The silent majority: Why people don’t comment on your blog

“Why don’t I get comments on my blog?”

This is one of the most common blog-related questions I receive.  My recent post on re-thinking community engagement — especially on B2B blogs — received a lot of attention.  In addition to a vibrant comment section, I received emails, DM’s and phone calls with more ideas from the majority of folks who are meaningfully connected with companies and blogs, but don’t engage in a traditional sense.   I wanted to pass on some new  ideas on why comments may not be the best measure of “engagement,” especially for B2B companies, courtesy of the {grow} community:

Comparisons to traditional consumer behavior

Brian O’Kane and I had a lengthy Skype call on a range of topics, including the fact that most people just don’t feel comfortable commenting … on anything.

“Conventional businesses have no way of knowing how many engaged customers they have,” he said. “Think about traditional brands.  A very tiny percentage of people would actually write in to express their loyalty or displeasure with a brand yet they know they have thousands or millions of loyal consumers.  We somehow expect a higher degree of personal interaction with social media .  Because you blog or make a comment, you may expect people to comment too. But consumer behavior is still the same — most people are just happy to read and enjoy and be engaged that way. For me, I would be less concerned about the intensity of the level of engagement and more focused on the long-term business objectives.”

Engagement outside of the blog

In my post last week, I mentioned GE as a gold standard of corporate blogging but they rarely attract a reader comment.  GE’s Community Manager Megan Parker provided her take on why:

“For GE reports, we have an active and interested audience, and they tend to show us their enthusiasm or concern, as the case may be, when one of our stories really strikes a chord. We don’t have an expectation that people will comment daily or even routinely, but we do make the option to comment available every day. We’re currently fielding a survey about to understand what we’re doing well and not so well now that GER is about 18 months old (barely a toddler).

“We also do not look at GE Reports as just one site but more as a news and information “system” with key extensions on Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, email and RSS.  So the commenting, interacting, downloading and sharing extends beyond the orbit of and out into this constellation of sites from GE.”

Emotional connection without sharing

Josh Kashorek told me he has been reading {grow} for about a year but had never commented.  “I still feel engaged with {grow} while I’m merely a listener, ” he said. “I think it boils down to a combination of authenticity, and time. I know that sounds a bit cliche but I don’t think having an authentic voice is so much about standing out as it is about allowing readers build their own connections. The more you show me who you really are the more ways I can find that we are similar and the more similarities I find the more engaged I become. For example, we both have a strong focus on business/capitalism. This gets me more engaged because many in the social media space are still talking only about puppies and unicorns.”

Technology and policy hurdles

Jeremy Victor called me to say the post had him thinking and offered a very practical reason why comments are few and far between on B2B blogs: “Studies show that more than half of company employees aren’t even allowed to access the social web from their computers at work and  even if they can, they may not be allowed, or enabled, to comment.” So you need to consider your core audience — do they even have the ability to make a comment?

I would also add that competitive considerations may prevent many people from commenting on a company’s public blog site.

The empty restaurant

Brian compared one psychological aspect of commenting to walking into an empty restaurant.  Some would be more inclined to only take a seat if other people are there. Commenting in an empty comment section might be similar. You don’t want to be the only one putting your neck out.  It’s easier to add a comment when somebody else has been there.

… and the crowded restaurant

“Another reason I don’t comment is if I see too many comments, ” Brian said.  “I saw one of your blogs had 53 comments.  I figured if I commented, nobody will ever see it.”

These interactions, and your generous comments on the post last week, have helped change the way I look at engagement, especially on corporate blogs.  Like many of you, I’ve been guilty of falling into the “it’s all about the conversation” myth without stepping back and looking at practical business realities, traditional consumer behaviors, and other ways people can feel connected to a blog without the tangible presence of engagement.

What do you think?  Does this change your view of the social media “conversation?”

