So you’ve got a blog or a site and it’s full of great content relevant to a particular demographic. Let’s say it’s a fashion blog. What differentiates one fashion blog from another? Great photography, original stories - you’ve got all that, but the Web is like a giant forest in which interesting content mushrooms all the time. How do you keep your readers loyal in a world where loyalty has become all but a quaint Victorian notion? If Facebook has taught us anything, the answer lies in creating communities.
Why comments matter
Of all commenters, 98.2% are bloggers with an agenda – to promote their own content. While helping each other is a great thing, having comments on your site that are nothing but transparent attempts at self-promotion does nothing for engaging readers. Once your visitor scrolls down and sees a couple of these, you’ve lost him. On the other hand, what good is any information unless it provokes a healthy discussion? A comments section is your chance to hear from your readers, it is an extension of your site and web-presence. Make it count!
Engage your readers
For comments to be meaningful, you need an engaged community. A community is more than an amorphous and chageable crowd. It is an interested and well-defined group that has something in common – and it is up to you to help build it. You do that not just by the content you create, but also by the opportunities you provide for actual engagement with that content.
Ask and you shall receive
Don’t just go for the standard ”leave a comment,” ask your readers a genuine question. It can be as specific or open-ended as you like, as long as it’s pertinent. Tell them that you value their opinion and want to hear from them. And, like a good host at a party, make sure you give them something to talk about: ask them what they think about this issue, whether they agree, what their experience has been like, etc. Getting your readers to contribute to the discussion is the way to start building a community.
Make it pleasant
Speaking of good manners, if you’ve been succeful at getting the shy but interesting folk to contribute, by all means respond to their comments. And make sure the responses of others are such that the discussion remains civil. You can use an advanced commenting platform like Disqus, which promises to keep trolls from getting out of hand with built-in moderation or SolidOpinion, which also lets you empower your best contributors by designating them as moderators. Sometimes a few good comments can be as valuable to your audience as the post itself, don’t let them get lost in the shuffle.
Reward your users
Psychologists have been telling us for a while that positive reinforcement is the way to go and we all know how good it feels to get positive feedback. Whether it’s in the form of a genuine and timely response or in the form of a promotional gift to your valuable commenters, recognition goes a long way. Make sure your responses aren’t just of the ”thanks for commenting” kind. Your readers time is limited, make their experience on your site count.
Keep it organized
You might want to consider getting a good third-party comment platform to help keep things in check. Find out which of the platforms out there (Disqus, Livefyre, SolidOpinion, IntenseDebate, etc.) has the fastest load times and suits your needs best and consider implementing it on your site. While each platform has its strengths, there are several overall advantages to using a dedicated comment platform:
- Social integration – social networking support. Seamlessly share comments and content, spreading your name and bringing in new visitors.
- Ratings – of comments and users create social recognition and lead a more organized, serious and therefore useful discussion.
- Real-time updates – alerts allow your visitors to keep track of their discussions and participate in them in a more organized fashion.
- Moderation options – some platforms offer moderation features that take this onerous task off your hands and make your web publishing life just a little easier.
If you build it they will come
The ”it” you should be be building is, of course, a community around your existing content. What differentiates a community from a crowd is the presence of hierarchy, rules and incentives. Your community should be one in which users and comments can be organized by rating, where good user contributions can be found easily and are not swallowed up by self-serving feedback, and where your users are encouraged to share and to come back to your content.