Jon Thomas
Jon Thomas
Communications Director

Have Conversations Left Blogging?

Since the advent of the Internet, blogs have provided the masses with a way to publish content. By the early 2000s, brands were catching on to the benefits of blogging, and those who embraced this new type of content marketing were seen as being ahead of the social-media curve.

Not only did blogs help businesses rank better for SEO, they also permitted customers and brands to have meaningful dialogue. In early 2006, noted tech gurus Robert Scoble and Shel Israel wrote about the power of blogs to “humanize communication, bringing companies and their constituencies together in a way that improves both image and bottom line” in their book Naked Conversations.

As Facebook was still available only to students at selected universities and Twitter was in development, blogs (fueled by comments) were the best way that brands could facilitate conversations with their customers, fans and prospects.

The social-media boom

Fast-forward to 2012 and the social-media landscape is fragmented—growing and evolving every day. Before your brand has time to set up a profile on the newest social-media site, another site emerges. Diverse audiences engage with each platform differently, and many of your brand’s audiences have audiences of their own. Blogs are still prominent today, but the approach to driving a conversation is very different.

Has conversation left blogging?

Given the presence of so many social outposts on which to engage with a brand’s audience, the idea of hosting a valuable conversation in a blog’s comment section seems antiquated. Matt Gemmell has argued against having comments at all, namely because they don’t contribute much valuable information, are used by only a tiny minority, and enable anonymity, which  can lead down some dark paths. Seth Godin, perhaps the most prominent marketing blogger, does not permit comments.

Are comments really conversation?

The argument is not about whether having a conversation with an audience is valuable. We know it is. But while blogs are still effective in regard to content marketing (you’re reading one now!), this doesn’t mean that in 2012 (and beyond) they’re still the best place to have a dialogue. Even though we have more-advanced commenting systems, like Facebook Connect and Disqus (which this blog uses), the conversations aren’t always fruitful. Some commenters comment and never return; others just want to agree with the author; others are there to promote their own content; and a few are there simply to spit venom. With so much noise, what’s a blog to do?

Don’t delete just yet

While there are numerous arguments for canning your comments right now, not everyone agrees. Matthew Ingram at Giga-Om believes that comments are still worth the effort, and even though Mitch Joel may be on the fence, he still allows and responds to comments every day. If you take a scroll down the page, you’ll notice that we still allow comments too. It’s not a mass exodus just yet, and reports of the death of blog comments (like those of the death of email marketing) may be an exaggeration.

It’s all one community

As a community manager, presumably in charge of all your brand’s outposts, you must understand the goals of each of the channels and design your content-marketing strategy according to those goals. An engaging and effective community requires two-way communication, but maybe your blog isn’t the best place for that. Maybe Facebook is the best place to create a conversation thread about your content. Many email-marketing services enable seamless integration between newsletters and Facebook, so a conversation that’s open to the community is started as soon as your email is sent.

Whether your blog is teeming with comments or completely barren, it’s important to understand in exactly which channels you can moderate the conversation most appropriately, fruitfully and effectively. It’s not a sin anymore to have your blog act as a one-way channel for your brand to use to post articles and resources as long as you’re listening and responding to the conversation wherever it is happening, whether a reader replies at you, writes their own blog response or even sends you an email.

My take

As community manager for Post-Advertising and author for a number of other blogs, I fear that comments are on their way out. I’m not ready to shut the function down, but the sadness I used to feel when a post I spent hours writing didn’t receive a single comment is far more subdued now. I share my articles on a number of channels, and some conversations happen there instead of here. When the article is shared by others, it’s a sign that at least the reader felt there was enough value in the article that their networks would benefit from reading it, and that’s a form of feedback. The landscape has changed so much that the notion of conversing with your audience is quite different, and blog comments aren’t as necessary. Don’t get me wrong; I still love getting a high-quality comment, even if it’s a dissenting opinion. But receiving comments has fallen off as a measure of success.

So let’s hear it in the comments (joke intended)! Are you commenting more or less on blogs than you used to? Are you receiving more or fewer comments on your own blog than you used to? Do you comment elsewhere?

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  • http://www.mydisruption.com/ Disruptive Dave

    Hey Jon – sadly, I’d probably agree that commenting on blogs has certainly dwindled, especially in a true back-and-forth discussion environment (vs. one way message pushing and then leaving). As you point out, the multitude of social outlets we have now is naturally going to dilute any one forum. And yes, I think micro-blogging routines have put us all in a mindset of writing as briefly as possible (good and bad…). Also as you point out, none of this means blog comment conversations are no longer valuable, which is definitely the silver lining. I wrote a blog post a little while ago (shameless self promotion: http://mydisruption.wordpress.com/2012/03/12/r-o-c-return-on-conversation/) about the Return On Conversation. Goods news is that good ol talking to people like human beings still works! Last thought – let’s all, as content creators, take this as a call to arms to make damn sure what we’re producing is interesting, disruptive (another plug!) and thought provoking.

