The Commenting Conundrum: Are Blog Comments a Useful Measurement of Social Media Engagement?

Judging from the number of articles offering advice, the question of how to encourage more comments on posts is a matter of wide concern among bloggers. In fact, this dilemma seems to be at the heart of the social media model.

Blog comments can be tremendously valuable in multiple ways, of course, from gathering market intelligence to correcting or expanding information offered in a post. The question we’d like to focus on here is whether comment volume is a useful measurement of social media engagement:

  • Is comment volume a meaningful measure of engagement specifically and of communication success more generally, relative to the other metrics available (including friend, membership, or subscriber totals; page
    views; file downloads; and product orders)?
  • Other than those situations in which collecting information via comments is the primary purpose of a blog post, can bloggers meet their ultimate goals without generating high volumes of comments?
  • What would change if comment volume on a given blog was two or three or ten times higher?
  • Is a lack of comments necessarily a negative sign, or is it more just a reflection of how things are?
  • If a blog has only limited commenting traffic, does it truly qualify as a social medium? Or is it really closer to the traditional publishing model, in which readers get the information they want without participating in a conversation?

While pondering these questions, we stepped back to consider our own behavior as blog readers, both in our personal interests and with the thousands of business-oriented blog posts we read every year.

Why Don’t Readers Leave More Comments?

This isn’t a rigorous analysis, but we reflected on our own blog reading habits and extrapolated six possible reasons why blog readers may be reluctant to leave comments.

  • Limited by time constraints. Every professional has too much to do, and leaving comments is just one more item on the to-do list.
  • Not feeling part of the community. Some blogs seem to have a tightknit sense of community, with a core of frequent commenters who are on friendly and even personal terms. To other readers, this close sense of community can seem like a closed sense of community, and joining the conversation can feel like butting into a lively conversation at a party.
  • Reluctant to ask for advice or information. Some blog readers are comfortable using the comment function to ask for information or advice, but we suspect many others are not and would rather dig around to find answers on their own.
  • Having nothing substantial to add. Most of the time, we’d be willing to speculate, most readers conclude that they don’t have anything useful to add. More broadly, blog posts that are clear, complete, and noncontroversial probably won’t attract a lot of in-depth comments simply because there isn’t much for anybody to add.
  • Unmotivated by a sense of reward. Even when readers might have something to add, many probably consider the potential reward (such as peer recognition or promotion for one’s own blog) and conclude it’s not worth the trouble.
  • Sensing that the conversational peak is over. When posts do generate a healthy comment stream, this often seems to peak after a couple of days. After that, many readers who might be motivated to comment probably sense that the show has moved on and there is no point in contributing.

Given how many reasons there are not to leave comments, ramping up comment volume is clearly a challenge. If nothing else, bloggers need to adopt a realistic stance when it comes to getting comments.

Can Readers Be Engaged Without Leaving Comments?

Evidence suggests that bloggers can accomplish communication goals without it showing up in comment volume. For instance, we’ve purchased books, courses, and other products from bloggers without leaving comments on their posts. In these instances we’re deeply engaged as readers and consumers, and they’re accomplishing at least some of their business goals, without us being visible community members in the “social” sense.

A lack of comments might be troubling, in other words, but it doesn’t necessarily signal a lack of engagement.

Bottom Line: Where Do Comments Fit in the Big Picture?

No single answer will fit every situation, but it seems appropriate to ask if the quest for comments can be overemphasized. At the very least, bloggers should figure out where comment volume falls in their hierarchy of goals. For example, are comments mostly “feel good” feedback, a real information source, an opportunity for readers to share their knowledge, or something else entirely?

And now to demonstrate our finely tuned sense of irony, we’d like to ask for your comments on this article. As a blog reader, do you find comments from other readers generally valuable? Are you a regular commenter yourself? Why or why not? If you blog, do you view comment volume as an important metric of engagement?