Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Why Doesn't Anyone Comment on Your Blog?

When people ask about blogging, the question of comments comes up more frequently than any other. It's a bit strange. Why not ask more typical website questions, "why don't more people visit my blog?" or "why don't more people link to my blog?" There are many good ways to measure a blog's value, but somewhere inside ourselves, we feel that comments are the thing that validate a blog's existence. They prove that the conversation is two-way. They demonstrate that the blog is a more participatory vehicle than other kinds of media. So when people ask, "Why don't more people comment?," it gets me excited. It means that you are blogging because you want to hear from someone else.

But here's the problem: the vast majority of people who read your blog aren't reading it because they want or plan to comment on it. They are reading it to read it--to learn, absorb, and gain awareness of new things. When you read other peoples' blogs, do you comment? I do so rarely. I have to feel like the post is open enough to my experience, that the blogger and the community of that blog would find my voice worthwhile, that I have some strong reaction I want to share, that I won't sound stupid... and most of the blog reading I do isn't like that. 95% of the blog posts I read are exciting to me because they provide me with useful, interesting windows into new information. They're like magazine articles. I may talk about them with friends or pass them on, but only once in a blue moon will I write a letter "to the editor" to share my thoughts back to the author.

I push myself to comment wherever it feels right, and still, it often feels scary, weird, and hard. I don't want to validate non-commenting--I want to do whatever I can to encourage commenting--but I acknowledge the barriers. I feel them every day.

Museum 2.0's comment rate, on average, is 7 comments per post, and about 10,000 unique people read the blog each month. That's a lousy percentage--too low to print without several zeroes (and a little complicated to calculate on a per-post basis). Social media experts talk about the 90-9-1 rule: 90% of users are consumers, 9% are occasional producers, and 1% are frequent contributors. Most "successful" blogs are nowhere near 90-9-1. Consider Beth Kanter's blog about non-profits and technology, which is read by about 25,000 people per month. Her average comment rate is 3 comments per post. Does it make her blog less valuable or influential? No. It's just one part of the picture.

There are some blogs that have much higher comment rates than these examples. They tend to be small community blogs that serve a set of people who already know each other and want to connect with each other, like a family, friend group, or work team. If my dad blogged, I'd comment all the time. In fact, there are MORE blogs of this type in the world than blogs that are primarily expository, but the communities they serve are so small (often 10 people or fewer) that they are invisible to most of us. If you do indeed want to cultivate a community discussion, start with a blog "family" to fuel the blog, or, better yet, consider another venue like Twitter or a social network that is a more conducive environment to active participation among strangers.

The other reason not to let comments drive your efforts is that the posts which elicit the most comments are not necessarily the ones that readers value most. It's easy as the blogger to feel this way--after all, I get the most value as a content recipient when you comment back to me, so I (probably incorrectly) inflate the value of those posts. When people do vault over all the psychological barriers to comment, it's not necessarily an indication of a superlative post; it more likely means the post induces a strong reaction. The top three most commented-on posts on this blog are:
What do these posts have in common? They are all personal and provocative. They aren't better than other posts, and they are certainly less informative than many. But in them, I wrote something personal which put me on a conversational level. There are many other stories and opinions besides mine to contribute to the conversations on these posts, and you have done so incredibly richly.

When I wrote the Where I'm Coming From post last week, I had no idea it would be so commented upon. I almost didn't post it because I thought it was overly self-absorbed. Instead, it generated the best comments I've ever seen here--thoughtful, long manifestos about why all of you do what you do. It's awesome. I'm grateful. I hope it happens again. But I'm not planning to shift all of my writing to this kind of personal self-reflection nor to the hyper-provocative content of the Zombies post. I'm not writing to get comments. I'm writing to learn, and hopefully to connect with you through that experience.

And so while I WISH that all of you feel comfortable enough in this space and close enough to me and responsive to my writing that you want to comment, I know that you, like me, probably aren't here for that. You're here to read, to think, and only very occasionally to discuss. That's ok. I want you for that, too.