Illustration: Ciudadano Poeta

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  • Great post, Mark. Two additional reasons:
    – I see my point of view already well represented; chiming in with “Yeah…um, me too” seems worthless
    – I don’t have anything valuable to ask the author or to add to the conversation

  • @Mark, That’s a great idea of sharing comments like this. You’ve got a great community here. I love the conversations that take place.

  • Great share.

    Just had an experience I know I (as an ITiot with no funds currently to hire good guys to sort things out on my own site/blog) have trouble getting past: writing a heartfelt few paras and then being hit by a registration hurdle where I have either forgotten the password, can’t be bothered logging registering/logging in or losing it ll trying.

    Unlike… here!:)

  • ps: Purely personal, but in my redesign (£ permitting), there will be two dominant one-shot, hyperlinked icons: twitter & Feedburner for the tweets and blog respectively.

    Still can’t figure what to do about the necessary registration for the site, as I do need folk to agree they can’t sue me or other users before accessing open source ideas.

  • Mark

    @Peter — I’m not a tekkie (I just play one on TV). I’m hoping somebody from the {grow} community has an idea that can help.

    Your comment on password registration FAIL is a great one! Why have that?

    The other one is the “moderating.” I’ve had nearly 3,000 comments on {grow}. I have deleted exactly 1. Let the people speak!

    @Jon — Thanks for your support as always!

    @Lisa — A great point!

  • Hi Mark,

    What I find interesting is that the comments don’t need to actually be posted on the blog for the blog to have caused the “engagement.” Just like you, I receive email, direct Tweets and calls from people who’ve read something I’ve written and want to talk about it or ask me a question off the record, if you will. Engagement comes in many forms and the way it shows up doesn’t always follow the path we think it will.

    Great points!

  • Mark W Schaefer

    @Ardath. And again it kind of comes back to your goals and how you relate to people. If you are personable and accessible, the types of engagement you mention might be best of all!

  • Interesting analysis, Mark. Our blog (for a niche technology) has a small but loyal following according to our analytics. But, we seldom get comments. Good to remember that while those of us engaged in social media think nothing of leaving a comment, many people don’t think in terms of engaging with a corporate entity. But that doesn’t mean they’re not engaged.

  • You can’t beat the social value of commenting either. It’s not just leaving your two cents and parting ways. It’s like having chums dropping in to say ‘hi’ and letting the blogger know they’re still enjoying his/her work.

  • @ mark, great insights. As you know, I’m a huge believer in engagement. But, like you say, if you don’t solicit it, you’ll never get it. This great analysis proves it!
    Lot’s will read and think but few will say anything. On all the blogs that get comments, one thing is common. They make people think and react. The more who react, the more will react (just like the vacant restaurant) but it’s up to the author to encourage and engage. They must make the reader comfortable and they must engage with the reader so they are comfortable engaging in return.
    Bloggers must not only provide value (so people read) but also thought provoking insights so they are more inclined to speak thier mind (without being chastised) in whatever way they are most comfortable (comments, emails, phone calls etc.). You do both exceptionally well!

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  • Mark

    @Adine tracking specific people through Analytics is a very clever way to define engagement. i suppose that would not be too difficult, especially if the group is relatively small. Thanks for the excellent idea!

    @Johnny — I’m glad you said that. To me a comment (or a RT) is kind of like a thank-you to me for writing the post. And I truly have enjoyed getting to know the {grow} crowd through their insights.

    @steve Great wisdom here. Truly! Thanks so much for the contribution.

  • Great subject, Mark. I look at it from the standpoint of being a student. There are many in class that do not interact, merely absorb the physical space and never open their mouths. Then there are the few that ask frequent questions and join in conversations and debates. Which group do you think does themselves better with the learning experience? Granted that all customers/clients/associates are valuable, but having the courtesy of responding is a nicety, and always, by me at least, appreciated greatly. It just goes along with what I stated about being a good Netizen.

  • Mark

    @Gregory. Superb point. “80 percent of success is just showing up.” — Woody Allen

  • ‘By Mark, March 31, 2010 @ 8:35 am
    Your comment on password registration FAIL is a great one! Why have that?
    The other one is the “moderating.” I’ve had nearly 3,000 comments on {grow}. I have deleted exactly 1. Let the people speak!’

