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13 Tips on How to Have Great Conversations On Your Blog

Lately I’ve been suggesting 11 points to take a little extra time in the posting process on a blog. We’ve looked at everything from choosing topics, to crafting titles, to calls to action, to promoting your posts.

The point of this series is simply that when you take a little extra time at each of these points in the process you add depth and increase the effectiveness of your blog post.

Today I want to share one last point to ‘pause’ – it is as important as each other point in the process (if not more so) and can take a ‘good post’ into ‘great post’ territory.

It’s all about the Art of Conversation

ConversationImage by b_d_solis

It is easy to see the point of hitting ‘publish’ on your blog post as the ‘end’ of the process of posting – however more often than not the real action and fruit of a blog post happens once it’s ‘live’ and being interacted with by readers and other bloggers. To hit publish and move on to the next post at this point is an opportunity gone begging.

2 Benefits of Fostering Conversation on Your Blog

For me the main two benefits of a blog with great conversation are simply:

  • it adds depth to posts – my belief is that together we know a lot more than any one of us. As wise as you might be as a blogger – when your readership adds their knowledge to your posts in the comments section – it’ll generally become a better resource to future readers.
  • it builds community and reader loyalty – increasingly people are going online not only to find ‘information’ but to find community and places to ‘belong’. A blog which regularly has good conversation where people’s ideas are heard and valued is a place that people will want to return.

13 Tips for Growing the Conversation On Your Blog

Let me start by saying that this post is not about ‘how to get comments on your blog’. I’ve written previously about 10 techniques to get more comments and would recommend that post as a primer for this one.

What I do want to focus on in this post goes beyond getting comments and how to grow ‘conversations’ (something that I think is a little deeper). There is some overlap – but I hope this post goes beyond that previous one.

1. Set Time Aside for Conversation

The biggest conversation killer in my own life is simply that I’m too busy. This is true in ‘real life’ as well as blogging. If you don’t set aside time to have conversation it is highly unlikely to ever happen because it takes time.

Again – I’m not talking here about leaving comments (leaving a comment can take a second or two) – but actually engaging in conversation means listening to what others are saying and thoughtfully responding in a way that goes deeper, adds value and says something meaningful – this takes time and if you don’t prioritize it you’re not likely to fit it in.

2. Ask Questions

As mentioned in my post on how to get comments, ‘asking questions’ is a powerful technique for starting off a conversation. If you want people to respond to your posts include questions within them – it’s key to get the comment thread started, however it’s also a great technique for keeping the conversation going.

One way to add depth to a conversation and to draw out more from those commenting is to take their comments and ask questions of them that elicit a second response. Rather than just responding to someone’s comment with a ‘great point’ type comment – why not go a little deeper with a question that draws them into extending their idea.

3. Answer Questions

Not only is asking questions powerful – but so is answering those that readers ask. This can be challenging when you get a lot of comments on your blog (I’ve had to hire someone to help me manage this lately) but it makes your posts more meaningful and helpful to readers who come away wondering about some aspect of what you’ve written.

4. Track Offshoots of Conversation

The beauty of blogging is that posts that one blogger publishes can inspire other bloggers to write posts on a similar topic on their own blog. While the comments section of your blog might be the place that most of your readers interact with your ideas – a good post might inspire multiple conversations in all kinds of places in the blogosphere.

It is important to be aware of these offshoot conversations and to participate in them. Start a vanity folder in your news aggregator to help track them and when you find them visit the blog and add value to the conversation there. Don’t feel you need to drag people back to your blog – but add value on that blog. In doing so you will build a relationship with the blogger who has posted about your idea but also potentially could find yourself a few new connections (and even new readers) among their readership.

5. Add Value and Depth

I’ve talked many times about writing blog posts that are useful and unique (the secret to great content) – however it struck me recently that the same advice actually applies to comments. If the comments that YOU leave (either on your own blog or others) are not actually useful (if they don’t add value and/or depth to the conversation) and if they are not simply echoes of what others are saying (ie unique) then there is little point in leaving them.

One of the best ways to kill a conversation is to respond to something that someone else has written with a generic comment like ‘great point’. Before you comment, consider what you’re writing. Does it add something to the conversation? Will it elicit a response from others? Is it unique from what others are saying? If the answer to these questions is ‘no’ – work on your comment until it does.