There are many good tips and strategies for improving blog conduciveness to comments. But it's OK if no one comments on your blog. It can even be OK if no one reads your blog as long as you are getting something out of it. At ASTC in October, museum evaluation rockstar Randi Korn gave a great talk about the role of self-reflection in museum practice. She argued that reflection may be even more important than evaluation in the cycle of creating impact through your work. Blogging can be a wonderful way to take time out from your life to reflect, even if no one reads it. You have the chronicle of content, and that's really valuable, too.

Of course, if you are writing your blog for marketing purposes, you should care about the number of readers. If you are writing to have industry impact, you should care about the number of people who link to you. And if you are writing your blog for conversational purposes, you should care about the quantity and quality of comments. So think about why you are writing before you worry about how to get more comments.

Having said all of this, I know, deep down, why you care about comments. They are the most obvious way that you can see that all of your hard work has had impact on someone. Someone cares! Blogging means giving a lot to a faceless community, and every comment fills in a face. Getting a good comment is like getting a million puppies in the mail. I am so so so grateful whenever you write back and share your thoughts with all those faceless people and with me. But I've also learned not to rely on or have an unhealthy relationship with that gratitude. I'm ecstatic when you comment. I'm thrilled when someone links to me. I'm elated by reader numbers. But what keeps me going is an interest in writing, learning, and sharing.

And so I want to end with my own thanks. Thank you to the intrepid commenters who have jumped in on this blog and shared your stories. Thanks in particular to people like Paul Orselli, who always asks hard questions, and people like Alli, who was inspired just last week to share her first amazing comment. I encourage you all to make a practice of reading the comments on blogs as well as the posts--they reflect a diversity of experience that you can never find in the posts alone. But thank you also to all the bloggers whose work I read and rarely comment on. Thank you to Reach Advisors for sharing FASCINATING insight into visitors' brains. Thank you to Ira Socol who writes a great blog about education and accessibility and comments here frequently. Thank you to the Exploratorium Explainers who give me a window into the frontlines. Thanks to Maria Mortati and David Cheseborough and Dimitry van den Berg and Beck Tench and Shelley Bernstein and Paul Orselli (again) and all the museum bloggers whose work inspires and instructs me. I promise to try to comment more often, but if I don't, know that I still value and appreciate your work.

And if you have a question, an objection, a suggestion, an experience, or a friendly word to share, for god's sake, leave a comment.

26 comments, add yours!:

Amanda McCormick said...

Well, I wasn't going to comment but...thanks for another brilliant post.

Jen Huizinga said...

Thanks for sharing - I will be passing this on to our marketing team. I tend to get discouraged by low rates of comments, this is a good reminder that I don't post to gather comments, rather to share insights.

Thanks again!

Blogging tips and insight said...

well let me comment here . Another brilliant post.

narrator said...

I rarely get comments. I get more emails than comments from my blog, which fascinates me. Part of this (adding to your list) is that we still have a world of people trained in Gutenberg-era communications. An article is to read, not really interact with. Just as a museum is to view, not really to interact with. This is a difficult "cultural assumption set" to undo - especially among adults.

But it raises an interesting question - what is the "currency" that pays our best bloggers? That keeps them writing? And how can a blog's audience help sustain that blog? Old style journalists, book authors, etc, got paid in money. If there was no audience response, well, the check made up for that. The audience bought the work, that created the feedback system.

In blogs, we're struggling to figure it out. I can look and say however many tens of thousands of unique hits and the 99 nations represented, and that, some days, is enough - those are the days when I imagine an impact which makes it worth my time. Other days, it isn't enough, and shouting into (what seems to be) the ether seems not just worthless, but worthless and self-indulgent.

I don't have answers. But I do suspect that if a forum for my views came along with better feedback, I'd jump. I'm a blogger simply because it is the best route right now.

- Ira Socol

Sassy said...

Thank you so much for this post. I'm the podcast producer at my museum and we use a blog to create our feed. We don't get many comments (most are when there's a problem with an episode) and I've never really worried about it. But I'm constantly being asked to rate our success based on comments (this comes from co-workers, volunteers, board members, and attendees to my presentations).

