Wednesday, December 09, 2009

More comments doesn't always equal more conversation

How many times have you heard that when it comes to social media, that 'it's all about the conversation?' We all have, and 'the conversation' is terribly important.

But I think the misconception many of us have is that all you need to have a conversation, is comments. Check out this post by Olivier. Notice it has 266 comments (currently). But look closer and you'll see that almost all of those comments are coming from one side of the issue.

That's not a conversation, that's a buncha comments. And I think this is a problem that many bloggers have, in that we don't always effectively manage comments so that people that come down on both sides of the issue feel like they can be heard.

I'm not picking on Olivier here, notice this post I wrote last week on Mashable. Almost all of the commenters agreed with me, but Mike offered a differing viewpoint that I really didn't touch on. That was my fault, and I should have done a better job of addressing what Mike said. Doing so might have opened up the comments to more viewpoints.

So if you're a blogger that's wanting to get conversations started on your blog, remember that you need more than just comments. You need interaction, if all you have are a buncha 'Amen!' comments, well that might make YOU feel good, but it's not the best way to get a conversation started.

And if you do get a differing viewpoint (or someone that flatly says you are full of it), EMBRACE that, because they are giving an opening to anyone that has another viewpoint to chime in. More viewpoints means a better chance of turning a few comments into a vibrant conversation that we can ALL learn from.

That's how your blog gets traction and respect. Not by having comments, but by having conversations.

Pic via Flickr user db*photography


Michelle C said...

Dare I say...amen? ;)

Mack Collier said...

Troublemaker ;)

Mark Goren said...

The other point that I'd dare bring up is that the 266 comments were largely the result of a handful of people repeating themselves over and over (at least the same central theme). The poster himself accounted for a great number of those comments as well, most in self-defence or thanking folks for agreeing.

While I think it's healthy to stir the post and generate comments, I think your headline here says it all. After all, what did all those comments really accomplish?

Mark Goren said...

Oops, make that "Stir the pot"!

Joseph Fiore said...

I can see this going both ways.

I was a participant in that post by Olivier, and I think that the repetitious points by Mark are valid. And Olivier did a great job in participating. Where I think that incident veers off from the kind of active commentary that is par for the course is that it started off as being a controversial topic (certification) and named names.

Timing may have had something to do with it in light of the responses we are seeing across the blogosphere and the new cropping-up of an "FTC" section explaining codes of conduct and ethics in social media marketing and WOM.

Adding to this skewed perception was the beehive manner where respondents seemed to take sides, deflect criticism from the approach Olivier took, and with it, a belaboured need to point detractors to the substance, purpose and intent of the post.

On the flip-side, I've seen many examples of active commentary that overshadowed the relevance of the post and took a life of its own in terms of their value and significance. I've even caught myself searching commenters aliases, words or phrases used in the post because I couldn't remember the original title of the post.

It is very often in these cases that the shared insights and the interaction and evolved thinking that goes on in the comments section that the real value of the conversation is found (2¢).


Mack Collier said...

Mark in Olivier's case, I also think you have to give him credit for responding to most every comment. Granted, it's easier to respond to 'atta-boy!' comments, but I see many bloggers that don't even do that.

Joseph I think what often happens with popular bloggers, is that they spark a lot of agreeable responses because they are, well popular. And on the flipside, I think a lot of people feel reluctant to disagree with a popular blogger.

Which means we need to be as aware as possible of making sure alternative viewpoints are raised. And let's be honest, if your post is getting a truckload of comments, it's hard enough just to reply to them all!

Analisa said...

I think that a comment on a blog post should CONTRIBUTE in some way, like you suggest. That means adding an additional point, disagreeing or asking a question.

This makes me think that many blog posts I read are just thoughts anyways, that cannot really be furthered in any way. That's why we see so many comments that simply agree. Blogs that share either controversial or educational material garner more interesting comments, I would posit.

My boss wrote this post on FBML and have received almost 100 comments, most of them asking additional questions! He has really had to spend a lot of time maintaining that post :)

I hope your observation encourages bloggers to write more inspiring posts.


Unknown said...

I liken this to CEOs who surround themselves with "YES Men" who agree with all of their decisions, and who ultimately end up either running their company into the ground or being dismissed by their Board.

Like smart CEOs, smart bloggers will encourage their readers to challenge them and have provocative conversations with them - ultimately making them a better blogger and leader in their industry in the process.

