A (blog) conversation strategy is how you support and nurture a conversation on your blog in the comments. It is a combination of how you will comment on other blogs, how you track the conversation, and how you respond to comments on your blog. (Note that the social media early adopters are now having a conversation much faster over at FriendFeeds (see this)
As noted by Holly Ross on the NTEN blog, having a conversation in blogs and other social media is a public conversation. Public conversation has been happening on the Internet since it started - via listservs, newsgroups, and online forums. So, we know that there is a well documented and established lurker to poster ratio that is well established in online communities as the 5%. It appears that the lurker to participant may also hold true for various Web 2.0 communities as well. All that to say that you need to remember some realistic expectations about the quantity of comments you may actually receive.
In an earlier post, I covered some tips for getting "conversation ready" from Alexandra Samuel's recent workshop at Netsquared. If you're a blogger, there are also ways that you can craft your posts to encourage more commenting and conversation. But as the Skelliewag's diagram above indicates, you can also encourage conversation in the comments. So, what's your replying to comments technique or strategy?
I recently commented on Emily Williamson's blog. To continue the conversation, she sent me a private email with a very thoughtful response with a note that "I've been trying to figure out my replying-to-comments strategy outside of the LJ world, and I'm trying the email conversation tactic these days. What do you think of it? Effective or annoying?"
There are some basic points about responding to comments on your blog:
- Be honest and to the point.
- Respond quickly.
- Reply to every (rational) question.
- If a commenter corrects you, thank them and update your post.
But, the real question is how do you facilitate conversation? How do you facilitate cross-blog conversation? How do you facilitate conversation in the comments? What are the mechanics of replying to comments?
I try as much as possible to respond to comments, but also try to point them back to the post to add their thoughts so it is a conversation in the comments - and not a conversation between and the commenter that will most certainly get lost in my email box.
The other component of your commenting strategy is your "outbound" comments - comments you post on other blog. You can do this a random way or a strategic way. The latter requires that you think about how to integrate commenting into your overall online behavior. If you read Michele Martin's excellent blog, you no doubt noticed her month-long comment challenge. On Day 28, she asked "What is your blog commenting strategy?" She points to a post by Caroline Middlebrook with some advice about developing a blog commenting strategy.
Middlebrook suggests setting some goals for your commenting and then use some tracking tools to comment on a strategically selected group of blogs. She also describes some challenges she faced, including one that I can certainly identify with, "I can't think of anything to say!" Here's some questions to ask yourself as you star at the blank comment form:
- What did they say well?
- What did they miss?
- Answer questions
- What are other people saying
- How does it apply to you
- Look forward
- Look backward
- Ask what if?
Williambrook mentions a plugin to follow your comments. One that I've used is Commentful is a service that watches comments on blog posts, Digg submissions, Flickr galleries, and many other types of content. When ever there is a new comment, Commentful notifies you via email, RSS Feed or you can install an extension for Firefox. There are other services:
Not matter what tool you choose to track comments, the important question to answer is: What will be your regular routine for monitoring your comments on other blogs? What is your technique for responding to comments? How do you nurture conversations?
Update: There's been a lot of discussion lately about how the social media conversation has shifted again - this time it has moved from Twitter to Friendfeed. A few months ago it was how the conversation had moved from blogs to Facebook or that some conversations have shifted to Twitter. But in the nonprofit space, we've barely adopted Twitter so if we move to FriendFeed can we talk to our colleagues? No.
This points to a larger issues of control - conversations are fragmenting and we have no control where they take place. As Louis Gray points out in his post, "Now that comments are being bandied about like currency, both at the blog and through a myriad of RSS readers and social aggregators, maybe it's time to think about the whole structure of blogging and commenting in the first place."
So, maybe it looks like this?
While routing around the FriendFeed ProBlogger Room, I noticed that this question:
“I need advice! My blog isn't that big but I'm already getting overwhelmed with the comments and emails that I receive every day. I like to respond to all of them, plus I feel that that is a reason why it is growing right now, but it is majorly starting to cut into my time commitments. WWYD?”
Some excellent tips:
1.) Set up some email templates covering a few typical answers, requests etc. As for commenting, try to answer as much as you can without messing your schedule. Look especially for those comments that could further develop a conversation.
2.) Try to reply to several commenters in one comment of your own, there's no need to reply to everyone individually.
5.) Close your comments unless you willing to engage your commentators! You do not need to respond to everyone, even though it is desirable, but respond to main themes.