follow the conversation and add your views if you wish to.

The advent of third-party commenting systems like Disqus, Intense Debate or Livefyre – and more recently, with Facebook and Google+ – has offered bloggers myriad features and levels of service to manage commenting way beyond the native commenting features of a particular blog platform. (I’ve tried all of these at one time or another, but have reverted back always to native WordPress commenting features enhanced by Jetpack, the uber-plugin for WordPress blogs.)

What’s been an interesting development in the past few years is how the means of conversation is changing from comments made directly in the place where a particular post is published, to almost anywhere else on the social web and linked to the place where the post is published.

The nature of a comment has changed, too. In the past, you’d write a paragraph, perhaps, certainly a line or two with your perspective. Now, a tweet will often do. Or a Facebook like and a Google +1.

Today, comments happen anywhere and everywhere, all connected in a searchable, discoverable and shareable ecosystem.

As an example, take a look at one of my posts last year that has 120 comments.

120 comments

If you look closely, you’ll see that there are 42 actual comments, ie, responses to the post made directly on the post via the commenting facility offered by the blog.

The rest comprises a mixture of tweets, retweets, Facebook likes, Google +1s or shares, and trackbacks. Jetpack treats all of it simply as ‘comments.’

While you should treat the precise numbers with a slight pinch of salt – I always see discrepancies reported in the adding-up – the important point is that all of the comments made, wherever they take place, are linked and connected to the blog post that prompted someone to comment somewhere.

What’s equally interesting is seeing how comments elsewhere now usually are greater in numbers than comments made directly on a blog post. There are multiple reasons for this trend, including shifts in behaviours about commenting – a ‘like’ is a good as a thousand words – more places where you can make a comment, in tune with your own preferences; and less time these days for lengthy discourse.

So I found it most interesting when I read of the plans by CopyBlogger to do away with native commenting and, instead, encourage comments elsewhere that would be linked to a blog post on the highly-trafficked CopyBlogger blog.

Here’s the rationale:

[...] If you’re going to put the work in to articulate your thoughts, to make an intelligent argument, and to bring something fresh to the conversation … you should be putting that work into your site, not ours.

Not that we haven’t loved having you! We absolutely have. But now I want to challenge you to take that great thinking and writing and use it to build your audience rather than ours.

Something in one of our posts strike a chord? Something you disagree with, or think is powerful, or could be amplified? Make those points … on your site.

Now if you want to link back to us, of course we would love that. But the main goal here is to make the ideas your own — to create your own expression, your own take. (Which we can’t wait to see.)

It’s an interesting idea, and Copyblogger’s push is admirable. They also say that managing spam comments has become a major issue, which was a factor in their decision.

What’s key, I believe, is that comments, wherever they’re made, connect with the subject of the comment, in this case, blog posts. That way, you get to see the entirety of the conversation, the discussion, the exchange of views.

I remember in 2008 when Twitter in particular started becoming a tool that people started using for commenting about content published on blogs and other places. Then, there was no easy way to connect the dots, as it were, until a pioneer like Shannon Whitley created a brilliant WordPress plugin called Chat Catcher that captured those tweets and added them to a post as comments.

In one stroke, Shannon’s workaround solved the disconnect problem that was beginning to be a concern. Sadly, Chat Catcher finally met its sunset in late 2010.

Today, though, there are many ways to ensure that a blog post and subsequent comments – be they replies on a post, tweets, Likes, +1s, whatever – are connected automatically and more or less seamlessly, such as tools I’ve mentioned earlier, if not (yet) wholly accurately in terms of numbers.

I won’t follow Copyblogger’s example and disable commenting here as I believe it’s part of your choice as a reader and would-be commenter where you want to join the conversation. Commenting directly here is just one of your choices.

As long as all the dots connect, the freedom of choice in the method of commenting is entirely up to you.

The future of blogging is rosy

Read my blogBack in the day when blogging was social media, in the decade of the 00s, you were pretty limited in the methods you could use to publish your thinking and ideas.

Then, you only had blogs, the websites that enabled anyone with a thought to create a web page (a post) and publish it. But those websites and those who blogged kick-started a near-revolution in how people expressed themselves and who did that self-expressing.

That time is epitomized in Hugh MacLeod’s “Read my blog” cartoon from 2005.

