Popular Bloggers: Hypocrites Or World Connectors?

by on 05/20/2010 • 44 Comments | Blogging

As I was heading home from Search Exchange earlier this week, I stumbled across an interesting post on BlogHer where Janna asks if bloggers become hypocrites once the comments start pouring in. The basic premise is that most new bloggers do everything they can to nurture their comment section when they’re just starting out. They refresh the page by the minute hoping for a new comment and immediately respond to anyone who dares interact with them. However, over time, their comment numbers begin to grow and they stop being so diligent about interacting and making time for everyone. Typically, it has nothing to do with their love for their community, they’re just busy.

Is that necessarily a bad thing? Janna asks:

At what point is a blogger exempt from responding to each and every comment and reading long lists of blogs?

I thought it was an interesting question because it hits on an evolution many bloggers will ultimately face in their careers. This may not win me friends, but I don’t think it’s my job to respond to every comment, every tweet or even every email that comes my way. [Jana seems to agree, BTW.] It’s my job to share information and connect my audience, doing that creates a much more interesting conversation.

Don’t get me wrong, I do my best to respond to comments, especially from new commenters. I want people to feel welcome here and to see that there is life behind what we’re doing. I bleed this community and I stay as involved in the interactions as I can. However, I think it’s more important to connect community members so they can answer each other’s questions and become resources for one another. To me, that’s the goal. Because then the community has nothing to do with me. It becomes about the people here and thrives on its own. And I think that’s much more valuable to everyone involved. It also means I don’t live in a perpetual state of guilt when it’s Friday, we’re criticizing Facebook and there are magically 50 new comments to respond to. Because as much as I’d love to debate everyone, sometimes there are these people called “clients” that require the bulk of my attention. And, even rarer, there are “friends” and “relationships”.

A few months ago, inbound marketer at readMedia (and friend) Amy Mengel wrote a post about her Twitter Patient Zero. Essentially it was about the one person who was the trigger for her meeting everyone else in her network. I remember that when I tweeted it out, many people responded (much to my surprise) that I was their Patient Zero. Through the Outspoken blog and through Twitter, I had helped connect them with the people that were most valuable in their networks.

I thought that was awesome. And I think it’s where most bloggers want to be – that connector. That’s valuable.

You want to be the one that’s connecting people to the information and relationships that they can benefit from. You do that through:

  • Interacting with your own blog.
  • Connecting people through Twitter.
  • Asking “who can I help today?”… and then making good on it.
  • Sharing information through social media channels.
  • Introducing your audience to people smarter than you, people doing cool things, and people that should simply be on their radar.
  • Sending email introductions when appropriate.
  • Getting off your own island and sharing what you know.
  • Pointing people off your blog.

Most of that has anything to do with blog comments. Connecting your audience to the information they need makes you incredibly more valuable to them than simply being around to answer every comment or reply thrown your way. It also helps the blogger to grow larger satellite networks. If you’re tied to your blog responding to the 100 comments left there, then you’re not out reading, sharing or finding new sources to direct people to. You’re not forming new relationships in other people’s houses, you’re just sticking to your same core group. After a while it starts to get stagnant and smell funny around your house. And the content begins to suck.

As a blogger, I think you need to find the balance where you’re present in your community without suffocating it. If you’re not there to respond to every comment, other people in your community will pick up the slack. And I think that’s an important evolution to take place. You can grow your community without getting ‘stuck’ in it. I’d argue that you have to.

What do you think? Are well-read bloggers who don’t respond to comments hypocrites? Or is time we stop looking at comments as the end-all/be-all to engagement and success?

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About the Author

Lisa Barone

Lisa Barone co-founded Outspoken Media in 2009 and served as Chief Branding Officer until April 2012.

Get social with Lisa at Twitter

44 thoughts on “Popular Bloggers: Hypocrites Or World Connectors?

  1. I agree that it is not a blogger’s job to respond to every single comment. It’s nice to know that a blogger who hasn’t hit the bigtime yet can give you that extra attention, but it’s selfish to expect the successful bloggers respond to YOU. They can’t respond to everyone, the important thing is that they are responding to some in their audience though. As you said, it’s a blogger’s job to create a community. When I comment on someone’s blog, I look for replies from other commenters as much as I look for replies from the person who wrote the blog. Sometimes the feedback that fellow fans share is actually more insightful.

    • I don’t think it’s selfish to want someone to respond to you, but I do think it’s human to realize that sometime it’s hard for a blogger to respond to every comment left. And sometimes, it’s not even the most productive use of the communities time. I do my best to respond to the comments here, but I also see the value it brings to community members to respond to things off-site. Sometimes that takes precedence. you do have to find a balance.

  2. Nope, not their responsibility to respond to every comment at all. I think you hit the nail on the head where you try to respond to NEW commenter to make them feel welcome. First, second, and even third time commenter want to feel welcomed before they feel a part of the community.

    Then when you ‘connect’ people is right where you get the warm and fuzzy feelings. Love it. Love your articles always!

