So I received my first question in the “Ask Margie” section of this site – from my oft-mentioned friend Ms. Susan Fox, aka @Gagasgarden. Susan asked about how to get lurking types to comment on blog posts.

The question takes me back to one of the first Blogchat chats I ever attended. People were talking about how to get more comments in general. I was getting to know some people, so I was talking about methodologies that I had heard other people mention. “Oh, I am only getting about 17 comments per post,” one person said. “Yeah, it took me a whole month to start getting a steady stream of comments.”

I had been blogging for about 2 months and still wasn’t getting any comments. I was feeling a little confused.

Flash forward, well, a whole year now, I guess. Several months later. I usually get at least one comment on my blog posts, and things have been going pretty well here. You all have been offering some really interesting insights that make this place more a meeting place than a Margie babbling place, which is good. There’s just one small itsy bitsy thing I’d like to confess to you.

I still have no idea what posts are going to generate conversation and which ones aren’t.

You call this an answer?

I know. This is not the type of answer you’re used to seeing, probably. A lot of people offer a lot of advice when it comes to blog comments. I’m certainly not saying that I know more than experts like Brian Clark and Denise Wakeman. I’m just saying that I think that getting people to comment on your blog posts is more art than science.

In fact, I have something I need to confess to you.

Some of my most popular posts have been posts that I threw together. I may or may not have taken the time to put a cherry on top. I was happy enough with them to publish them, but I didn’t think they would really garner a huge response. Wrong.

Okay, one more confession. There have been a LOT of posts that I was sure would catch fire. I literally waited with baited breath. Those tended to get no comments at all.

A few things to think about

I have some ideas that I’ve been kind of thinking about and working with, so perhaps these will help you too.

• Some people just don’t comment. I have done primary research on this (that is to say I’ve talked to people on Twitter about it). The sheer volume of blog posts that people read restricts their ability to comment. There’s not much you can do about that.

• Shorter posts seem to do better more often than not. This kind of makes sense. Again the time thing. If a person has half an hour to do blog type things, they could either spend that whole time reading 1 blog post or they could take five minutes to read your post and five minutes to comment. What are you hoping for?

• People need guidance. Personally, I prefer comments over retweets just because I like the conversation that can develop in a comments section – it seems harder to do that on Twitter. So I have started to gently nudge people towards commenting. If you want people to comment, let them know (it’s that whole expectation thing again).

• Are you talking at people or with people? When I first started blogging, I thought the key was to sound very … smart. Now, I’m not saying that you want to dumb down your content, but people tend not to respond, in blogs or in real life, if you are yelling and spitting at them. If you are conversing, people are more likely to um, to converse. So, even if you know a ton about something, rely on your readers to build out the content. Don’t tell the whole story yourself. Be willing to share.

The ever-moving target

There’s one more thing I would toss out in reference to Susan’s question. That is that just like on Twitter or on Facebook, your audience is constantly shifting. You have your subscribers, but then you have people who could be finding your site from all sorts of different sources. It’s really hard to tell if they are reading, why they chose to read, how much they’re reading, and all of the other details a blogger loves to hear about. Even subscribers may not read every post. With all of the talk about how full peoples’ RSS feeds are, a subscription is not a promise that every post of yours will be read. So, I have a key audience in mind with each of my posts, and I talk to that audience, to you. If you don’t catch this post, that’s alright. I’ll catch ya later. If someone new comes here and they dig my vibe, then that’s great! As the blogger, you set the mood in your blog house. As people come and go, they may see things they like, and they may comment. They may see things they like and go on their merry way. You just never know. People are weird that way.

Mostly though, it’s a mystery

For all of that, I still don’t really have a solid 100% answer. I’m still learning about the world of blogging. It’s still extremely gratifying for me every single time I get any comment, and I hope it always remains that way. When I write a post that resonates with people, well, that’s the gold, isn’t it? But you can’t hit gold every time, and you have to learn to roll with the punches.

If only you could tell where those punches are coming from…

Does that help?

Image by Julia Freeman-Woolpert.