Had a few interesting experiences with commenting on blogs recently that got me thinking about blog comments and its still pretty patchy how we are approaching it. They are the essential lifeblood of audience engagement, especially for bloggers as they take the experience from a click statistic to a conversation.

I admit, I haven’t exactly taken to blogging like the proverbial duck to water and I gave a lot of thought about comments; what to use, whether to moderate and all that when I started to blog and I wrote about my thoughts in previous posts – Community and Comments and Any Comments.

I gave Reddit a go and Disqus, both excellent – but I have settled on using the functionality built into WordPress and a bit of spam filtering –  which is working for me.

The first thing that jogged me back into thinking about comments was Chris Brogans blog, his article on Audience is King – he describes the fact that the value of a blog is all about the audience. In the comments the value of the discussion at some point probably outweighed the original few paragraphs that Chris penned – nicely making his point.

(Ironically in researching the opposite opinion, that content is king, I found a blog about content without a comment function at all).

Clearly neither Content nor Audience is really ‘king’ – a point that then comes out in the discussion around that article, it’s a symbiotic relationship – the content sows the seeds for the community or an audience that forms around it.

Content also has a pivotal role in search engine optimisation and you got to have a bit of that to be found by your audience via Google.

Anyway, back to my point – the next experience that had me thinking about comments was when I commented on a blog post at CMSWatch. Like a good CMSWatch tribe citizen, I authenticated with IntenseDebate (who I’d previously registered with, so that I could leave a comment there) and typed away.

Job done, right? My brilliantly crafted contribution to this subject inserted – let the engagement begin. But no. Hang on. It needs to be moderated.

Hmm… a moderated conversation, not really in the spirit of social media, but I can understand why I guess, I too have had that ‘moderate posts’ box ticked, as I felt my way with this blogging stuff.

The trouble was that it then took six hours for the comment to be moderated and the moment is lost. We are all so used to Twitter I guess that this just seemed like an enternity. So if you need to moderate, you need to do it fast (I have switched off moderation).

I also felt that having to jump through the hoop of registering, the login process and the fact that I’d commented before should have made me slightly more trusted than ‘anonymous’. This is not the way to build trusted engagement communities.

I also think (hope!) that there is something you can show your audience about yourself by skillfully handling unfavourable posts, or maybe (even better) that your community will do it for you.

Third thing, I read this article on The Next Web by Mike Braco, that talks about cross posting – in it he writes:

the more places you submit your content, the more spread out and less valuable the conversation around it becomes.

Which I have found to a certain extent – reposting on the this-is-marketing blog and here, although I would say ‘fractured’ rather than less valuable as I have appreciated the feedback in both places. There are two audiences for these blogs, but it would be great to merge the discussion.

It’s something to think about when reposting, maybe it’s something to think about ahead of generating the content, where do you want to have a conversation about this?

But hang on… you can’t control the centrality of the discussion, it’ll happen somewhere else whether you like it or not – Twitter? FaceBook? LinkedIn? I think the key here must be to let your audience know where the conversation might be – where you and your audience digitally hang out.

So, comments – feels to me like you should open up and not moderate comments, but reserve the right to delete. If you insist on moderating, do it quickly and consider trusting folks that have commented before or bothered to authenticate. Think about your audience and any possible discussion when deciding where to post.