    • Thanks, Kristi! I think it’s really important that new commenters are given the full welcome wagon so that they feel part of the community and also so they meet and interact with the other community members. That’s where they’re going to find the most value anyway. The blogger is just the host of the dinner party. The guests make it interesting.

  3. The elephant-in-the-room post. There are bloggers who respond to every single comment and those who rarely join the conversation. But if we’re writing to create potentially industry-changing discussions, communities that wouldn’t have existed previously, and connections that may never have otherwise been made, shouldn’t we be treating blogs as a conversation? Mutually fulfilling, listen-and-learn, give-and-take conversations?

    Hypocrites? Bullshit. A round-table global discussion? Definitely.

    • I think once you start saying you don’t have to respond to every commenter, you feel a bit like you need to start backing up before the pitchforks come out. :) Definitely an elephant in the room call.

      I think it is a conversation. And if you’re always the one chiming in, then it somewhat stifles that conversation and makes other people feel like they don’t have to participate because, oh, the blogger’s already got it. I do like to sit back and see how the community is interacting before I hop back in.

  4. Hey Lisa,

    Interesting post – and it’s a delicate topic. I’m still at the point where I reply to every comment, but who knows what will happen in the future ?

    If you focus on giving value, you don’t necessarily need to reply to everything, there are SOOO many ways to do that – be tweeting IMPORTANT stuff, having your community help themselves etc. The best value is actually created when you have created a community that interacts with itself – kind of like the saying : You are a good teacher when your student outgrows you (or something like that)

    Provide inspiration / value in one way or another – it has nothing to do with replying to comments…

    • The best value is actually created when you have created a community that interacts with itself – kind of like the saying : You are a good teacher when your student outgrows you.

      I completely agree with this. Great way to look at it!

  5. “I think it’s more important to connect community members so they can answer each other’s questions and become resources for one another.” AMEN!!

    And I second Jake LaCraze’s comment that “I look for replies from other commenters”. Heck, sometimes the comments are even more salient to me than the original blog post. An example is the commenters on @jonathanfield’s blog. Damn insightful, articulate group of people! And some of them have some kickass blogs, too, just not as frequented as, say, Jonathan’s is.

    • Agreed, Cathy. Jonathan’s blog isn’t a place for the small-minded or fans of “the box”. And most of them write in complete sentences. The ability to string two or more thoughts into a cohesive statement is something that’s sorely lacking in the world of blog comments. Incredibly refreshing!

  6. Like everything else in life, there must be a balance. Responding to new commenters is important because it makes them feel a part of the community. More importantly, it illustrates that their contributions are not only welcome, but that they’re actually read and appreciated by the blog’s authors. That can certainly motivate them to become more vocal, contribute more to the ongoing conversations and add real value to the community.

    There is a potential downside to taking regular commenters for granted though. That doesn’t mean you must respond to every comment they make, but making an effort to recognize and appreciate their contributions periodically will help them find the motivation to continue participating in your conversations, rather than turning their attention elsewhere.

    When members of the community you’ve worked to build consistently make a valuable contribution to the conversations with no acknowledgement from the blog’s author(s), it can make them question why they’re taking the time to do so. And that may ultimately result in them contributing less or contributing elsewhere, where their comments are acknowledged and appreciated by the blog’s owners.

    • There is a potential downside to taking regular commenters for granted though. That doesn’t mean you must respond to every comment they make, but making an effort to recognize and appreciate their contributions periodically will help them find the motivation to continue participating in your conversations, rather than turning their attention elsewhere.

      Totally agree. However, if I have 5 minutes to respond to a new commenter or someone I know stops by a lot, I’m probably going to respond to the new person. I may follow up with the vet’s comment via a personal email to let them know I noticed it and read it, but it does become a time game to some degree.

      • Absolutely…it’s all about finding the right balance. We all have a limited amount of time and how to spend it most efficiently & effectively is a constant challenge.

  7. Lisa-
    My blog doesn’t have a huge number of comments so it is still easy for me to respond to everyone. But as a reader I don’t expect the blogger to always respond to me. When I read a blog that has a very large number of readers and the blogger does respond to my comment, that is special. And I think it is special because the blogger isn’t responding to everyone.

    Great post!

    • That’s an interesting way to look at it, re: feeling ‘special’ you were picked. Often the comments I don’t respond to are the ones where I don’t feel like i have anything to add or comment on. It’s also a way to encourage people to leave more thoughtful comments so that there IS something to address.

      • Lisa

        that was going to be my point – is there a place for you to add to every comment? Hell no! the person that says great post, you are wonderful every few days you cannot answer back each time, oh thank you, you are too kind. i mean we all have left insightful but yet closed ended comments that if the author does respond to it, it is almost awkward and forced.

        I never think that a blogger has to answer every one and yeah the new people do need to feel welcomed. And as for the vets you catch em on a blog that does n have as many comments so that you can reach out and show gratitude.

        Just some thoughts.

        @SuzanneVara

  8. A blogger or any other content procedure is not obligate to answer any or all comments. Anyone who gets upset because you didn’t respond to them obviously didn’t get enough “i love you’s” from their Mother.

