Stupid Strategic Commenting v. Smart Engagement

Maggiejumps, via Flickr (CC license)
Clumsiness makes for cute fountains, but horrid blog comments.

One of my most popular posts is: Stategic commenting: No blog is an island. It’s popular for a reason. Lots of people want to learn how to attractive more positive attention through conversational media (including, but not limited to, weblogs). That’s fine. Some of those people are marketers, PR professionals, or business owners. That’s fine, too.

Lately, though, I’ve noticed a disappointing tendency for marketers, PR people, and business people to attempt strategic commenting in a hamhanded and rather thoughtless fashion that’s bound to backfire.

Basically, these people search for blog posts that mention their company, industry, competitors, client, or employer and comment on those posts saying little more than “And speaking of X, we’re great, check us out!”

I hate to break it to those folks, but almost always this commenting approach does NOT constitute a constructive addition to a public conversation. It’s borderline spam, and therefore it reflects poorly on anyone who practices this approach.

Strategic commenting is primarily about contributing value to conversations; not blindly trying to co-opt conversations for your own benefit. If you don’t really know how to comment constructively, then it’s best not to try to use blog commenting to build your business.

Need an example? Here’s a bit of the bad, and the good…

A pretty blatant case of stupid strategic commenting happened right here on Contentious in October. I mentioned in passing in this post about how I use GTDinbox that I also use the online billing service Freshbooks. I’m generally satisfied with Freshbooks, and in that post I expressed no desire to switch.

However, the first comment that appeared on my post started like this:

“Amy, we’re going to have to try out GTDinbox and will be particularly interested to see if it works with Google Apps for Your Domain. Also — and I have to confess some self-interest here — I’d love to have you check out AcuInvoice, an invoicing service we released on October 7th. We believe that AcuInvoice will quickly become a competitor with FreshBooks, Blinksale, and others invoicing applications. We’re currently offering…”

Yadda yadda yadda… The commenter went on at length about the wonders of AcuInvoice. The problem? It was obvious that self-promotion was the sole purpose of this comment — as if my blog only existed as a springboard for his marketing! He only feigned a passing interest in the subject of my post and latched on one small detail to launch into a full-blown hard sell. This approach, I find, is extremely disrespectful to bloggers and their communities. No one likes to be treated like a commodity.

There are rare occasions when purely self-promotional comments are appropriate. For instance, I recently linkblogged several web pages about various adjustable-height work surfaces. It was pretty obvious from my comments that I’m looking to buy such a product. Therefore, when Carolyn Little commented about what her company, Baker Manufacturing, offers in this market, I thanked her for the lead. Her comment added value by supplying relevant information that also happened to serve as marketing for her company. Although I ultimately found her company’s site frustrating, her comment was fine.

But back to the bad stuff…

A less egregious but still clumsy and counterproductive example of un-strategic commenting happened here yesterday, in the comments to my post yesterday about my difficulties with finding prices online for adjustable-height work surfaces. In that post, I wrote:

“I want to be able to work with my laptop (my main — and only — computer) at an ergonomically correct height and angle, regardless of whether I’m perched on my balance ball, my kneeling chair, my regular chair, or standing.

“…I don’t want to e-mail or call your customer service reps. I don’t want to navigate the byzantine Herman Miller site, or call their stores. I just want the price for your adjustable-height table!!! That’s all! Really!”

That post attracted this comment from a Herman Miller representative:

“Sorry to see you’re frustrated with the ‘byzantine’ contract furniture industry. The industry is really focused on large contract commercial accounts, particularly with products like height adjustable tables, which tend to be large, complex installation and premium priced.

“HM does have a retail channel–HM for the Home, and you can shop them online through e-tailers (yes, the listing… www.hermanmiller.com/stores). We don’t offer a retail height adjustable table, but if all you’re looking for is a laptop surface, you might consider the “Scooter” stand, which travels well around the house and can be raised to 30″, though maybe not sufficient for your needs…. http://www.hermanmiller.com/CDA/SSA/Product/1,1592,a8-c1345-p156,00.html. Hope you find something.”

OK, I think this guy was at least trying nominally to be constructive (the first paragraph was constructive), but this comment ended up rather spammishly. Why?

  • He mentioned and linked to their retail chain
  • Then he admitted that they DON’T have the product I’m looking for. (So why mention their retail chain in a comment to MY post?)
  • Then he tried to sell me on something they offered which clearly does not meet my basic requirements, which I spelled out at the top of this post. (I need a table that I can work at from standing position. 30 inches is not a reasonble height for a standing work surface for the average adult.)

