Ten tips for encouraging blog comments

A couple of days ago, someone forwarded me a request from a journalist writing a piece for a national UK paper about social networking.

The journalist’s questions were a little unclear:

I need ‘ten top tips’ for social networking, what to do (as opposed to what not to do). i.e., things to encourage comments and feedback on your postings – sentence length etc…

Mainly because of the ‘ie,’ I read that request as more to do with blogs – social media applications rather than social network services. Might have been different had it been an ‘eg.

Still, many social networks include a blogging capability – places where you and others can write content.

As the original request was to a mailing list, no doubt the journalist was swamped with all sorts of suggestions, many perhaps helpful.

In any event, I added my £0.01 worth by email with the following ten tips for encouraging blog comments:

  1. Write your post with your points well constructed and clearly presented so that the reader understands what you’re saying. May seem obvious but I see so many blog posts where none of that is clear at all.
  2. If getting comments is one of the goals you have for your blog (which is not every blogger’s goal), write your posts in a way that encourages readers to want to leave comments. The simple approach is often enough – ask a question.
  3. Make it easy for readers to actually make a comment. Ensure you have a blog design that is pleasing to the eye and each post has a clearly-identifiable area for writing comments and any instructions you have are easy to understand and follow. A good idea is to have a terms of use statement for your blog that includes a clear commenting policy, if you have one. My terms of use do.
  4. Provide some basic formatting functionality to make it easy for a commenter to best express him or herself such as buttons you can click to add attributes to your comment, eg, bold, italic, etc.
  5. Let commenters leave links to content elsewhere on the web. Although it’s often an issue with spammers who typically spray your blog with crap containing loads of links, you should be able to allow some linking especially if you have safeguards in place, eg, Akismet.
  6. Related to numbers 4 and 5, strike a balance between ease of use for your readers and security of your site. Recognize that many people are put off by too many hurdles. The big one is having to log in or register on a site before you can comment. Another is a complicated captcha, either the captcha itself or the procedure you have to follow. Yet another is comment moderation where typically comments by first-time commenters go into a moderation queue (that happens on this blog) for approval by you. Be timely with this – approve comments so they appear on your blog quickly, certainly within 24 hours.
  7. If you see people beginning to comment on a post you’ve written, join in the embryonic conversation as well. Add your own comments, not only to provide your additional viewpoint but also to show you want to actively engage with your readers. It’s the equivalent of a conversation. And it’s one way community starts building.
  8. Recognize that commenting on a post in your blog can happen elsewhere, eg, on other people’s blogs. If you want to be able to connect all that commentary together, make sure your blogs accepts incoming trackbacks or pingbacks.
  9. Many people who leave comments on blogs want to know when others leave comments. So offer an RSS feed for comments as well as the feed you’d offer for posts. That way, everyone can keep up with developing conversations. and thus encourages people to leave more comments.
  10. Get known outside your own blog. Visit other blogs. Read other posts. Contribute to discussions by leaving comments on other blogs. People (and Google search) notice such things. This can be good as people get to know you a little and so may keep an eye on your blog more than they otherwise would and, thus, may be more inclined to comment on your points of view.

I could have gone on with at least another ten tips but the journalist asked only for ten.

What would you have written as ten tips?