Today, the blogging landscape has changed radically, with myriad tools and channels that offer platforms for you to to create and communicate something online in ways that not only present words (and audio, video) to others to read and maybe comment on, but also potentially reach audiences that exceed the circulations of traditional printed newspapers.

Today, your content is shared, discussed, criticized, praised, retweeted, repurposed, plagiarised, republished, and otherwise spread far and wide – yet the chain of links usually connects everything back to your original thoughts.

So what do others think about blogging, what it offers you, and where it’s going?

Recently, my friend Stephen Waddington – @wadds to his legion friends, fans and followers online – emailed a group of his friends to ask them about the future of blogging, and to share the benefits they’d experienced from blogging.

That ask has resulted in a 27-page ebook that Stephen edited and published yesterday entitled “The business of blogging.”

It contains short essays from bloggers Richard Bailey, Heather Baker, Stuart Bruce, Judy Gombita, Andrew Grill, Neville Hobson, Chris Lake, Rich Leigh, Rachel Miller, Mat Morrison, Lee Odden, Dan Slee, Heather Yaxley, and Philip Young.

It’s a terrific collection of experiences and future thinking from people who have been blogging for business for years, a worthy reference/source of inspiration if you’re thinking about blogging or would like to be inspired by what others have done.

Here’s the full table of contents:

INTRODUCTION

01 Welcome to the Business of Blogging | Stephen Waddington

BUSINESS

02 A Building Block for Business | Lee Odden
03 A Shop Window to the World | Stuart Bruce
04 Building a Network and a Business | Rachel Miller

COMMUNITY

05 Thinking, Connecting, and Sharing | Dan Slee
06 Blogging with a PR-Specific and Global Mindset | Judy Gombita
07 Building and Serving a Community Better Than Mainstream Media | Rich Leigh

PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT

08 Your Start with Blogging | Neville Hobson
09 Open and Transparent Thinking | Mat Morrison
10 Reasons to Keep Blogging | Heather Yaxley
11 A Career Development and Personal Reputation Platform | Andrew Grill

THE FUTURE OF BLOGGING

12 Blogging Reframed | Richard Bailey
13 Creation, Curation and Community | Philip Young
14 Excellence is Hard to Find | Heather Baker
15 The Evolution of Blogging | Chris Lake

Read it right here or download it from Slideshare:

As Stephen notes in his introduction to the ebook,

[...] The business of blogging involves learning, professional and
personal development, networking and profile. It is evolving but for those individuals and organisations that are prepared to invest the effort it has a strong future.

Spot on.

My contribution includes some thinking that I’ve written about in this blog recently, especially these six steps to get started:

  1. Blogging is about the content not the platform. The primary point is your content not where it’s published.
  2. You’re telling a story not writing a press release or a sales brochure. Write informally, conversationally, avoiding jargon, and with passion.
  3. Be selfless and generous in your references to others. Attribute, cite, link.
  4. Disclose any conflict of interest. If in doubt, always disclose.
  5. Make your content eminently shareable. Eg, enable sharing buttons, make your headline concise enough that it’s simple to tweet it. Make the place your content is published on easy to use: a blog, in other words, not a corporate website.
  6. Be clear on your strategy and the measurable goal you wish to achieve. This is all about clear business intent.

“The business of blogging” is a great resource you should download right now.

How to be smart about guest bloggers

Guest Bloggers Ahead!Every week, I receive two or three requests to publish guest posts on my blog.

The requests come by email from people I don’t know who almost always have a Gmail address, not a recognisable company domain. And there is usually nothing in the email about the person other than a name (which often doesn’t quite match the name in the email address), and no links to any presence on the social web.

They offer to be guest bloggers, writing posts for my blog on a wide variety of subjects, some of which match topics I am interested in and/or have written about myself in the blog. More recently, many of the emails that arrive offer to create or post infographics.

Are such requests worth considering, even accepting?

In a word, no. I’ll explain why in a minute.

The typical email I get is like this one I received this week:

Hello,

My name is Chris and I have been a pro guest blogger for a number of years. I currently have a couple high-quality original posts that I think would be a good fit for your site. One is called “Social Marketing Trends in 2014.” The other is called “Copywriting Tips and Tricks in a Digital World.” So if you’re interested in either one, I can send it right along.

