Strategic Commenting: No blog is an island

island.jpg
Salvatore88, via Flickr (CC license)
This is not your blog.

I do a lot of blog and conversational media coaching, and one of the most common laments I hear is “no one visits / links to / comments on my blog!”

The solution is simple once you wrap your brain around the concept of conversational media.

If you view your blog as part of a public conversation, rather than a mere publication, then an easy way to attract more interest and interaction becomes obvious. I call it “strategic commenting.”

Here’s how it works…

THE BIG PICTURE: MAKE CONNECTIONS

If your weblog currently doesn’t have much of an audience, then an easy way to build an audience is to constructively leverage audiences already fostered by more established bloggers in your field. This means being proactive about building new connections.

Strategic commenting is all about taking the initiative.

First, ask yourself:

WHO’S YOUR TARGET AUDIENCE?

(UPDATE MAY 10: After some discussion, I’ve rethought the “target audience” phrase. See: Are “target audiences” a problem?)

That is, who has the power to help you achieve your goals for your weblog? Define this audience as precisely as possible.

For instance, if you blog about yoga in order to promote your yoga workshops, books, and videos, then your target audience might include beginning to intermediate yoga practitioners, people interested in stress reduction, seniors interested in exercise, etc.

Similarly, if you wish to share your interest and expertise in raising llamas, then your target audience might include fellow breeders, hiking enthusiasts, spinners and weavers, 4H members, etc.

WHICH BLOGS ARE THEY CURRENTLY READING?

If you haven’t done so already, find a few (just a few, like 3-5) established weblogs that are already covering your chosen topics well and are likely to appeal to the same readers you want to attract.

Read these blogs regularly, and even read back through the archives a bit, to get a sense of each blogger’s perspective and personality.

Pay especially close attention to comments on these blogs. Generally, it’s a good idea to identify bloggers whose postings are already regularly attracting thoughtful comments from a variety of readers, and who respond to those comments. The more constructive, engaging exchanges in the comments, the better.

Subscribe to the feeds for these complementary blogs, so you can find out immediately about fresh postings.

SPOT YOUR OPPORTUNITY

After you’ve gotten familiar with these complementary blogs, watch for a new posting that inspires you to respond. Ideally, you’ll have a unique, valuable angle or new bit of information or context to offer on that topic.

WRITE A POSTING IN RESPONSE

In your own blog, immediately write a quick posting that mentions and links to the posting in the complementary blog that intrigues you. Be sure to mention the blogger by name.

Go into your unique take on that topic in some detail, at least for three paragraphs or so. Make sure you have something substantive and compelling to offer.

LEAVE A COMMENT THAT POINTS TO YOUR POSTING

Finally, return to the posting that inspired you to write and leave a flattering comment there that also links to your new posting. You should include the direct link to your new posting in the body of the comment. (Put the address for your blog’s home page in the URL field in the comment form.)

Make sure your comment mentions, in just a sentence or so, what your latest posting adds to the conversation that the established blogger started. This provides significant incentive for readers to check out what you wrote. A link alone, without context, usually won’t draw much interest.

Do this quickly, since you want to be the very first person who posts a comment to the blog.

For instance, you might write something like:

“Thanks for mentioning that people should periodically check their spare tire, Jane. That can be a lifesaver if you get a flat in a remote location. I also write about auto maintenance and safety issues. After I read this posting of yours, I decided to post a short set of step-by-step instructions in my blog explaining how to check your spare tire. You can find that posting at: http://autosafety.com/….

This accomplishes several goals:

  • It alerts the established blogger that you exist, and that you view him/her as a colleague, not as a competitor.
  • You’re fostering a positive relationship with that blogger. Everyone likes to be complimented, and to hear that they inspired someone to constructive, complementary action.
  • You’re encouraging further conversation, both with the established blogger and with his/her audience.
  • You’re alerting the established bloggers audience that you exist, and that you also offer content that might interest them. They’re especially likely to notice you if your comment is at the top of the comment thread (which is why you want to be the first commenter.)
  • You’re providing a direct link to your site, which can drive traffic to you.
  • You’re expanding the public conversation in a useful way, which serves
    everyone well and pleases audiences. (This is not spamming because you
    are adding to the conversation, not just saying “Read me too!”)

