How to Be a Better Commenter

BlogHer Original Post

I think about commenting a lot; more, I would hazard a guess, than the average person. First and foremost, I run the monthly IComLeavWe, which is the commenting version of NaBloWriMo. It is about honing your talent as a commenter. Yes, most of the 120 to 180 monthly participants also find that their traffic goes up and they receive more comments in return, but at its core, it is about honouring the almighty comment and giving the comment its due (yes, everyone is welcome to join along and the January list just opened).

I think the large amount of traffic I have on my personal blog is directly tied to my love of the comment. Commenting well and often means that people notice you, and by extension, they notice your blog. It is the only sure-fire way to build traffic. And beyond building traffic, I think comment writing is just as much an art and requires just as much skill as blog post writing.

So what does it mean to be a good commenter? I've given a lot of thought to this over the last 4 years. I'm certainly grateful when someone takes the time to write, "that was really funny" -- just four simple words. But I'm more likely to sit up and notice a blogger who leaves a long, thoughtful comment. More likely to click over to their blog and read.

Which is my first piece of advice: take your time when leaving comments.

There is actually a six-facet approach to writing a good comment, which sounds like a great big ball of stress, but is actually quite simple. There is nothing wrong with writing a brief, "congratulations!" comment to a blog post about a new pregnancy, and there is nothing wrong with writing a brief, "I am so sorry" comment to a blog post about a death in the family. But blog posts that contains a lot of meat, that begs for follow-up questions, that obviously took a great deal of thought to construct requires the reader to use a different approach.

Which is my second piece of advice: always keep in mind these six elements.

The six elements correspond to the six chief harbingers of questions.

WHO

Too many times people think that they need to be friends with the person or a regular reader to comment. But how does one ever get started if they go in with this attitude? So assume an open comment box is an invitation to comment as long as you're actually reading the post, somewhat understand the situation, and being thoughtful.

WHAT

I think I said this best in a post I wrote about leaving good comments.

What is pretty straightforward: it’s the definition of a comment. I’d define the comment as a verbal hug. A written head-nod. Comments can be critical, when the criticism is used to address a point with the purpose of coming to new understanding. In other words, just as you’d point out something in a person’s line of reasoning if you were having a conversation with them, you’d do so in the comment box.

What comments are not: bait to reel someone towards a different space, real estate on another person’s blog to talk about the commenter, or a hate speech receptacle (whether it is directed at the author or a larger group of people).

I think if you go in knowing what a comment actually is, you stand a better chance of doing it well. And not acting like a troll or a spammer.

WHERE

Comment boxes are no longer solely at the bottom of the post. Sometimes you need to poke around a bit to find the comment box. Don't click away without leaving a comment just because the comment box wasn't evident.

WHEN

Most comments come in within a day or two of putting up the post, but that shouldn't stop you from commenting on older posts if the comment box is still open (some people close commenting on old posts to deter spam). I don't think there is ever an expiration date on comments. Again, I addressed the one exception to the rule in another old blog post on commenting:

The only time I don’t think this is helpful is when the comment is only meant to fan the flames in an argument taking place in the comment section. Or if it’s beating a dead horse. If the point has been made, there’s no point in leaving a late comment to make it again. Especially because late comments are usually seen only by the author and not by the general community unless it is a particularly sticky post.

WHY

Everyone has a reason for why they want to comment. I think the three big reasons are (1) connecting with the person to give support or accolades, (2) respond to an idea they presented in their post or provide another point-of-view, and (3) build a relationship and hope that one day it becomes a two-way street.

Crappy reasons to comment are to argue for the sake of arguing, flame the writer, advertise a product, drive traffic to another place (even your own blog). If those are your reasons, step away from the comment box. The reality is that these types of comments are only left to either fulfill someone else's agenda or make the writer feel crappy. And seriously, is that what you want to bring into someone else's day?

HOW

Aaah, now we get to the heart of it. How do you leave a good comment? I think there are five things to keep in mind:

  • Respond directly to the words on the screen: don't make assumptions. If you want to respond critically to a post, make sure you read the post twice and then pull quotes from the post to support your comment. I've seen plenty of comments left that show that the commenter didn't actually read the whole post. Please don't be that person.
  • Keep on topic: this doesn't mean that you can't talk about yourself or bring in an anecdote from your own life to support your statements or give comfort. But you are leaving a comment on the other person's blog, so make sure that your comment is about them. You can do this by bringing even stories about yourself back to the point of addressing the original speaker and their thoughts and feelings. If not, it’s like you just put a blog post about yourself on their blog. Save it for your own.
  • Keep it about the comment; not the traffic: of course you hope that people will come back to your blog, read it, and leave their own comments. But the way to do that is to simply leave good comments. The fastest way to ensure people don't visit your blog is to write something along the lines of "Great post! Come visit my blog if you get a moment." If you're leaving a comment solely to bring people to your own blog, people can tell. And guess what? They don't visit.
  • Keep it simple: if your comment is getting too complicated, it's okay to cut-and-paste what you want to say into a blog post on your own blog and leave a simple note mentioning that you wrote more about it in the comment box.
  • Short is still good: it's better to leave something vs. nothing. If time is brief, people still appreciate a sentence or two. Please don't let time be the factor in whether or not you comment.

Excited by this post and want to test out your hand in building your comment writing skills as your New Year's resolution? I suggest joining along with IComLeavWe and spending the month with a group of like-minded people all wishing to honour commenting and bring it up to the same level of importance as blog posts.

What are your thoughts and advice on the almighty comment? Let us know in ... the comment section.

Melissa writes Stirrup Queens and Lost and Found. Her novel about blogging is Life from Scratch.

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