Thanks for your time,

Chris

That was it. No links to anything, just the email text. Nothing to make me drop everything and get back to Chris.

And this one:

Hi,

As an energetic writer and keen web enthusiast, I have the habit of browsing through informative and well-written posts and articles. I have recently come across your website (nevillehobson.com) thought that the posts are quite interesting and informative.I was just wondering, if I could contribute something to your site or not. If yes, then as a guest blogger for your site,I promise that I will be producing articles that will be entirely unique, written just for your blog and will not be posted elsewhere.

I also promise that I will comply by your rules and regulations meant for guest posting and hope that I can produce work that is in conformity to the desired quality sought by you.

Will be eagerly awaiting your response. Looking forward to forge a meaningful collaboration.

Thanks & Regards,
Samantha Jones | Writer & Editor

Samantha Jones included her Twitter handle. But no profile information there, no photo, no link to anything anywhere… nothing there would prompt me to get in touch.

And this:

Hello,

My name is Angelina and I’m a writer and editor that has a real passion for Infographics. I am associated with many communities and sites and have been providing them infographic based content on finance since quite a long time now.

I came across your site http://www.nevillehobson.com/ and I really liked the way you have presented it. So I was wondering if I can contribute an infographic for your site too?

The infographic would be designed by me with a short description and a link to my site [redacted].

If you agree, please let me know and I can start working on it.

Awaiting your positive response.

Until about a year ago, I used to politely reply to such emails thanking the sender but declining the offer.

I soon realized that this was a waste of time. It became obvious to me that nearly all of the people sending me email about guest blogging weren’t really interested in my blog at all – this is purely an outlet for their content that would enable them to ride on the reputation this blog offers, its readership (and content syndication via RSS and other means), and potential traffic-driving to wherever any links would take a reader.

In short, I soon figured it was more about search engine optimisation and manipulating Google PageRank than supposedly creating great content for my blog.

Now I either ignore or delete such emails that make it through the email spam filters (and you’d be surprised at how many don’t make it through: more than 60 percent).

All of this comes to mind after I read “The decay and fall of guest blogging for SEO,” by Matt Cutts, head of Google’s Webspam team, on January 20 in which he rings a loud alarm bell on the risks to bloggers of allowing guest blogging on their blogs, and engaging in guest blogging themselves.

[...] In general I wouldn’t recommend accepting a guest blog post unless you are willing to vouch for someone personally or know them well. Likewise, I wouldn’t recommend relying on guest posting, guest blogging sites, or guest blogging SEO as a linkbuilding strategy.

[...] I’m not trying to throw the baby out with the bath water. There are still many good reasons to do some guest blogging (exposure, branding, increased reach, community, etc.). Those reasons existed way before Google and they’ll continue into the future. And there are absolutely some fantastic, high-quality guest bloggers out there.

[...] I just want to highlight that a bunch of low-quality or spam sites have latched on to “guest blogging” as their link-building strategy, and we see a lot more spammy attempts to do guest blogging. Because of that, I’d recommend skepticism (or at least caution) when someone reaches out and offers you a guest blog article.

Cutts makes it clear where the risk is. It’s not guest blogging per se, it’s SEO and Google PageRank manipulation that’s the issue. And doing that can have serious consequences for the blogger on whose blog the ‘bad’ content is published.

I encourage you to read Cutts’ post in full, and watch the four videos he made that are embedded in the post. You will get a clearer idea on the full scope of guest blogging and the pros and cons.

As I mentioned earlier, I don’t usually take guest posts on this blog. The few times I have, I either know the person who asks or they made a pretty good case for doing it.

I would consider one from a guest blogger I don’t personally know who has credentials and fits this 6-point profile:

  1. If the writer says he or she has written guest posts for other blogs, I want to see some of the posts on those other blogs – not just links to posts – that show that they are a good contextual ‘fit’ for those blogs and what they cover.
  2. Any links in guest posts to relevant content or specific sites elsewhere on the web do not include the ‘rel=dofollow’ attribute.
  3. A presence on the social web – the writer should have at least a Twitter handle complete with profile info, a photo and a link to another presence online, and with some longevity of being on Twitter, plus a good balance of followers and following.
  4. A presence on a social networking site (generally, I tend to pay more attention if someone is on Google+ rather than on Facebook).
  5. Their name shows up in Google search, with links and references to them and their work across the social web, suggesting a credible presence that I’d expect to see for someone whose says they’re a “long time guest blogger” or similar.
  6. Last but not least, something in their email that suggests they have at least read my blog and demonstrate that they have a pretty clear idea of the relevance of their proposed content to it.

