One of the things I'm most grateful for here at Casual Kitchen is the thought-provoking conversations I get to have with my readers.
Unfortunately, thought-provoking conversations are a rarity these days--in blogging and everywhere else. I follow some 500 blogs in my feedreader, 325 of which are food-related, and I'm regularly mortified by how little value there is in most blog comments.
When reading food blogs, how often do you see eye-scaldingly meaningless things like "Mmmmmmm!" "YUM!" or "I can't wait to try this!" scrawled everywhere? (My personal favorite: "Great post!" ... followed by nothing else.) Take a sample of any of the more widely read blogs (food or otherwise) and as many as half of the comments will be puerile.
Look, I'm all for positive vibes and everything, but "Mmmmmmm!" isn't exactly a conversation starter. What it does do, however, is bring a tiny bit of residual traffic to that puerile comment-writer's most likely puerile blog. And therein lies the problem, obviously.
Okay. You've got your own blog, and you don't want it filled up with pointless comments. You want to raise the level of conversation. How do you do it?
Screw the First Amendment
You can start by deleting. A blog is not a democracy--it's your personal dictatorship. And there's no First Amendment in blogging. If you see a pointless comment, a comment that's obvious linkbait, or worst of all a hurtful or inappropriate comment, delete it. Nuke it.
There's already much too much to read out there. Don't permit the idiotic comments to crowd out the intelligent ones, wasting your readers' precious time in the process. Set an example that encourages your most thoughtful readers to contribute more.
A Precarious Slice
It's one of the more discouraging statistics of blogdom, but I'll share it anyway: only about 1-2% of the readers of any given post will comment. In other words, 98-99% of readers simply don't leave comments. As a blogger, this puts you in the precarious position of relying on a rather arbitrary slice of your readership for all of the follow-up conversation on your posts.
Therefore, do whatever you can to help make sure the right readers leave comments. Respond to every thought-provoking comment, and reward your thoughtful readers by picking up on the conversations they start.
Encouraging Disagreement and Leaving Gaps
A side note: Never argue with readers who disagree (respectfully) with you, and never censor or delete their comments. If anything, you should encourage disagreement from your readers, because there's no better way to start a provocative conversation. Often I'll specifically ask my readers to disagree with me, because I want to hear other perspectives and find the holes in my thinking. Hey, that's how we all learn more.
Here's another, counterintuitive way to get a good discussion started: leave deliberate gaps in your argument. Your astute readers will catch and fill in those gaps, and this often takes the conversation into surprising directions.
When you write a post that is exhaustive, utterly convincing and proves your point so flawlessly that it leaves no room for debate... well, there won't be any debate. Instead, try asking questions and raising issues, and then solicit your readers for their thoughts and input. Bring them into the discussion rather than overwhelming them with facts and opinions.
And let's face it, if you've said everything that can be said about a subject, you'll exceed the attention span of 95% of your readers... and the remaining 5% will have nothing left to say but "Mmmmmm, great post!"
A final point: decide what you want your blog to be, and stay consistent. Is your site a place where your readers get to think? Or a place where they aren't expected to think? Readers want to know who and what you are. And once they do, they'll come, armed and ready with amazing and inspiring thoughts and ideas.
Readers! What would you add?
Ask Casual Kitchen: Advice for a New Blogger
How to Write A Killer Links Post
How to Give Away Your Power By Being a Biased Consumer
How to Get the Benefits of Organic Foods Without Paying Through the Nose
Who Really Holds the Power in Our Food Industry?
How can I support Casual Kitchen?
If you enjoy reading Casual Kitchen, tell a friend and spread the word! You can also support me by purchasing items from Amazon.com via links on this site, or by linking to me or subscribing to my RSS feed. Finally, you can consider submitting this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to bookmarking sites like del.icio.us, digg or stumbleupon. Thank you for your support!