    I’d love an answer for the registration problem.

    On my site (which does have a forum – now nearly defunct sadly more because I have not kept it bubbling) it exists for two main reasons – as mentioned the legal protection for those contributing from those accessing ideas, and for the newsletter as a double-opt in to comply with stringent data protection rules/requirements.

    The blog, created via Blogger (with all its reg issues) is a lot more chilled, but as it is associated with the site, which is used by kids, I do operate owner-approved moderation.

    Other than a few spams, no need to mod as yet, and I’d only do it in the event of extreme abuse or profanity. Though I have found a commitment to ‘free speech’ does on some blogs give free rein to trolls, which can drive away valued core participants (contributor or lurker).

    It’s another hard to resolve issue on blogs, especially those that arouse ‘passions’. My personal view is some kind of system (possibly technically impossible)with a sidebar, such that all comments are viewable, but if some wish to go off on tangents they can be redirected by the owner or (in the case of high volumes) automated group vote to go play on their own.

  • These are wonderful ideas, Mark! Perhaps in a few weeks, after the semester, I’ll be able play around with my HTML/JavaScript/CSS tools and see if I can’t help you come up with something like you describe. Can’t promise anything other than to try, but I’ll do that. Might be something I’d like to do with my own (future) site.

  • People interact in various ways. Some welcome the opportunity to be the first to comment and others wait to jump in. Reminds me of facilitating an online discussion with students who have same behavior. Some lead and some follow.

  • Mark

    @Peter — I think the current thinking is to simply eliminate all hurdles to engagement and commentary. I understand you have some special cases with the teens and all but every step a reader has to go through to comment will dissuade them from doing so. I think most communities tend to over-manage this. I see even mundane sites make you jump through hoops to even leave a comment.

    I took a look at your site and like your business model Peter. Quite interesting. Had to dig a little to figure out what you do though. I would blast some statement of the business purpose right on the landing page as well as clear suggestions of benefits and what a visitor can do next.

    Thanks for your great contributions to the dialogue on this topic!

  • Mark

    @Mark Yes, that behavior shows up in many ways. Sometimes I even counsel my students to show up more in life. It’s just a fact of our society. People who are more out-going and bold tend to be perceived as leaders. There is an inherent societal bias against the shy, unfortunately.

    @Gregory. Thanks!

  • @By Mark, April 1, 2010 @ 9:34 am

    Exchange is no robbery:) Any meagre contribution I may make is more than compensated for with more than valuable input in return.

    @Mark — ‘I think the current thinking is to simply eliminate all hurdles to engagement and commentary.’

    Agreed. But sadly this is not always possible, for business and/or commercial reasons.

    Having been through it all, I am aware of Government sites that are open to legal proceedings on everything from the sharing of copyright material to 3rd party views to liability to consequences of advice.

    Hence putting a name to t&cs. That involves, at least, a forename and email (for confirmation).

    Commercial considerations add another level. Data protection requires a few things, and double opt in confirmations (at least in the UK) add more ‘effort’.

    Finally, at least with my site, there are practicalities. One valued feature is the post(zip)code location. Hence we need the first block to tell those matchmade where they are relative to services (or each other).

    @ Mark ‘I took a look at your site and like your business model Peter.’

    Thank you for taking the time and trouble. It has potential, but as a creative soul I fear the business needs the complements I had that made my ad agency a success, especially in media, sales & production.

    @Mark ‘Had to dig a little to figure out what you do though. I would blast some statement of the business purpose right on the landing page as well as clear suggestions of benefits and what a visitor can do next.’

    As an ad man, one of the worst things a client can often do is design their own site. Sadly, the only bloke prepared to shoulder the task at the current budget… is me!

    It is in great need of improvement. Not much I can do about the basic structure as it is based on 10 yr-old outdated tech. Your input noted and appreciated.

