In order to effectively build a relationship with a reader, you have to do more than just build great content that Google loves. It’s important build relationships with readers through conversation. Think about your friends in real life. One of the primary things that characterizes the level of relationship you have with a friend is how often and in-depth you communicate. The same goes for any relationship – especially online. It’s impossible to have a virtual relationship with someone you don’t communicate with. That’s why step one in creating powerful reader contact is to make your comments section an ongoing conversation with participants.
Why You Need Comments to Grow
As a blogger, you want comments for a lot of reasons. New readers, especially people who find your content in single-serving form through sites like del.icio.us, Digg, or StumbleUpon, will judge the success of your blog through the one post they discover your site through. And they will judge the success of that post at first glance, largely based on how others respond to it. So having an active comments section is critical to establishing credibility to new readers and converting them into new subscribers and active participants.
What You Can Do About It
So how can you convert the 90% of readers who lurk into the 10% of readers who participate? Try these five tips to get started
1. Extend the invitation. Almost every blogger I know wants comments – save the few mega-bloggers who have infamously turned off the comments function, or those who have experienced horrific stalker issues. But it may surprise you how few people ask for them. This is a tricky thing to do, because you don’t want to appear desperate, but if you don’t extend the invitation to join the conversation to your readers, many won’t. So end each post so that it engages thought. Ask for personal experiences or examples from your readers that confirm or oppose your advice. Ask an open-ended question or end with an example or scenario to leave readers thinking about how they could apply your ideas. Whether you do it directly or in an implied way, make sure you extend the invitation to the party in your comments section within each post.
2. Comment on your own post. Unless you are a top blogger and engaging comments isn’t an issue for you, it’s critical to reply to each comment that’s left. Whether or not generating comments is an issue, commenting personally in response to readers is a great way to thread a personal touch through the narrative of your entire blog. Plus, it demonstrates to readers that you’re accessible, friendly, and interested in their perspective. This builds trust which is a critical component of establishing a relationship.
3. Enable subscriptions to your comments. Many readers enjoy the comments section of your blog as much as – and sometimes more than – the content you write alone. Make sure readers can subscribe to follow the conversation and keep chiming in. If you’re using WordPress, here is a great plugin I use that you can install right now to make sure your readers can follow the conversation at each post you write. This simple step will extend the life of a blog post for days or even weeks beyond when you first post and keep readers coming back to chime in more.
4. Dig deeper. Bring new information into the conversation as often as you can through your own comments to your post. Surprise readers with a new statistic, contradict yourself for the sake of spurring deeper thought, or ask new questions – to your readership as a whole or specific readers within your comments conversation. This encourages readers to continue engaging in the conversation and taking it up themselves. A solid post can spark a truly meaningful conversation in an entire community of readers, so make sure you’re helping add value to the conversation as it evolves. Sometimes, a great comments section will generate questions or spark ideas that can help you create highly relevant, interactive content for your entire readership to enjoy, so be intimately acquainted with the conversation that’s going on at your blog.
5. Dare to debate. Controversy and debate are the hallmarks of some of the most popular destinations online. They’re also – well – controversial in the blogosphere since many bloggers sensationalize or bait readers with quasi controversial headlines or subcontexts. But that doesn’t debate or controversy can’t be a healthy, constructive thing. Don’t shy away from criticism or debate in the comment section of your blog; instead, embrace it as an opportunity to demonstrate your cool under pressure with an open-minded, well-though-out response. Dare readers to take the debate to their blog and extend the conversation there. Don’t run from criticism simply because it’s uncomfortable to deal with. Realize that great conversation can be marked by open-minded debate.
Like any great conversation, your comments section has a lot to offer – to you, your readers, and anyone who happens upon it. How will you use the conversational elements of comments to transform your blog into a relationship-making tool?