I’ve been meaning to write this post forever. It really annoys me when people turn off comments, still call it a blog (not ‘a website with an easy to update article engine‘) and then waffle on about “engagement”. Take Seth Godin for example:

Why I don’t have comments

Judging from the response to my last post, some of my readers are itching to find a comment field on my posts from now on. I can’t do that for you, alas, and I thought I’d tell you why.

I think comments are terrific, and they are the key attraction for some blogs and some bloggers. Not for me, though. First, I feel compelled to clarify or to answer every objection or to point out every flaw in reasoning. Second, it takes way too much of my time to even think about them, never mind curate them. And finally, and most important for you, it permanently changes the way I write. Instead of writing for everyone, I find myself writing in anticipation of the commenters. I’m already itching to rewrite my traffic post below. So, given a choice between a blog with comments or no blog at all, I think I’d have to choose the latter.

So, bloggers who like comments, blog on. Commenters, feel free. But not here. Sorry.

No Comments? Not a blog!

Please remove Seth Godin from the Advertising Age Power 150 top spot? It’s not really a blog if there’s no comments and it’s also not playing fairly. For a start, there is more Google juice in forcing people to link to you to make a comment, than in allowing them to make a comment. Google doesn’t measure comments when assessing where you come in search, it measures links in. So, any time we want to comment, we have to write a blog post, linking to him, quoting and then answering. Nice way to manipulate an audience.  Am I being unfair? No I don’t think so, this is from an old post:

Why do you only give google juice to your own sites, Seth, like Squidoo, and not to non-Seth sites, like dailycandy? Or was that an oversight? I don’t think it was – you keep NoFollow on, which means that people linking to you hand over nice SEO stuff but you don’t give it back. You gotta walk the walk as well as talk the talk Seth dear.

So let’s see, comments turned off, links to Digg and other nice google-juice sites for you to link back to him, and ‘no follow’ (not sharing the Google juice)… smells like old traditional marketing under the guise of new social media marketing.

Silencing the Conversation

Silencing the Conversation

Because you see, engagement means listening, hearing, responding – and not just with words like “Thank you for your input, we’ll consider it”. It means allowing yourself to be changed. Or strengthened by the discussions, becoming stronger in saying “no you are wrong”. And by strengthened, I mean, the to-and-fro’ing of comments, debates is not trolling or fighting, it’s engagement.  Now, I meet marketing people all the time in workshops who think the internet is full of flame wars. What they are actually saying is that they don’t want their thoughts examined too closely, can’t abide constructive criticism, and prefer to live in an echo chamber that supports their belief system without contradiction. And of course that doesn’t happen on the internet. We all have differing value systems, and are now outside of the comfort zone of our family and friends and colleagues. So while I understand the attendees are confronted by debate outside of their own value systems on the ‘net, and see themselves as too sensitive and empathic to participate in engagement, ultimately it’s a form of evolutionary selfishness.  Toughen up… debate is not bad, it’s how we change, adapt, see better ways. Seth leads the old marketers in talking the talk, but not walking the walk. Judge people by what they do online, not what they say!

No Comments? No social web!

So let’s talk about engagement for a moment. Seth has around 70 posts on the importance of engagement with your readership/community. Dr Jakob Nielsen talks about the 90:9:1 rule. 90% of people only read your blog. They read your article then think, “ah good” or “oops rubbish” or “must go feed the cat now”. And then they are gone. In social networks its called “lurking”, on blogs it’s called “readers”. Heh. 9% of people respond – this means they make a comment, or rate a video, or vote up or down the post. Their commitment is not high – they want to leave a quick comment, are into conversation, not content.  If you turn off comments, they are left with limited options. They can either go and sign up somewhere else – say DIGG – and leave a comment, or they create a blog to respond (unlikely) or they fall back into the 90% of “read only”. Which kills the social web. Seriously it does, if we all turn turn off comments. And then we are left with 99% of the social web are readers and 1% creators. Ok, maybe that would change slightly if we all turned off comments to 98% readers and 2% creators, but no comments means that the barrier to entry to move from lurker to participant is too high. Back to web 1.0 days – you had to create a webpage to respond. Yuck.

So, in response to Seth’s reasons for turning off comments let me give him some free advice.

My moderators and admins get thousands of comments and PMs (personal messages) and whatnots. A client of mine, with a reasonable readership (around 5-6000 readers per day) gets an exhorbitant number of comments on her blog for that sort of audience number. She’s not in marketing so I don’t think any of her readers blog. Heh. All of these content creators let the commenters chatter on, only responding occasionally. If you set it up so that you respond to helpful questions, not snaky trolls, the community learns really quickly how to gain the attention of their leader. This answers both the “time” issue and the “I feel compelled to clarify or to answer…”. It’s also a good life discipline! Courage, and a healthy self respect ensue. Each one has learnt that they are not really being addressed as ‘themselves’ anyway – they are now social media identities and have a persona. That helps a lot.

As for the final point “And finally, and most important for you, it permanently changes the way I write. Instead of writing for everyone, I find myself writing in anticipation of the commenters.” I’ve already addressed that – refusing to be influenced by your commenters means an unwillingness to engage. Because engagement either changes you for the better, or sharpens your thinking and arguments so you are stronger. A lesser blogger refuses to engage.

Disagree? Feel free to leave a comment on my blog. Unless you have comments turned off – in which case you have to write your own blog post, and link back to me. With “no follow” turned off. And that goes for you too, Seth… and no more emails. But for the rest of you whether you blog or not, Digg or not, go ahead, fire away. Cos

“Generally, no one person is smarter than the collective wisdom of the group,”
James Surowiecki, author of The Wisdom of Crowds

Unless you are Dave Winer. Heh. Dave does have comments – it’s just that they are on disqus which loads really slow, so you don’t always see them.

No Comments? Welcome to a flame war.

On a final note, one of these days, the ‘no comments’ function is going to come back and bite Seth and his ilk on their shiny marketing bottoms. Imagine: a misstep or otherwise, something that inflames the blogosphere. The readers can’t leave comments so they start a wall of flames on the ‘net that burns from blog to blog. Lovely google juice but everytime you google “seth godin” or whoever, all you get is pages of “Seth’s wrong!”. A combination of dine-in and take-out commenting is absolutely critical, if you are a company and concerned about one day being the fuel for a self-sustaining ‘net conflagration. Think about that before you turn comments off – engagement often means containment, removing comments releases you from responsibility but also removes the central focus critical for control and management.

PS feel free to apply this “non-engagement engagement” to other marketing 1.5 initiatives like opening up a Twitter account to get thousands of followers, then delete your side of the social contract back to 100 so that you can broadcast out,but don’t have to engage yourself. Or Twitterers who push out their updates but never respond to an @person -> personalities and companies alike. I’m sure you can think of other examples?