I wonder what the next email that makes it through the spam filter will propose.

The mutual value of the conversation

2013 Annual Report

The stats helper monkeys have been busy, said WordPress in an overnight email telling me about “Your 2013 in blogging,” a concise analysis of this blog during the year as noted by the stats module in Jetpack, the uber-plugin utility for self-hosted WordPress sites.

It’s a concise portrayal of a range of metrics that are useful to know.

For instance:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 170,000 times in 2013. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 7 days for that many people to see it.

In 2013, there were 260 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 2,598 posts.

The busiest day of the year was January 9th with1,838 views. The most popular post that day was Prepare for goodbye Feedburner in October 2012.

I can get this information myself, of course, via analysis of the stats. But it was nice to see it expressed this way.

The Jetpack report also tells me which were the top five posts that got the most views in 2013.

attractionsin2013

  1. How to make your business card a smart card – June 2009
  2. How to secure your WordPress site against hacker attacks – April 2013
  3. Good example of a social media press release from ING – December 2012
  4. Prepare for goodbye Feedburner in October 2012 – September 2012
  5. Disney brings the second-screen experience to the movies – September 2013

As the report notes, some of these were written before 2013 but still got attention (views) from people, adding:

Your writing has staying power! Consider writing about those topics again.

A good tip, thanks!

The most-commented post in 2013, says Jetpack, was Don’t ignore social voices, Knight Frank #LostMyGiggle with nearly 130 comments including on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

Of interest, too, is information on where visitors come from, ie, which sites refer them. According to Jetpack, the top three referring sites in 2013 were these:

  1. Twitter
  2. Facebook
  3. Google+

I knew this from other research, but it’s good to see it confirmed by another credible source.

And where in the world did these visitors come from? 193 countries, says Jetpack! Specifically:

Most visitors came from The United States. The United Kingdom & Germany were not far behind.

US visitors are, roughly, about 51% of all visitors according to other measures. But, as Jetpack says, it’s ‘most.’ I suspect part of the reason why US visitor numbers are high is that much of my content has been widely syndicated in the US for much of the past decade.

So a useful snapshot of some of the metrics about what’s published on this blog, what people came to read in 2013, and what they did when they read it.

It makes me think about the value of blogging, especially with a strong business focus that is the characteristic of this blog (not many posts or videos about cats here), a topic about which Euan  Semple had a very good post yesterday.

It makes me think about the exposure of my thinking to others as expressed in posts that stimulate them to refer those posts to their communities or directly add their own points of view, whether here or elsewhere across the social web: it’s all trackable and connectable.

That’s what I call a conversation. So I’ll keep going… :)

From the fingertips of bloggers over 50

The email said, “We have a paying subscriber base of around 550,000 and 1.2 million readers so do expect an increase in visitors – make sure you put your wittiest, wisest comments up around then!”

These were the words of Katy Bravery, editor of Saga magazine, in an email to let me know that this blog, NevilleHobson.com, is one of 50 blogs written by bloggers over the age of 50 that are included in a feature in the September 2013 edition of the magazine, out from today.

50 Over-50 Bloggers

“50 Bloggers Over 50″ presents concise descriptions of Saga’s “pick from the best” (as they say), divided in categories that include culture, politics, food and drink, history, and the all-embracing ‘personal.’

I’m listed there, sandwiched between political blogger and radio show host Iain Dale and Channel 4 News anchor Jon Snow.

It’s quite flattering to be included by Saga and presented to an audience that may not be that new to me as I’m right in the age group Saga serves – those aged 50 and over – with its array of services that include insurance, travel, financial services, healthcare and cruises. Plus the monthly magazine.

