Sunday, March 22, 2009

8 Ways to Encourage Your Readers to Talk Back

What would blogging be without the interaction between writer and reader? Old school media, that's what. And not "old school" in a good way. Commenting allows your blog to become more than just an information source. It allows it to become a community. It also just plain feels good to know that someone cares enough about what you're writing to respond to it. Here are eight tried-and-true tips for making your readers comfortable enough to talk back:

Turn off comment moderation. Really. Go ahead. Turning off comment moderation allows for a more natural give-and-take between readers, since you won't be putting several comments through at the same time. Readers can better respond to each other if the comments appear one by one. Wary of comment spam? Enable email comment notification that lets you make sure all your comments are relevant. You can easily delete any comments that need it. If you've got some serious trolls or spammers and absolutely need to moderate, then do so as promptly and as often as you can.

Minimize the hoops your readers have to jump through to respond to your posts. Turn off word verification. Since I turned mine off on Baby Cheapskate a month or so ago, I haven't gotten a single extra spam comment. It's also a good idea to allow for anonymous comments but encourage readers to at least use a nickname.

Use polls within your posts to get reticent readers interacting. You'll get readers' opinions quickly and easily. In my experience, interesting polls often provoke more comments. Try,, or PollDaddy.

Ask thought-provoking questions at the end of your posts. Make the questions easy to see. Try to make them more specific than "What do you think?"

Don't shy away from controversy. If you're not comfortable with presenting your own controversial viewpoint, try presenting two sides of a discussion and asking readers to take sides. Just make sure you keep things civilized and don't let attacks get personal. Many folks will shy away from leaving a comment if they think they'll be jumped on by another readers.

Let your readers educate you. Next time you come up short in the information department, turn the job over to your readers. Ask them about their experiences with a particular issue, product, etc. Ask them for their tips.

Ask your Twitter followers to let you know what they think of a new post. It's amazing what people will do if you just ask them to.

Respond promptly to your readers when they ask a question or leave a thoughtful comment. People engage more when they feel someone's listening.

Even after all this, don't be discouraged if you only get a comment or two a day. Only a small percentage of your readers will ever comment. I'm a notorious lurker myself. If you've got 500 readers a day, one or two comments on a post is actually pretty good. In ProBlogger's article, 10 Techniques to Get More Comments on Your Blog, Darren Rowse cites a Nielson study that indicates that "1% of your blog’s users are actively engaging with your blog and the rest are at best occasional contributors."

BlogCoach readers: Do you have any tips for encouraging reader comments?