I try to explain that comments are not the only measure of success, but I often feel like I'm the only one that understands. So thanks for helping me realize I'm not alone.

Maria Mortati said...

Ira, I agree that if there were a more conversational forum, I'd use it. I've tried Twitter and use Ning but nothing is "it" yet. I really want a cross-conversational UI that looks like a cross between VoiceThread and a blog.

The act of writing a blog where I steal time from my typically busy weeks to reflect and share has begun to have a powerful effect on my work, our office-- and hopefully will be useful to a few others as it evolves.

For that, I really do have Nina to thank. She is one of the first in our industry to say "I'm doing this, what do you think?" and "Here's how it's going". She's modeled what a great blog can be for me, and I'm sure many others- comments or no comments aside.

kanter said...

Great post Nina!

Tikka said...

This post is going to be so helpful in talking with other people in my museum about blogging ... thanks Nina!

Anita Lucchesi said...

What a great post, Nina!
Well, I don't remember, but I think that I never leave a comment here before. But I agree with you (100%)!
I'm not a good English reader... I have to be honest, I have a very poor English, sorry! But I read Museum 2.0 since may, 2008 (I really enjoy it), when I created my own blog in Portuguese, because I'm from Brazil and now I'm in Florence, Italy, because I had an exchange this year. I am writing about Digital History and New Medias on my blog but this subject is not much popular in Brazil yet, my monography is about it! I always have something interesting to say about your blog, was amazing when I read it for the first time! It's part of my Blogroll! You propose here such a good question to discuss and I'm glad to bring it to my brazilians readers. It's very nice to learn togheter!

THANK YOU!

Best wishes!

Pete Johnson said...

Very interesting and thoughtful piece, Nina. I write a blog directed at a small special-interest community (Northern California radio-control model airplane flyers) and I get a disproportionately high number of comments because I know many of the commenters personally. But it always fascinates me to consider why some entries get no response and others, not necessarily my favorites, cause tangible buzz.

I love your observation that, "Getting a good comment is like getting a million puppies in the mail." It truly is.

Thanks.

Stacy said...

Thanks for this wonderful post! I'll be sharing it with my high school students who blog and are often disappointed at the lack of comments they receive. I agree with narrator that part of the reason is people aren't comfortable writing comments. I also get more emails than comments.

Mike Haubrich, FCD said...

I sometimes get frustrated at the low level of commenting at my post, and this was a good piece to make me feel better about what I do.

I also stopped watching my technorati authority about 4 months ago, and it has helped me to relax a bit, too.

Bjoern Brembs said...

Interesting! Now I get a few thousand unique visitors more per month than you, but much, much fewer comments. Now what does that say about my blog? :-)

Peter Morgan said...

I'm not a regular reader, I came here from "uncertain principles". I'm off my Physics theme here, so I sadly won't stay, nice though the party looks.

On this post, I see that Nina didn't comment on comments. The distinction between blogs where the owner comments never, sometimes, very often, or always is quite visceral for me. There's also the question of whether the blogger aggressively defends their turf. If when I open my heart in response to the topic (honestly, I hope), I'm blasted for my idiocy (though I was not too idiot,I hope), I often love the possibility that I will change because of it. That's not for everyone of course, and blogger irascibility can be attractive or repulsive depending on their overall attitude. Howard Stern, anyone?

So, what is the role of the blog owner's comments on comments in building readership and comments? An interesting, engaged response to comments presumably does lead to more?

There is also a distinction, I think, between blogs where people more appear to be addressing the blogger, perhaps partly because they know the blogger is listening because they comment, and blogs where people more appear to be addressing other readers. Is it desirable to foster one rather than the other?

Nina Simon said...

Peter,
Thanks for joining in, if only for a moment. I actually do frequently respond to comments, though I haven't in this case (in part due to the nature of the post). I do try to balance my voice in the comments--after all, I've had 750 words or so to say my piece--but I always respond to questions that come up.