6. Listen, Listen, Listen

As a blogger who has just published a post you’ve been doing most of the talking and your readers have been doing the listening – so when it comes to the comments section of your blog turn the tables and become the listener and let others do the talking.

Conversation is a two way street and if you take the ‘monologue’ approach into comments then you’re unlikely to develop a culture of conversation on your blog.

7. Play Devils Advocate (with Care)

One way to stimulate conversation is to throw into the conversation an unexpected and opposing point of view. Playing Devils Advocate (when done well) can be a powerful tool to draw out responses in your readers and extend a conversation into a place that it might not have naturally gone.

The key with this approach is to do so with care. Writing something controversial just for the sake of it and in a hostile tone can actually kill a conversation (or take it into the realm of a flame war). A better approach might be to make it clear what you’re doing with an ‘I agree with you – however some might argue….’ type comment.

8. Promote the Conversation

I find that when a good conversation emerges on a post it can actually be very effective to promote the ‘conversation’ (as opposed to the post itself) in some way. For example I occasionally will use Twitter to alert readers to a comment thread with a tweet that says ‘there’s a great conversation emerging at www.xxxx….’ – these tweets tend to get a fairly good level of people not only visiting the post but coming over with an openness to respond.

9. Protect Your Comments Section (Moderation)

The comments section on your blog is a really important space on your blog and can both add to and take away from the perception of others towards your blog. If your comments section becomes a comment spammers heaven or always dissolves into a place where trolls flame one another it will not draw genuine readers into conversation.

As a result I advocate that you not be afraid to protect your comments section and set some guidelines in place for people to interact there. Ultimately it is your blog and your rules need to apply. If people step outside of your rules then they need to be willing to have their comments moderated.

10. Model the Behavior you Want

What about trolls and comments sections that get too negative? My theory is that the majority of blogs that have highly snarky comments sections will generally have bloggers posting to them that display their own fair share of snakiness in the blog posts that they write. I’m sure there are a few exceptions but I find that most blog readers take the lead of the blogger on a blog when interacting in comments.

As I’ve previously written on this topic:

“If your blog is written in a positive, optimistic, helpful and inclusive voice then I find that those commenting generally respond with a similar tone. Write in a snarky, negative, rant dominated tone that makes fun of others and you can expect a very similar vibe in your comments.”

11. Bounce off Comments with New Posts

One of the weaknesses of blogs over forums is that conversations can have a limited life simply because the post that they happen on falls off the front page of the blog as new posts are published.

One way to keep a hot conversation going is simply to write a follow up post that extends upon ideas in the first. One approach is simply to elevate some of the comments on the previous post into a new post to stimulate an extension of the conversation. This not only keeps the conversation going but also rewards those who’ve previously participated with a moment in the spot light. This is what I did recently on DPS with this post on video on DSLR cameras.

12. Use Email

Another of the challenges of blogs is that often readers will leave a comment and never return to the post to continue the conversation. You can ask them all the questions in the world but if they don’t come back to the blog they’ll never see them.

There are a variety of commenting tools to help overcome this (I use a ‘subscribe to comments’ plugin which helps a little) but one effective way to keep conversations going is simply to follow up those who’ve commented with an email. For example – if someone asks you a question and you respond – shoot them an email after you answer their questions to let them know. The same technique works if you have asked them a question in comments.

13. Empower Your Community to Lead Conversation

One of the challenges that faces bloggers as their blogs grow and become popular is to genuinely and actively participate in every conversation happening on their blog. I personally struggle with this quite a lot across my two blogs which on any given day can have a total of 150-500+ comments.

One thing that can help is to try to develop a culture on your blog where the conversations are not dependent upon you alone. This takes time to achieve but unless you’re a conversation freak and/or can keep a million balls in the air at the same time (like Gary V, Liz, Scoble – each of whom leaves me shaking my head at the amount of conversations they participate in) you’ll need to do something to help you cope with your comment section as your blog grows.

One way to grow this community driven culture of conversation on your blog is simply to model it yourself and when questions are asked in the comments section on your blog to invite others to answer rather than feel you need to be the only one answering. As I say – this takes time but as you see your readers answering one another’s questions thank them for their comments and even elevate some of their answers to actual posts.

Lets Talk

OK – so this is where I invite you to comment, to add what you’ve learned about having conversations on your blog.