THE BENEFITS

When you comment strategically in this way, here are some possible — even likely — outcomes:

  • You’ll probably attract some new readers each time you do this, even if the established blogger offers no response.
  • You may get some valuable cross-blog conversation going with the established blogger — either through comments to your blog and theirs, or through successive postings in both blogs
  • The search engines will notice the new inbound links to your blogs, which could improve your rankings
  • You’ll gain a reputation as a constructive, engaging, helpful participant in the public conversation — and possibly as an expert in your field.
  • The established blogger may start reading your blog and linking to you more.
  • You’ll have built a valuable relationship with an influential colleague that you could leverage in any number of mutually beneficial ways in the future.
  • You’ll have fun — it’s always more fun to have a conversation than to simply publish. This can inspire you to blog more, and to read and comment on other blogs more.

Granted — as with any strategy, strategic commenting won’t work every time. Often you’ll get no acknowledgment or response, and sometimes it may even backfire a bit. Just roll with it. If you keep it up, it WILL succeed, and it will definitely build your audience — and your relationship — over time.

Try it out. See what happens. I do it all the time, it works great!

Have you tried strategic commenting? Then comment below about your experiences with it!

(NOTE: I originally posted this article April 9, 2006 on The Right Conversation, a blog which I am folding back into Contentious. All comments below were Jan 2007 and earlier were originally received on The Right Conversation. I’ve transferred them over here.)

44 thoughts on Strategic Commenting: No blog is an island

  1. As a new blogger (not quite two months!) it’s easy to get discouraged – we live in an instant society and you want to see instant results. I’m finding that the blog grows organically, but I have to plant a few seeds (post comments) and do a little watering (mention others and link to them) if I expect to bear the fruit on my stat meter! Your post encourages me that I’m on the right track and gives me some motivation to keep going. Thanks, Amy!

  2. Amy:

    Great post. I described it to someone the other day as the difference between walking into a room full of people, standing on a box and lecturing from the corner or circulating around and joining in conversations. Which will be more effective? The blogosphere works in very much the same way.

    Doyle Albee
    http://www.metzger.typepad.com

  3. Amy,

    While I agree with your analysis about the value of strategic commenting, I wish you would have used a different phrase other than “target audiences.”

    Audiences, are a passive, static group subject to the traditional linear sender-receiver model.

    I think we need to think more in terms of communities of interest. After all, we don’t want these people just to read the comments, we want them to become engaged.

    Senatics? maybe. But I think we as communicators need to move away from the restrictive view of targeting audiences that was coined by advertisers.

    If we want conversations, we certainly need to be strategic, however part of that is recognizing that we cannot control the flow of information.

  4. Amy, some good tips in this post, and they hit home for me as someone who’s just launched a blog and is trying to build an audience. I also think that strategic comments should be made to blogs that are writing about you or your organization. Setting up “watch lists” through Technorati is a good way of monitoring what’s being said about you and your blog, and I have a post about this on my blog: http://www.bryper.com/2006/05/02/growing-your-blogs-audience/

  5. Another strategy that I have found to be helpful is to participate in an email discussion group relevant to the subject of my blog. If your blog URL is in your .sig on posts to this group, people spiral outwards toweards your writing. If you periodically write articles with content and useful links and make the URL known to the group, people often wander through and keep coming back. This is especially true if you consistently provide useful stuff and if you engage in participating in their blogs, as you have mentioned above.

    Excellent post!

  6. Great ideas everyone, thanks!

    And Jeffrey — yeah, “audience” is a little awkward in this context. Sometimes appropriate, sometimes not. I’ll think that over more.

    - Amy

  7. Amy – great tips. However, another way to increase traffic to your blog is to reference posts on Google blog. The Google blog adds that reference to its list of related links and that is a healthy traffic.

  8. As I pointed out on Guy Kawasaki’s blog, isn’t this due simply to the historical anomaly of how blog comments are very much a different beast from all the other types of interaction.

    Blog comments are a type of lubricant that keeps the blog world ticking over, but I see them as essentially temporary, until we build better systems to replace them.

    When one gets in to cross-blog conversation, the signal-to-noise ratio is generally far better than in comments, and it’s far easier to keep track of (with RSS and Technorati) than comments.

    We need to really encourage people to use cross-blog conversation instead of comments, and encourage people to post lots of short shotgun posts rather than long, thought-out essays.

  9. Awesome principles here, Amy, and I see that the comments so far have been very strategic :). I can see that you’re talking about genuinely adding to conversations, and not about faking your way through it in order to get that small amount of extra traffic or link juice to your own blog.

    At Know More Media, we have a few authors who routinely make a couple dozen comments a day at other blogs and I’m always amazed at how they do it not for show, but because they really care about the subject they’re talking about. This post helps people put the horse before the cart, and not vice versa. Great work!