Beth Kanter wrote an interesting post in June about trying to encourage more commenter-to-commenter discussion in the comments. It's tough, because the thing that compels a person to the comments in the first place is more often a desire to write than a desire to read. You have the post to respond to, so it can be hard to switch gears to respond to another commenter. She recommends other venues, like Twitter and Friendfeed, as better locales for that kind of comment discussion.

That said, I've seen lots of good "referencing" comments that mention, agree with, or argue a point with another commenter in addition to their main point.

Thanks to everyone for your kind words on this one!

Peter Morgan said...

Nina, Thanks for the very interesting Beth Kanter blog post, as a bonus to yours.

...tom... said...

...

hey there...

I participate at another site that has a comment component ...but most never do. While I have always enjoyed commenting. There or on any random blog I might encounter.

Like this one.

Personally, I do not get the 'big deal' part of it.

Now if only I had a 'marketing team'... just glancing at that comment (as I post this) to the left...


Done..!!


...tom...
.

Tina Kubala said...

I just discovered your blog today. A link from one of the many, many blogs in my RSS feeder.

Your insights speaks to me. I have a mixed bag/personal blog with a tiny amount of paid content.

I've given up on stats. I spend the time reading other people's blogs. I try to leave comments when I have something to say. I also email a response to each comment I receive. I even stopped visiting blogs I dislike simply because that blogger visits me. I wouldn't cultivate a real life friendship with someone I find boring.

Writing makes me happy. Interacting with other bloggers makes me happy. Worry about traffic doesn't make me happy.

I get a comments a couple times a week. Sometimes more. It is like a million puppies!

My husband is a sports blogger. He post more often than I do. He gets picked up by all kinds of news sites. His traffic is much better than mine. But the comments are almost non existent. The main difference is who reads our blogs: My readers are bloggers, his are sports fans looking for the story behind the headlines.

Jane said...

I read your blog all the time and LOVE it, and just like you surmised, I rarely comment because I am here to grok and absorb and have my imagination sparked... I am mostly a Nina consumer. ^_^ However I agree that leaving comments is a form of good karma, and I appreciate this reminder to do so on my favorite blogs (like yours)!

Mario Pérez López said...

Nina,

Nice to meet you; I've read an excellent piece of advice; after my first blogging "anniversary", your thoughts on this sometimes complex issue of balancing quantity, quality and comments, are a valuable source of ideas in order to differentiate and leverage several ideas I was a bit ignorant about.

Thank you.

JibberJobber Guy said...

sometimes they don't comment because you (the blogger) write too much and don't leave room for comments. What if you only wrote 80% of the post, and let the readers finish it?

Ryan J. said...

Hi Nina,

Thanks for listing our blog again on your site. I look at a lot of blogs, but don't comment too much especially on sites that I don't personally know the creator.

Even on the Explainers blog, the comments mainly serve as a way to connect the multiple authors of the blog internally.

One thing that we saw on our blog that wasn't exactly a comment, but close, was when a parent of a student in a class made their own blog post on their own blog that related to a blog post by us on the teacher perspective.

Thanks for all your ideas and posts. Maybe that's the best reason for comments, just to remind the author that there are those out there who read the ideas that we post.

Crystal said...

I also get frustrated with a lack of comments, especially when I feel I've written a particularly good post. Then I have to remember that I myself am in the 90% club -- even though I read hundreds of blogs, this is probably my sixth comment, ever, on any blog. But I am reading blogs, absorbing them, bookmarking them, linking to them on my own blog, passing them along. Just because I didn't comment doesn't mean I didn't value the post.

Thanks for very clearly and thoroughly backing up my argument to management that a lack of comments doesn't mean our org blog is unsuccessful. I'll be passing this along!

Rup said...

You raise some interesting points here and although just passing by I felt compelled to comment...!

Sherman Unkefer said...

Job will done that was great post.

Prado Museum Madrid said...

Some do read blogs to read and comment on them. The reason is to build a connection to others in the community.