I’d love to hear what you do to foster conversation on your blog?

Do you use any particular techniques? Are there any tools that you use to help manage it? What’s the hardest part about generating great conversation on your blog? What’s worked for you?

PS: Tomorrow I’ll be posting some more tips on this topic from a few bloggers that have runs on the board when it comes to building blogs with great conversation. I’ll include a few of the tips left in comments below also so have your say and some of your ideas might be included in the next post!

About Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.
  • Brian’s threaded comments helps a lot IMO.

  • The thing that seems to elicit the most comments on any given post is to post about specifics. A vague post that leaves much to the imagination seems to bring mostly, “Great post!”, kind of comments which die very quickly. But when I post about specific things/issues it seems to spark more of a conversational environment.

    I enjoyed reading every one of your tips and look forward to implementing some in my next post. Eric.

  • After reading this one..I remember Darren’s post of power of commenting on blogs..Nice Work Keep it up..

  • I wrote a little post about this yesterday about the importance of connecting with your readers here:
    http://bryn.me/2008/09/29/connect-with-your-readers/

    I make sure to comment everywhere I can, engage my readers and answer every e-mail. I believe it’s a must in order to have a successful blog.

  • Out of these 13 tips I find that it is easiest to just ask a question to get a great conversation going on a blog. If you just put a simple question at the end of your blog post people will most likely answer it. It just makes them feel like they’re obligated to answer the question if they read the post. You can always ask for people’s opinions on what you just talked about also and I know this has been used by many bloggers across the Internet.

  • Getting readers to comment is surprisingly difficult on my blog. Perhaps I don’t leave enough unsaid but if that’s the trade-of for providing all the information that I want to provide, then I’m happy with it. : )

  • I would emphasize your point about email. For example, I would have that “notify” box checked on your site by default. After all, if they care enough to comment, shouldn’t the default be that they care enough to hear your response?

    I checked it this time, but that is definitely not my habit in the past. I will make it my habit going forward.

  • Very good points. This is my favorite part of blogging…interacting with my readers! Not only does it keep them coming back, but I learn alot and make great connecitons in the process.

  • Emma

    I like it when the authors comments stand out in the comment thread. It lets me know they take an interest and an active part in what goes on on their own blog. It also makes it easier to see any responses to commentors questions.

    Great article btw.

  • I see exactly what you mean. I often have the problem of not having time to have convo’s either. Most of mine consists of “want to have a convo with me, then email me” – but I am getting better at it at least!

    Great post.

  • I think the commenting system as it exists today is a really dreadful way to try and communicate back and forth. As you point out, a reader could make a comment, to which you respond – but if the reader does not come back, they will not know that you have responded and the “conversation” never happens. It is true, as you point out, that two solutions are a comments subscription plug-in, or emails to the reader telling them you’ve responded. But the former requires action on the part of the reader – they have to hit the “subscribe” button. And the latter – well, emailing them to tell them you’ve responded feels redundant to the comment response itself.

    Commenting is just not graceful or efficient. I don’t know what the solution is, but I hope that commenting evolves into something more conducive to the back-and-forth of actual conversation.

    Tink *~*~*
    who is checking the “notify me of future comments via email” box!

  • Number 7 is the tip I need to work on. I like to play the DA but in the beginning or my blogging career about a year ago, I came off far too harsh bordering on rude. So, I have conscientiously pulled back on the reins and continue to improve in this area.

    Number 12 I never even thought about that. I have several readers that email me and I answer those. I just didn’t want to intrude on anyones personal space. I will give this one a try carefully.

    Number 11 I use that one all the time, It is a great way to come up with blog post ideas.

    Oh heck all the tips are great as usual ;)

  • to benefit as a Devil’s Advocate, one must know the limitation to just create intrigue and not going to the extent of being an insult to your readers. In this, the readers are encouraged to think and probably make comments.

  • I’ve received good amount of comments whenever I asked questions on my blog :)

  • Asking open ended questions to draw out commenters into furthering the conversation works well. As a blogger, you have to be prepared and committed to spend the time it takes to nurture conversations.

    I’ve noticed bloggers who reach a certain higher number of comments responding with brief replies in the comments that don’t add much back to their own blog post. In fact, I can say without hesitation that I’ve been guilty of that myself. Asking open-ended questions encourages the original commenters to come back for more.