  10. Chanced upon to this great post of yours via Guy’s blog. Spent 5 minutes and learned a lot.

    Only content-rich blogs would benefit and survive by this strategic commenting. What do you think? Cheers!

  11. Amy, Exactly.

    If you link to posts made on http://googleblog.blogspot.com/, then they have a “Related Links” section. Your link by default gets featured on the related links section and therefore as you can imagine, you will receive lots of traffic. I was debating for a while whether to write this on my blog or not, but I guess your post made me reveal this strategy ;).

  12. Comments and trackbacks are both useful, but for different things.

    Trackbacks point to the post, and they’re usually incidental. I just posted about this, since my readers are interested in comments, and I wanted to send them over and read Amy’s post. Incidentally my post will also leave a trackback.

    Comments are an actual conversation, right there in the post. And in response to other comments. I won’t be changing my post based on what people are commenting, since it’s hard to go back & forth between posts. But I will write a comment in response to another comment. It’s a more natural way to have a conversation.

    Unfortunately, comments don’t show up in the blog feed, so if you want to follow this conversation, check out co.mments.com. An easier way to track comments.

  13. Hi Amy,

    This is a chance for me to read this article. I guess many of us already applied your advices. Links, comments, referals, articles talking about another one…anything must drive to more audience. Thank you for putting together all this clear information. It is now up to each one to follow the steps now.

  14. I’m currently trying to regain the readers I lost due to frequent domain name changes in the past year. Thanks for offering helpful tips.

    I see Andrew has already started doing one of your suggestions. :)

  15. Yes Amy, I too am a starter blogger. I can only hope that I can utilize this information you have posted, and end up gaining some form of exposure in the blog society.

  16. OK, maybe this isn’t the *speediest* comment, but… I referenced your excellent advice in the latest edition of Diary of a Shameless Self-Promoter #48 podcast and posted a link and trackback in the show notes in response to a listener’s question about how a small, one-person business can expand to a national or global market.

    You’re absolutely dead-on with the idea of joining in conversations that are of interest to you and your audience. To me, your idea of strategic commenting is the blogging equivalent of saying in conversation, “Have you read this book? I just read it last week, and the author said blah blah blah, and here’s what I think; what do you think?” with the added benefit that you can easily contact the actual author for feedback as well!

  17. This is soooo timely! I just held a workshop with our team to explain the basics of blogging and the whole ‘conversation’ aspect is a pivotal cornerstone of our strategy.

    I discovered within the team there was a tremendous fear in posting in our blog (call it whatever, writer’s block, the indelible imprint, who knows?) However, when I approached it with the focus of conversing with our audience and linking to other blogs that provide tips and advice, as well as participating on other blogs, it somehow eased their anxiety.

    It’s been a week now and I’ve seen posts increase from 3 times a week to two times a day and already our traffic has been boosted!

    Thanks Amy, glad I came across your post (even though I’m way at the bottom to comment, I wanted to say thanks anyway!).

    Susan

  18. Tom Morris commented above:

    “When one gets in to cross-blog conversation, the signal-to-noise ratio is generally far better than in comments, and it’s far easier to keep track of (with RSS and Technorati) than comments.

    “We need to really encourage people to use cross-blog conversation instead of comments, and encourage people to post lots of short shotgun posts rather than long, thought-out essays.”

    …Personally, I think that’s more a reflection of the conversational-media tools that are available to us today. I think comment tracking and threading (which is horribly klunky right now) will get easier and more intuitive.

    Just hang in there and watch.

    - Amy Gahran

  19. I disagree with Tom Morris,

    I would really dislike seeing more “shotgun-style posts”. Reblogging, constant linking for the sake of post count, and other “me too” activities drive me away from any blog. I would take most forms of “shotgun style” posts as exactly the sort of churn that turns me off.

  20. I’ve never “strategically commented” for the purpose of increasing my visits/comment count, although it has happened.

    I’ve got no huge aspirations to be a top 10 blogger or anything, so I’m just letting my blog grow organically.

    The first few months as an unknown are definitely agonizing though!

  21. Bruce: by shotgun, I mean very short posts that simply point people.

    Compare: “_Mike Arrington_ has something interesting to say about X”

    (_link_)

    With: “Mike Arrington, over at his weblog TechCrunch.com, has a long essay about X. Now here’s my opinion for ten pages…”

    It’s the sort of thing that Dave Winer does on Scripting News. The biggest sin is writing too much and repeating what has already been said by somebody else. It’s an interesting sin, because it also gets you lots of visitors from Google, and it’s also encouraged by the design of most blogging software.