Here’s how Saga’s listing describes this blog:

Neville Hobson

Neville describes his blog as being at ‘the intersection of business, communication and technology. And shiny new objects.’ As that final sentence suggests, all this is explained in terms we regular folk can understand.

nevillehobson.com

If you’re visiting this blog having read the feature in September’s Saga magazine, welcome! Let me guide you to a few things that might interest you while you’re here:

  • The Saga description is accurate on what I write about here – topics that are broadly to do with business, communication and technology. I don’t write for a specific age group and you won’t find much about sport or gardening, but a lot about PR and the social web. In short, topics related to business, communication and technology that might interest you whatever your age or your gender.
  • The ‘About‘ page will tell you a  bit more about who I am and what I do.
  • The drop-down menus called ‘Categories’ and ‘Archives’ on the right of your screen (or scroll down to them if you’re reading this on a mobile device) are your access to content I’ve written here since 2006 categorized by specific topic and dated by month. Also see the word cloud – the bigger the word, the more posts on that topic. And of course, the search box.
  • If you’re interested in listening to content, I co-host a weekly business podcast, For Immediate Release: The Hobson and Holtz Report, published on Mondays. There are also occasional podcasts that are book reviews, interviews with interesting people and recordings of speakers at events. Why not give one a try?
  • If you have a tablet like an iPad, you might like to read my Flipboard magazine that contains a wide range of articles on contemporary topics that I find interesting. You might, too.
  • If you’re on Twitter, Facebook or Google+, we can connect there too if you’d like to do that. Or you can just follow if you prefer. I’m also on Instagram and post smartphone snapshots there.

Thanks, I hope you enjoy your visit. Let me know if you do (or even if you don’t).

Connecting content and the social conversations

Blog comments

A topic Shel and I discuss in this week’s FIR podcast episode 715 is commenting on blogs.

More specifically, about the conversation that can happen in response to a post someone writes and publishes on a blog, and where the conversation actually takes place.

Increasingly, it’s not on the blog itself – it’s on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, anywhere across the social web except in the comments section of the blog post that prompted someone to add their two pence-worth.

Here’s an example: as the screenshot above illustrates – from a post I wrote last week about The Sun’s new paywall – there are no comments to the post directly, but ten comments across Twitter and Facebook that reference the post.

You might be wondering how those external comments appear on the blog. They do thanks to a nifty WordPress plugin called Social from Crowd Favorite that automagically finds and connects comments to a particular post where they appear on the major social networks

Actually, that’s not strictly true as conspicuous by its absence is Google+ and any comments about the post anyone makes on that social network. So conversation on Google+ is disconnected from content elsewhere, eg, on blogs.

But now there is one way in which you can connect Google+ to posts on WordPress blogs – albeit not in as integrated a manner as you might wish – via Google+Comments, a WordPress plugin developed by Alex Moss.

What this does is add a Google+ comments area below your post that’s additional to the blog comment area of what shows from a plugin like the Social one I have installed. So it’s a separate area. It’s similar to what you can do with Facebook commenting via plugins.

You can also manually add Google+ comments anywhere to a post, such as within it like this:

Google+ Comments

Powered by Google+ Comments

Try it – leave a Google+ comment!

From what I can understand in how it works, it doesn’t behave like Crowd Favorite’s Social plugin – that brings in links to comments made elsewhere – but is a full-blown comment system, as it were, in which you write and post your comments to Google+ and see related comments others have made on Google+.

I think it’s a good concept and could be a credible complement to third-party commenting platforms like Disqus, Livefyre, IntenseDebate and others, as well as to native blog commenting.

Although I do have the Google+Comments plugin installed and activated, I haven’t enabled it for all posts. Not yet: I want to see how it works in practice, what others do with it and how people feel about it. Plus it look like it has some display/CSS styling issues with how content is presented in this blog.

Until knitting together the online conversation stream becomes more seamless – in essence, joining up all the dots that form online conversations centred on a blog post – and simpler and easier, and doesn’t require workarounds like plugins and other tools and services that perform the necessary connectivity, this at least enables Google+ to be part of the overall conversation.

The nature of commenting has shifted, too, along with the proliferation of places where you can add a quick opinion and the growth of short-form posts that almost resist anything longer than a quick tweet or a Facebook like.

Still, whatever the length of a post and a comment, Google+Comments will likely connect more of the dots. On WordPress blogs, at least.

(Via Debi Davis)