    But the home page arrival experience is very much under review, not least because a national TV show is due to do a story.

    One aspect I’d love to change at the same time is the registration. At the moment you sign up, then an email goes out, which you then reconfirm.

    Trouble is, with aggressive spam filters and company firewalls that 2nd one is often never received!

    And one for any with a mailout based on a database… do recall that people change their hotmail addys with their underwear. And your mailing is not high on their mindset to advise of the change. So regular missives essential, with an end reminder to advise of changes.

    Another bit of advice I could do better at following myself.

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  • I loved this article. I’m always thankful for GoogleAnalytics or I would think I’m talking to no one. I ask questions. I ask for comments. I continue to fret at the lack of reader response.
    I now feel that I can relax a bit and just enjoy the fact that I like to write and share information without looking for the elusive response!
    Thank you.

  • Mark

    Thanks for taking the time to respond, Karen. I’m glad the article was comforting in some way!

  • Even though they may not comment, many people do pass along links to my blog. Because I’m a Twitter addict and watch mentions, etc. Using tools like TweetReach also show how people may be “commenting” by passing your blog post along to their followers.

    Thanks for a great post!

  • Mark

    @Heidi — Great point. Thanks!

  • Excellent these insights are great! Thank you very much for sharing.

  • Obviously most people would rather read and not comment publicly on any blog. Just as most people in an audience will listen but are afraid to ask a question. In my blog I see almost 800 or 900 readers to every comments. I think that’s the nature of human nature.

    But many blog writers make this worse because they don;t really engage themselves. They talk AT their readers, not WITH them. The more you engage people the better response you will receive.


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  • Hi Mark,

    This is something we understand for sure. We used to be frustrated about it, then regularly started hearing stories about people doing things like printing the posts and routing them around the office (yes, really!). We work with insurance agencies and many have access restrictions and many just simply don’t participate. We knew it was going to be a long-term effort to reach that type of engagement, and it’s part of our long-term strategy to help agencies find a new way of doing business…so we’re in this for the long-haul. But comments definitely make it more fun!

    I appreciated your altered perspective after your research. It makes me feel better too because it is consistently touted as being the measure for success, but I think it depends on so many considerations. When you’re talking with people who live and breath social media, sure they’re comfortable and going to comment. When you get outside of that group, it becomes a different situation with varying degrees of interest and comfort in taking the participation to the next level. Right now, I feel success if we get target readers and offline feedback. Baby steps!

  • This is an excellent comment Wendy. It’s funny — I still see so many posts touting the importance of comments for company blogs. I want to ask them if they have ever really looked at company blogs. They’re dreaming!!! Connecting emotionally with a company is EXTREMELY difficult!

  • Karen Pilling

    Somewhere along the way, I remember a formula for engagement on blogs and forums:
    1: 10: 100
    It went something like this: Out of 100 visitors, 1% will comment, 10% will reply to the comment, 100% will read the post so 100% will have engaged.

  • I completely agree! There are some brands that you just *want* to make the connection with and then there are others… for our base of insurance agencies, I think they’re going to find a lot of frustration with the potential lack of comments because while the information might be really great and very specifically useful, it’s not necessarily fun and may not draw people into commenting. I do think over time as people realize that this is a great method of communication – in many cases, better than say a one-on-one email where the discussion is contained to only those two people – that the discussions will increase. Getting those late adopters to realize those benefits is definitely an educational opportunity!

  • I like the analogy of an empty restaurant. Emotional connection and traditional consumer behaviour explain well as to why a reader wouldn’t comment – that is barring barriers for commenting bloggers create: most frustrating is the need for registration (however simple) before commenting, not publishing comments unless moderated…these just show lack of much thought and/or insecurity of a blogger.

  • I agree: people who are active on social media (who do more than just connecting with others) tend to share their thoughts and comments. I wonder what it takes to take participation to next level.

  • I couldn’t have said it better – your thoughts mirror mine.

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