    Thanks,
    Dave
    @MyDisruption

  • http://www.postadvertising.com Jon Thomas

    Thanks for the comment Dave. Certainly “talking to people like human beings” has not nor will ever (hopefully) dwindle. It’s not the conversation that I believe is on a downward trend, but the idea that blogs are where “conversations” happen. It was never really a good place to start with, and now we have so many other options. 

    But the irony is not lost on me that you and I are conversing in a blog comment thread about how blog comments aren’t as important as they used to be. 

  • http://twitter.com/TheJeremyKnight Jeremy Knight

    Hi Jon, Thanks for the post, you raise an interesting point and frankly, how could one not comment here under the circumstance?

    I would agree the ‘conversational’ aspect of the blogosphere appears to be in continual decline, replaced perhaps by an avarice appetite for re-publishing each others content. Maybe in a quest for expediency we believe that conversation is now curation and that our new role is more as a publisher than a commentator?

    I do find that more often than not, comments these days contain self promotion rather than a sense of debate as they once did, and this is partly why comments have been devalued. After all, why look at a bunch of advertorials?

    I think you are right, the days of the comment box are over. However, I feel confident that this will not be the end of comments, just the way in which comments are shared.

  • DaveNemiah

    Hi Jon – I also want to thank you for the post, and generally for the great blog you oversee at Story Worldwide. I look forward to it’s arrival!

    One sentence buried several paragraphs down in your comments really caught my attention, “Diverse audiences engage with each platform differently, and many of
    your brand’s audiences have audiences of their own.” Recently I’ve been struggling to wrap my head around the culture & dynamics of social engagement. Your words capture the complexity that’s been obscuring my vision…but also inspire me to start building a visual model of the range of possible relationships between people and platforms that can be discerned today. In this model, I’ll be sure to include 2-way blog commentary as component in the overall scheme. If you’re interested, glad to send you a copy when it’s drafted. Thanks again for the mental grist!

  • http://www.postadvertising.com Jon Thomas

    Curation as conversation…interesting idea. One obviously can’t replace the other, it seems as though curation and sharing has become a type of social currency. So instead of commenting with “Great post. Loved it!” we instead share the post so that others can enjoy it. Both provide positive feedback to the writer. 

  • http://www.postadvertising.com Jon Thomas

    Thanks Dave. The “audience of audiences” line I first heard from Mark Schaefer (www.businessesgrow.com/blog/) one of our panel leaders at the Post-Advertising Summit last March. It’s so true now. We can’t think of our audiences as individuals – each have their own audience (some small, some large) which can be both to our benefit and demise. Provide something great, and they share it. Provide something horrible, and they share it. 

    Definitely send over a copy! jon dot thomas at storyworldwide dot com

  • http://twitter.com/RotoRob Rob Blackstien

    I have definitely noticed a dwindling of conversations at our blog, just as conversations have risen on other channels. While I find it somewhat discouraging to not be engaging users at the site, the fact that the engagement levels on Facebook and Twitter are far greater than what we ever saw on the site more than makes up for it. We have found that our ability to “touch” our readers (and just as important, reach new ones) on those channels is vastly improved and we have finally achieved that long-desired two-way communication that all publishers strive for (or should strive for, at any rate).

  • http://www.postadvertising.com Jon Thomas

    Exactly Rob. The conversation isn’t ending, just shifting to new places. I just hope content marketers understand this and able to set goals and measure appropriately. We used to count the comments-per-post on here. They’re still valuable, but we’ve stopped counting and focused on other metrics. 

  • bmitch

    Thanks for the thoughtful post, Jon. It’s prompted me to consider various forms of conversation. The one I most often choose (thought I’d not previously considered it “conversation,” per se), is sharing with brief comment or question. I’m not so much interested in debating a blogger as learning from him or her — and hopefully helping to facilitate further learning by friends and colleagues. And, as I think about it, that form of communication is more apt to happen via Twitter or Facebook than a comments section.

  • http://www.postadvertising.com Jon Thomas

    Exactly. I’ve noticed a lot of that in the past few years with comments being embedded into the share vs. explicitly at the bottom of the post. That’s a big reason why I don’t believe # of comments isn’t as important of a measurement tool anymore since they’re happening all over.