As with CEOs, this requires confidence on the part of the blogger, a little bit of risk taking, an ability to communicate to readers that all opinions are welcomed and of interest, and then the talent to show they really mean it.

I don't think many can do this well, kudos to you for leading the way.

Jamie Search said...

It's important to try and get conversations going on your blog posts and interact with your readers. I have seen quite a couple of blogs where a question has been asked by a reader and the blog owner has never answered it. If someone has taken the time to read your post and make a comment then the blog owner should at least have the time to reply to the question.

Daria Steigman said...

Hi Mack,

Sometimes I read a post and want to add my thoughts, only to discover that 60, 70, or 266 people have come before me. Then I click back to Google Reader instead. Because unless the post is very provocative and those first few comments create more conversation, I'm not going to read through everything.

I think the trend of integrating tweets about a post in with the comments is also adding to this problem. Because tweets are typically designed to point you to a good post--not start a 140-character conversation.


Mack Collier said...

Daria I agree completely with you on Tweets in comments adding to the problem. My site is WordPress, and that's exactly why I have NOT added that functionality there. It's ridiculous to see a post has 76 'mentions', and then find that 67 of them are RTs, and that they are mixed in WITH the 9 actual comments. That's a BIG conversation killer.

Mack Collier said...

BTW Analisa, Daria and Jamie, can you all tell me what your Twitter name is so I can make sure I am following there, if you are on Twitter? Thanks!

John Heaney said...

Although I agree with your thesis, I disagree with your example of Olivier's post about the International Social Media Association.

The central point of his original post was that it was ridiculous for two individuals to declare themselves the international dispenser of social media certification. Not surprisingly, the comments were largely in agreement with that point. However, the conversations that ensued weren't simply congratulating Olivier on his expose of this suspect organization. They were substantive, thoughtful and expansive explorations of the larger topic: the necessity of social media certification.

Actually, a close reading of the comments reveals that the overall issue of certification dominated the conversation and was joined by academics, lawyers and businesspeople each with a distinct and useful perspective that ultimately resulted in a subsequent post dealing solely with the future of SM certifications.

I found the entire thread to be intriguing and instructive (full disclosure: I was also a commenter), largely free of personal invective and solicitous of opposing viewpoints and perspectives. Just like yours.

Unknown said...


I'm puzzled by your citing Olivier's post as an illustration of the point you make in yours. I read Olivier's original post and then the ensuing comments and found it a fascinating and important discussion. A conversation even. That some of the comments were repetitive I took in stride. (I also commented. My intent was to provide value--but who knows if it was received that way?)

So how does one moderate the comments effectively? Is it not still a conversation if the majority of comments reflect similar viewpoints? I am intrigued by this and would welcome your response. Until now, I haven't really given any thought to the process of managing comments. I appreciate (and agree with) the concept of making sure that people on both sides of an issue feel that they have been heard.

I enjoy your posts, look forward to reading them, and often learn from them. This one is no exception. I just don't see Olivier's post as the best illustration of the point you are making. (Now I'll go back and read the additional comments I have apparently missed and perhaps wish I had posted differently--lol)

Thanks for all you contribute to the space.

Mack Collier said...

John I will agree with you that there was a good discussion there, but it was largely among participants from one side of the issue. The side that thought that Mark and Mari's effort was a great idea, really wasn't represented, and I think if it had be, the exchange would have likely looked much different than it did.

Allen my main point was that when you put a buncha people together that feel strongly about an issue and that all fall down on the SAME side of that issue, then you probably won't have as healthy of a debate as you normally would.

For example, when I am reading blogs or on Twitter, I have a favorite group of people I like to connect with. And these people overwhelmingly have a very positive take on social media. So even when we have discussions about social media, it's coming from the same side of the fence.

But when I talk to someone that is critical of social media, like Amy Africa, I get a completely different take. Exchanges with people that come from a DIFFERENT viewpoint than my own open my eyes to a completely different side of the argument than what I see if I am just talking to people that agree with me, and I them.

And the same thing happens here, often I will voice my opinion about a topic, and a lot of the commenters will agree with my take. We can still have a conversation, but that conversation could be one-sided.

I think conversations are best when both sides of an issue are represented, and the tone is open and respectful. IMO, that's where the most learning happens.

John Heaney said...

As much as I agree with your position that engaging dialogue from both sides may result in fresh perspectives, there are occasions when the dialogue is predominantly one-sided because the issue itself attracts few adherents.

