Letter from the UK: Are There More Than Six Reasons Why Technical Communicators Don’t Comment on Blog Posts?

Shut up Flickr CC image by Kristin SchmitEarlier in the week, someone who’d commented an a Cherryleaf blog post emailed me to say he had a feeling the two of us were the only ones participating in the conversation.

He went on to say:

“It’s funny how some topics attract interest and others do not. I thought that having some commentary running would lead others to join, but apparently not. The secret seems to be to mention Star Trek.”

He was saying how few technical communicators comment on blog posts, and that only the more left-field posts seem to spark a debate.

The number of comments on our (Cherryleaf) blog, the STC Notebook blog, as well as other blogs on technical communication, seems to bear this out. Only Tom Johnson’s “I’d Rather be Writing” and Scriptorium’s blogs seem to have lots of comments.

So why don’t technical communicators comment more on blogs? Let’s explore six possible reasons.

1. Do technical communicators dislike writing?

I doubt that technical communicators dislike writing or talking about the profession. Mindtouch publishes a list of the Top 100 techcomms influencers, which indicates there are at least 100 blogs out there. There’s a wide variety of technical communicators presenting at conferences, too. For example, there were 136 speakers at the 2013 STC Summit.

2. Is there anything more left for you to say?

As a blogger, when you’ve said everything, there isn’t much more for readers to say. Equally, if there’s a comment that already expresses your opinion, you can feel silly posting the same thing again.

One of the reasons why our post on Star Trek resulted in a lot of comments was because the original post was like an incomplete list. Completing sets is a great motivator.

3. Has commenting moved somewhere else?

One reason might be that people respond by writing a post on their own site. However, we’ve noticed the people who tend to comment on blogs are often the most active bloggers themselves.

People add their own comments when they tweet a link to a blog post, so it may be that commenting is now done on Twitter instead of on the blog.

 4. Are you putting people off from commenting?

People don’t like walking into an empty restaurant, and they can be put off by walking into a crowded restaurant as well. So the number of existing comments will influence whether someone adds their own comment or not.

They can be intimidated if they feel they’d lose face by commenting – particularly if the other commenters or the blogger are seen as experts.

So it may simply be human nature to watch from the sides, instead of participating more actively.

5. Are you allowed to comment?

According to Jeremy Victor, of Make Good Media:

“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.”

Source: http://www.businessesgrow.com/2010/03/31/the-silent-majority-why-people-dont-comment-on-your-blog/#sthash.sViynJpu.dpuf

6. Does it matter?

Every blogger is worried that they might be writing posts that are simply boring. If the reader doesn’t care about the subject, they’re unlikely to comment.

Often, bloggers write about things they’d like to learn more about, or use the blog as a way to clarify their thoughts on a subject. So comments can help in that process, providing useful feedback.

What do you think? Add your comments below

Personally, I don’t worry too much about the number of comments. Instead, I use the number of tweets each blog post receives as a yardstick. I also blog on the assumption that people can still feel engaged simply by being a listener. Am I making a mistake in believing this?

What prompts you to comment? What puts you off from commenting? Please share your thoughts below.

Yes, it will be ironic if no-one comments (and what’s more, I’ll have lost a bet).

Ellis Pratt is sales and marketing director at Cherryleaf. Ranked the most the influential blogger on technical communication in Europe, Ellis is a specialist in the field of creating clear and simple information users will love.

Shut up Flickr image by Kristin Schmit.

14 thoughts on “Letter from the UK: Are There More Than Six Reasons Why Technical Communicators Don’t Comment on Blog Posts?”

  1. You win your bet, Ellis. I’ll comment when I think I have something to say, but not if the blogger has already said it. I won’t comment simply to say, “Hey – great job. I totally agree with you.” That seems a bit self-serving to me.

    Maybe the problem is that our Tech Comm colleagues are so thoughtful and well-spoken that they often say everything that needs to be said. Except, that doesn’t explain the abundance of comments on I’d Rather Be Writing and on the Scriptorium blog. So maybe the problem is that, except for Tom and the folks at Scriptorium, we bloggers aren’t particularly good at asking provocative questions that will spark a conversation. I don’t know. That’s just a theory I have. Maybe others will comment and set me straight.

    1. Thanks Larry. Tom is very good at responding to replies, which I must admit I’m not very good at doing. I think the importance of responding to the comments is probably underappreciated.

  2. Getting comments is often an issue, and I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with the reasons why people don’t. I actually invite comments right in my text quite often, but rarely does anyone bite. I supposed it is what it is, and if we get hits on the posts, at least we know someone is reading them.

  3. It could be a simple reflection of online culture (aka the 90:9:1 rule). The overwhelming majority of participants are lurkers and don’t contribute content or comments.

  4. Many technical communicators I know, including me, are reticent. It’s no wonder, when you read through messages in online groups or other forums, and people are ripping others apart. Who would want to subject themselves to that terror?
    When you have something useful to contribute, you should not have to second-guess yourself, be a lurker, nor ignore your instincts. I learned from my local chapter’s newsletter editors that they don’t get as many articles as they’d like because the potential author thinks they’d feel foolish writing to an audience of their peers. Just think of all knowledge we’re missing out on.

    1. Hi Tricia

      With a blog, the host can moderate the comments. On the Cherryleaf blog, we’ve never had an abusive post. We had a one that said I’d done something stupid (fair enough), but we’ve only ever needed to delete the spam comments.

  5. Thanks very much for writing this article! Our STC chapter has been posting a blog for a few years now, and it always bothers me how few comments we get. I think there’ve been two over those years that weren’t from me! I often feel like I’m talking to myself.

    I think this article and the comments have provided many plausible reasons for the lack of feedback, so on the one hand, I can take some comfort that people are reading our blog, just not commenting on it (well, I have Google Analytics to track this, and the numbers aren’t great), but on the other hand, I can employ some of your suggestions to try to stimulate some conversation.

    I’m going to add one more reason for the lack of commentary on blogs. Responding takes time. So unless readers feel strongly about something (and feel safe enough to express their opinion), they won’t take the time to write back.

    And it’s very late now and I’m already short on sleep…

  6. Commenting requires work. From the blog’s feed, I have to link to the blog site, sign in, find the comment field, check off a few notification buttons, think about my comment, type it, and finally post it. I have to really be motivated to complete all those steps before posting. But, you motivated me here!

  7. People get few to no comments on blog posts if the post doesn’t assert anything controversial. Essay writing 101 says a thesis (your main assertion) needs to be arguable, which means that some people might agree while others disagree. Without an assertion, the essay has little purpose and consequently, readers may not find themselves agreeing or disagreeing (because the assertion is unclear or bland). if that’s the case, you’ll get few comments. Readers may casually nod their heads and continue on somewhere else.

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