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 I Learned on My Summer Vacation (or, I am an Elitist Jerk)
- Warning: Museum Graduate Programs Spawn Legions of Zombies!
- Where I'm Coming From
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.