In short, he knew his company had nothing to offer me, yet he couldn’t resist an opportunity to promote their irrelevant products. That certainly does me and my community no good — and (as this post illustrates), it only serves to backfire on his company.

But, this being the holiday season, let’s end on a positive note…

This morning I received an excellent example of constructive engagement in the face of criticism. I received the following e-mail from Ryan Schmidt, operations and product manager for Steelcase’s online store (which I complained about in this post). He wrote:

“Hi Amy. I’m a blog reader and a friend sent me your blog post re: trying to find a height adjustable workstation. Well, I’m the operations and product manager for the Steelcase Store and I read the entry with some dismay. The response that you received was just a little too boilerplate.

“Let me say that we do appreciate this type of feedback. We are basically a small start-up within the much-larger Steelcase and have the flexibility to adapt to feedback such as you provided. So I am going to go back and evaluate this product to see if it makes sense to add to our site. It has been very interesting to try to break through the traditional pricing structure of the industry which includes the ‘call for pricing’ aspect that you mentioned and that many consumers do not enjoy.

“So, before I get to my list of excuses (joke), I want to offer you 20% off our AirTouch height-adjustable table The pricing is similar and the Airtouch features our latest technology. If you are interested, just email me and let me know and I’ll get you a coupon code for purchase. If you are dead-set on the crank version of the workstation, let me know and I will see what I can do.

“I hope you’ll consider this offer. Please let me know if you have any other thoughts on our site or your experience with our team.”

OK, now that’s constructive AND professional! Well done, Ryan! As it turns out, the electic-powered product he offered me is way out of my price range (even with the generous discount offered) — but at least I was able to find that out easily, which was a relief. I hope they do add the hand-crank version of the table to the online store — and if they do, I’ll check it out to see if it’s closer to my price range. Regardless of whether that product is or isn’t added to their store or is affordable to me, I’m glad to see this attitude and level of engagement from their online store manager.

Anyway, the moral is: If you’re commenting on a blog (or e-mailing a blogger) focus on being relevant and constructive above all else. If in the course of being relevant and constructive you get to say something nice about your company or client, fine. But if self-promotion is obviously the main purpose of your comment, that’s a problem — and expect such online conduct to backfire.

6 thoughts on Stupid Strategic Commenting v. Smart Engagement

  1. I actually consider such dribble spam and usually don’t approve the comments. And I usually mark such commenters as spam for any future comments they might leave. One I have been getting a lot lately is this, “I don’t understand what you are trying to say, but I will consider it.” It is obvious it is spam.

    Like you, I prefer that the conversation continue and that it be constructive and beneficial to those who are participating. Thanks for your post and I hope some of these companies take what you say to heart and actually contribute something we can use.

  2. In today’s internet there are so many small startups struggling to keep their head above water. With the plethora of blogs around, the ability to reach an audience for free is at their fingertips. While “trolling” sucks, I cannot blame anyone for doing it. In some cases a troll’s comment has helped me find a great resource, but again, like you mentioned its spam. Tisk tisk you trolls, bad trolls.

  3. And speaking of FreshBooks… 😉

    But seriously — I hear what you’re saying, absolutely. We deal with a lot of these things on our own blog, and it’s often difficult to decide when to remove the link (or the entire post), because you certainly don’t want to censor people; but at the same time you want to foster useful conversation for your readers, not just accumulate comments toward some sort of count.

    I do notice the “poaching” of sorts that goes on, too. To be honest, that’s never particularly bothered me, just because it’s a great metric by which you can judge the folks who resort to it. 🙂

  4. I am totally agree, “commercial comments” are easy to see: “Hi, check this out http://x.com“, but this is not at all in the state of mind that bloggers are. In conversation marketing, what is important, it is the value edited by the group of persons participating in the conversation.

    I think however, that the fact companies are starting participating in blog conversasions is great, as they can give us some insights about their philosophy and ideas.

  5. Pingback: Amy Gahran on smart engagement | Brewed Fresh Daily

  6. I am always thankful for you connecting with me here online and in my life. This has been the best experience for me especially in this day and age! At least I know I am not alone as many out here in cyberspace and in the world in preserving African American history and sharing stories and ideas so we can uplift one another!In my own case, my commenting is motivated by a desire to add to the discussion of the topic. I very often think by means of writing on a topic, and commenting gets my brain flowing. These comments often result in blog posts.Every comment is motivated by discussion. A significant number of them are intended only to attract business or website traffic.
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    dennie

    stupid strategic commenting v.smart engagement

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