  • I tried as much as possible to be conversationalist on each of my blog post, some times it work out and some time it don’t.

    I think it’s more on choice of style. Not every post should be on conversation modes, sometimes its’ need to sound authoritative to add depth and value.

  • Excellent blog for newbies myself included and have recommended this post to others getting started or having trouble getting started.

  • Thank you Darren.
    As always you make very practical and common sense points that I can understand and feel comfortable with implementing.

    This is what I do to have a conversation going amongst people who left a comment on my blog.

    When I reply to comments I start a conversation about people’s comments and for example reference one comment to the other person’s comment like “interesting Kevin and did you notice that Mattresses is a new blogger here as well? Great that you are referring my post to other bloggers. Do you both know that that is important networking? ”

    Such tactics has resulted people following up and responding to each other, rather than to me.

  • This is great especially for a new blogger like me
    Thanks alot

    Mudassir
    http://www.socialmediaplex.com

  • The art of conversation – on your blog!!

  • Computer Guy – I agree and it is also my favorite. Without feedback and conversation in my commenting area I wouldn’t continue to Blog.

    It’s not any fun posting information for the world to see if you’re not hearing what they have to say about it. If you don’t like responding to your readers you shoudn’t be Blogging – There’s other information outlets that you should be utilizing.

  • Very well said. Thanks for the 13 tips. Communications is very important especially to a blogger and it’s visitors. Keep it up. I’m looking forward in reading more blog post from you.

  • Louis – threaded comments are something I’ve toyed with using – wondering how it scales with large numbers of comments though.

    Up-and-coming blogger – you could be onto something there. I think vague posts tend to get fewer comments than short sharp and specific ones.

    Bryn – I’ll check out your link. looks like it could be spot on the same ideas as this post.

    Franklin – I think questions are gold – particularly if you use specific ones. For example, in this post I could have just said ‘tell us what you think’ – but instead asked some specific questions. I find when I do this that it can lead to more specific responses – helps get the conversation going.

    Shanel – it’s strange but some blogs just get more comments than others. I think it’s something that grows over time on some blogs. I also think it’s probably topic related – what’s your topic?

    Ted – I don’t mark that box by default mainly because people would get so many emails. some of my posts get 100+ comments so if people have subscribed they’d get hit hard with emails. On a smaller blog though I think it can work well.

    Emma – good point – I think highlighting the blogger’s comments is a great idea too.

    Tink – yes it’s still a system that needs to evolve more. There have been attempts at tools that help people to track comments on diff blogs but I’m yet to see one that really hits the mark.

    Debo – it’s hard playing Devil’s Advocate online where people can’t fully read whether you’re serious or not. I tend to avoid is unless I’m very very clear that I don’t actually agree with the point of view that I’m putting forward.

    dinu – questions rock!

    Michael – yes, I should have talked about open ended questions – they do work better than closed ones. Great point.

    Hamdani – yes, I think it is partly about the style and personality of the blogger. Some bloggers really get off on commenting/conversations while others are stronger in other areas.

  • I read a post somewhere that discouraged responding to comments left on your post. It affected me because lots of the comments left on my posts were those I definitely needed to have responded to. I missed a wonderful opportunity to create a conversation. That was a mistake, now I know better. Thanks.
    At least, I know that it’s your motive to learn with your readers that counts.
    What has worked for me so far is that we have a little group of bloggers that travel around the blogosphere participating in various conversations related to blogging. Then we share on each others site and often have a little contest going on about who is number one commenter. It encourages us to comment more, and I observed that it attracts others into the conversation because everyone seems to want to belong somewhere!
    Thumbs up for this post, Darren. And did you get my reply on twitter?

  • timely post Darren. I have been struggling with how to generate more comments. I am getting a few visitors but not always comments! Thx, I’ll try some of these ideas.

  • Darren,

    I’ve got five messages in my blog this morning on this thread, so I know what you mean — one is instinctively annoyed by such multiple messages. On the other hand, I enjoyed coming back here and seeing where you took the conversation. So, the emails served a useful purpose. The dupes are easy to erase.

    BUT perhaps even better would be a (WP?) plugin that sends only one message to a poster if there are new comments. Then if you repost, you get the alternative to “reset” your request for messages (I see that the box below is unchecked, which is actually a bug – I will continue to get messages on this thread). Easy to say, I know.