  22. I agree with Tom Morris. This is the wrong place for a conversation.

    I use comments as feedback to the writer and very rarely (never) return to see if I have prompted a response.

    I forget. I’m on the the next blog. Or, my wife has unplugged me.

    I may read others comments or skim them briefly as here, but more often than not I don’t.

  23. Hi again Amy,

    I don’t know if you read my comment above, but anyway you didn’t give me any answer. You post is very valuable and it would be fine to share it with french spoken people. Would you authorize me to translate it?
    Kind regards,
    Jean-Marie

  24. Jean-Marie

    Yes, go ahead and translate. All content on this site is now available under a Creative Commons license. Click the icon on the footer of any page on this site for terms.

    - Amy Gahran

  25. Look at all the trackbacks and comments. Obviously you are right again.

    One thing you forgot to mention…

    Not only do you coach but by blogging, sharing your OPML and actually returning e-mails, you do a great job of mentoring.

    Thanks for another great post

  26. Amy — You’ve articulated a strategy that I know a lot of bloggers have been following. Thanks for spelling it out for those who aren’t “joining their communities.” Good advice.

  27. Thanks SO much for this article. Your advice was clear and precise. Doing this not only helps build community but it helped me take your blog thoughts on an issue one step further. John Jantsch had written about the need to document a company’s domain name (and not leave it with web developers to keep up with). I mentioned this good advice in my blog, added a checklist for documenting web assets that I found on TechSoup. John then mentioned this resource in his blog. I get it!

    Now, can you write an equally helpful article explaining tags? As a “baby blogger” I’m moving into toddlerhood. Using tags might push me into kindergarten.

  28. I’m also a new blogger of about six weeks experience and I have to admit to becoming discouraged in recent days despite having picked up a few loyal readers during that time. At times I feel as if I’m talking to myself…but that’s not all bad because it makes me consider the logic of my position on world politics and the cheaters and liars I try to expose in my blog.

    Thanks for the tips on building readership. It’s given me new hope that this will ultimately be worth the effort.

    Sam

  29. My background is advertising so this is an extremely interesting and eye-opening topic. It applies tried,true and traditional communication methods in a new medium,(relatively speaking),helping, (if need be) to enhance or compliment the other, more traditional mediums in “getting one’s message out”. The beauty in Amy’s approach is it’s simplicity. I feel I’ve learned a bit more today. Thanks

  30. Amy, first let me say “thank you”! You have opened my eyes in the respect of correctly using my company blog. I’ve gone as far as not only bookmark this page, but save it on my computer as well, so that I may refer back to it. In running my online business, Down Home Living Products & Gifts, I thought it would be nice to have a blog for my visitors and customers. In 2 months, I’ve only had one customer and two visitors make comments. It’s quite depressing. I had never thought in responding, or even offering any other topics other than what the customer/visitor might suggest. After I post this, I plan to make some drastic changes, not only in the way that I run my blog, but in the way I advertise it as well. Thanks again for your “well put” article!

  31. This is great Amy ! You don’t really sit down and think about things like this, but now most people will be ! Here’s a Consumer Generated Site generating Buzz for Ford Motor Company Ltd and the Ford Escape Hybrid.

    http://www.escapepollution.com

    It’s pretty creative.

  32. This was an amazing post Amy! I’m very new at blogging and this past week I’ve gotten really discouraged that no one has been reading my blog. This post showed me to actually take the initiative to do something to gain more readers. I will definitely be sharing this blog with my fellow students. Thank you so much for the advice!

  33. Pingback: contentious.com - Stupid Strategic Commenting v. Smart Engagement

  34. The underlying assumption in your message is that we blog for attention, either for commercial reasons or for kudos. In the first case the gist seems to be that it is OK to be commercial as long as our comments are relevant to the discussion, in other words to see our contributions and those of others as a form of currency is legitimate. I don’t share this assumption, and I feel it is worthwhile to comment on it. And with reference to this and the kudos issue, I would suggest that if you have to publicise yourself because others aren’t, then you aren’t setting the world alight. If your blog is sufficiently interesting people will share it with each other. If it isn’t get used to it, self publicity wont work, people get wise to it. To me the auto repair example is a case in point. You present it as a measured sensible way to publicise your blog. It may be measured, even ostensibly polite, but to me it reads as an invasion of the others created space for your own purposes.
    I wonder if there are cultural issues at work here. I see what you propose as worrying, invasive, and built on an assumption that intellectual interaction of any kind is a legitimate target for “commercial” or “self-publicising” activity. Most of your commenters seem to view your position as natural however. Curious.

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