Mark and Mari were pursuing an idea that is generally repellant. Not just to social media adherents, but to most observers. Declaring oneself the international arbiter and bestower of social media certification was a bad idea. I will grant their good intentions, but their execution was unseemly.

Both Mark and Mari were provided with an opportunity to present their side of the issue, but Mark was unnecessarily hostile and Mari was evasive and imprecise. It's not surprising that so few rose to the defense of the nearly indefensible.

Daria Steigman said...


Twitter ID is @dariasteigman. (I think you are following me.) Would have left this follow-up earlier in the day, but was tied up in jury duty.


Suzanne Vara said...


The Oliver post ... I am laughing. Ok, being serious now: This post did spark a lot of comments that were one-sided. Yes it showed that people were going to say this was a good idea however I see your point that these comments did not lead to conversation. But then I ask myself does conversation always have to be both sides?

The premise of your post is right - more comments should not be a measurement of conversation and that people are afraid to go against an industry leader as some are trying to be welcomed into that community. No different than kids at school trying to be at the cool kids table.

I really cannot jump on the "yes man" bandwagon as I guess that I am too fearful of it coming back and biting me someday. I rather say what I really feel or say nothing at all. We shall see how it continues to work out for me. =-) (shrugs shoulders)

Jason Keath said...

Brilliant point sir.

However, Preaching to the right choir can help you sell some bibles sometimes. Right?

It is great to be about the conversation, but if your content is hitting the right chords with your audience, it is more about the conversion sometimes.

I have to say, my favorite comment streams are those where there is real debate. That creates some of the more engaged community.

Comments can also be just a place for people to talk about themselves. One of my top and most commented posts is a list of top social media agencies. Guess what most of the comments on that post are? suggestions for me to add their company. It is actually a cool resource because of that, but not much of a community there.

Great post Mack.

Jay Baer said...

Hmmm. This one really has me thinking.

I agree that if someone takes a contrarian position in the comments, you should try to to make sure they are heard. That's just common fairness.

Not sure I agree that having a two-sided debate on every post is important. Does it make you a better blogger? A more popular blogger? I'm just not sure that it's worth the effort.

Clearly, having a "conversation" on the blog is great at times, but is it worth proactively trying to make that happen, vs. participating in comments on other blogs or on Twitter? I'm just not sure.

And in terms of combining tweets and comments, guilty as charged (I'm working on tweaking it).

Mack Collier said...

"Mark and Mari were pursuing an idea that is generally repellant. Not just to social media adherents, but to most observers."

John I think this a dangeous assumption to make. If you want to say that most people active in 'the social media space' didn't and don't like the idea of certification for social media, I'll agree with you. But to say that this particular execution is distasteful to most people is a BIG conclusion to jump to.

And as for Mark's reply and the tone of that reply, I agree, he didn't do the best job of making his case. But I can COMPLETELY understand why he got mad, because it's extremely easy to take the tone of the comments as a whole as being hostile toward his organization. I don't think he made the perfect response, but I absolutely understand why he got upset.

As for Mari, I thought she was very even-handed and completely cordial to Olivier on Twitter, which is really where I saw them discussing this.

If you want to say that there wasn't much defense of this idea simply because very few people agree with it, well I guess we'll have to agree to disagree. What the 'fishbowl' thinks and what the rest of the business world thinks are often two completely different things.

Mack Collier said...

Jak it's funny that you mention listing the top social media agenices. For a couple of years here I did a list of the Top 25 Marketing/Social Media blogs, and the overwhelming majority of the comments to those posts were wanting to know why their blog wasn't listed ;)

Mack Collier said...

Jay I'm not sure if you should push for both sides to be represented, but I do think most comments can be improved if both sides have a say.

As for the tweets/comments thing, if you could move all the tweets to AFTER the comments, it probably wouldn't bother people that much, if at all.

But I do feel 'tricked' a bit when I see '67 reactions' and think that means comments and find it's really 5 comments and 62 RTs.

Anonymous said...

Terrific post. Do you think that social media/networks makes us more apt to connect with "people like me" or who share my views - so we miss out on the diversity of opinion?

Linda C Smith said...

Here I am offering an "amen" comment - I've always thought of blogs as conversations between the writer and the reader(s) - why? because in most cases readers can comment. What's nice is when the blog author then responds to individual comments.