  • Wow, terrific timing for this post, too. My comments are multiplying rapidly and I am having a great time participating in the discussion, but was shocked at the amount of tie it takes out of my schedule! It’s definitely worth it, but Ill have to find a balance somehow.

  • These are very useful and timely for me as I’m working towards launching a blog for my company.

    Of the 13 tips, what would you suggest for start up blogs?

    Obviously they are all great tips, but when starting out it’s hard to do it all well … so i’m wondering if there are specifics that may be worth the greater investment up front?

    thanks for putting out great stuff.


    http://twitter.com/franswaa

  • I completely agree with these suggestions and I’ve noticed using a combination of them in each comment, etc. greatly helps to start a conversation. I also feel that it is very important to not only reply to a comment as a blogger, but to go the extra step and email that commenter if they added something of value to the post. This shows them not only that you may have commented on their post, but also that you as the blogger are noticing their comments and by personalizing this email towards them, they’re more inclined to keep coming back with their insightful comments.

  • Great tips Darren. I really need to take care of my comment section as it is full of TrackBack spam these days. I absolutely agree that open conversation on a blog is one of its biggest strengths because it generates a sense of community and people can freely interact with each other. This also generates new writing ideas.

    — Sarah

  • It is very seldom that I got numerous commentators on my blog posts, but I cherish each one of them as I know they can be a potential subscriber someday. In fact, this is the first thing I do when I sit to blog.

    Checking my mails before anything else has been my habit since day one because I am always excited to read comments on my hard work.

    So if you’ll me ask what is my particular technique, then it must be Prioritizing them. For me, commentators are our immediate customers so we must “entertain” them well and fast.

    If you are on a shopping mall, how would you feel when a saleslady ignores you even if you are very eager to buy?

  • Excellent tips to make a blog (active) community.
    Thanks Darren.

  • kcp

    Darren it would be nice if you could address the b5media thing and especially justify to those who worshipped you all these years how b5’s internal screwups (not getting the right stats program for instance) account for bloggers getting lowered pay.

  • Hey Darren. I’ve been silent for a while but just started a new blog where I actually have something to say and a reason for saying it. Still loving your blog–as always. Thanks for all the hard work.

  • Which is the best tool to measure the conversion and the rate of bounce?

  • Wow, this is just what I need.. Another useful info, Thanks.

  • Really useful articke (as usually). Can you express examples of your advices?

  • Excellent post and I will be using the tips on my website.

  • Do you think there are certain ages of people who comment on blogs. I mean, do you think commentors are mainly younger people instead of old people? Or do you think many of the people who comment are simply commenting to get a link back to their own blog… and that normal (casual) readers may never leave a comment.

    I’ve got some steady readers, but some of them have never left a comment. Instead, some of them prefer to send me a personal email – an email that would be best shared in the comments section. Any thoughts or ideas here?

  • by following all the tips, I think the blog more valuable for visitor…great articles

  • first time come to your blog, and u really provide excellent tips to make
    yhanks you Darren.

  • as always, great advice. I am trying to increase my traffic and will take this to heart.

  • I think comments are a great way to create new regular users. And the only way someone new is going to comment, is if there already are some interesting comments posted.

    This was a really nice article, thanks a lot!

  • Excellent tips on building active blog community. But as active community grows, so will spam. Looking forward to a post with tips about fighting spam.

  • Great tips, I like the one about setting aside time for conversation its never really occured to me.

  • Excellent tips to take a blog into active community.
    Thanks.

  • When I get more traffic, I think I’ll start asking my readers for stories.

    Like, I tend to complain about my roommate (she is talking endlessly as I type this), but in the future i’ll end with, “Worst roomie story?” or something like that.

    Also, contraversy. Write a contraversial article and lots pf people comment.

    (Ah, she stopped for a little bit, and now she is talking again. -sigh-)

  • great post, I usually try to sign off a post by leaving it open with a question or an invitation to discuss, it good to interact with your readers.

  • Points are good. Many times asking a question can be enough at all.

  • SpEdLaw2

    HI,

    Congratulations on being in the top three for the Bloggers Choice Awards. My blog is in the top three in the education category.

    I just voted for your blog. Would you please return the favor at:
    http://bloggerschoiceawards.com/blogs/show/21620

    Thanks,

    SpEdLaw2
    http://specialeducationlawblog.blogspot.com