    Readers of blogs / sites need to start realizing that it is THEIR privilege to be able to read what is being written – not a privilege for the writer to write to them.

    • Added point: I do feel that it is important to interact with your audience – but, it is up to the blogger to determine how much interaction they can / should do.

      Yes, I just replied to my own comment.

    • A blogger or any other content procedure is not obligate to answer any or all comments. Anyone who gets upset because you didn’t respond to them obviously didn’t get enough “i love you’s” from their Mother.

      <3 for that AND replying to your own comment. :)

  9. I don’t think most of us would expect you to respond to each and every comment, especially if those comments aren’t adding much to the conversation.

    On the flip side, I think many of us secretly hope all of our comments will be responded to (at least I know I’ve caught myself thinking that way – ego headed guy that I am). As we grow in the community ourselves, we come to realize that not all comments require a reply, nor should there be any responsibility on the bloggers part to do so.

    The comment by Alysson… “making an effort to recognize and appreciate their contributions periodically will help them find the motivation to continue participating in your conversations” pretty much sums up a great guideline for bloggers, as far as I’m concerned.

    • I think blogging and blog commenting both contain a tad bit of ego. It makes sense that people want to be heard and have their comment validated. And hopefully they’re getting that validated not only from the blogger itself, but from the community.

  10. I do not think that successful bloggers that don’t reply are hypocrites. After all, most of us are trying to boost the traffic to our own blogs by riding the coat-tails of the high traffic to their sites in the first place.

    I think that the important thing to do is to remain consistant. If you ALWAYS comment on everyone’s comment, then your audience will get used to that treatment. If you just cut them off one day and never comment again, they may feel as if your site is only one-sided. I think that there is a fine line. Even Tim Ferriss comments back to his readers sometimes. Without them, there is no money coming to the business.

    -Joshua Black
    The Underdg Millionaire

  11. Granted, not every comment requires a response from the blogger and granted, not every blogger has the time to respond – especially, as you noted, when certain blog topics draw tons of commentary. However, there’s a huge gap between those that fall under the above category and bloggers that only comment to build up a readership (thus dropping the commenting part once the readership is built).

    If you DO look at commenting as a conversation, then the blog would be the initiation of the conversation, right? Imagine, someone walks up to you, begins a conversation on a topic you’re very interested in, drops some excellent points… and when you respond they walk away. If this happens on a regular basis, with the same person, eventually you’d get tired of trying to respond to their conversation, wouldn’t you? In fact, you might even decide you no longer want to hang out in the same social circles. For instance, I can count a few “big” bloggers I stopped following. Not because they didn’t respond once, twice, or even five or six times, but because they never responded to any question at all.

    The point being is that, much like Hollywood, the bigger a blogger gets, the less the “little people” seem to matter. Yes, blogging and commenting has a little bit of ego involved. However, in general, the ego does seem to get more and more involved the more well known a blogger gets. The same can be said for Twitter, or any other form of communication network, where beginners start out with fantastic links and 8,000 visitors later start sending out “check out MY new book”, “see what I had to say about” or “watch MY new video on”.

    Those bloggers and Tweeters may be putting out the same material as 1,000 blogs ago –“Follow your followers”, “Engage, connect”, “Talk to your readers” – but, imho, many no longer follow through with what they say once they hit the “big time”. Must be too busy signing autographs…

    • Thanks for bringing the other side of the coin to the table. :)

      You make a very valid point re; the conversation angle. If I’m commenting to be heard by the blogger and that blogger never responds to me, then I may decide he/she’s not really interested in what I have to say and go elsewhere. However, sometimes the community is able to give you the same “validation” (bad word but I’m drawing a blank). It becomes less about that blogger answering and more from the conversation you draw with the rest of the community. I’ve seen that happen on plenty of blogs. But i definitely think bloggers should be making an effort to respond to comments when they can, especially new people.

      Ego happens. Doesn’t matter if we’re talking about blogging, tweeting, whatever. it’s true some people lose perspective when their numbers get bigger, but others (like Chris Brogan, Jonathan Fields) really try and turn the table to connect their audiences. They may not be physically possible to respond to every comment that comes their way, but they hope that their audience will take care of one another and do the best they can to connect good people.

      I do think the ‘signing autographs’ comment is unfair. Larger readerships mean more comments, more tweets and more emails to deal with. unfortunately, there’s still only the same number of hours in a day. you have to find a balance somewhere. is responding to 200 comments on your blog going to bring more value than helping one person solve a real problem via Twitter? You have to make those decisions.

      Just my thoughts, but thanks again for taking the other stance.

  12. I don’t think there’s an issue of hypocrisy unless you tell people to do something and then don’t do it yourself. Like for example the marketer who makes millions lecturing and writing about the importance of individually engaging members of your tribe, and then uses his blog and Twitter account purely as broadcast media. Your blog often mentions the importance of balance, setting limits on your interactions with others so you can still do your day job and have a life, etc. I wonder if you’re feeling some guilt and defensiveness now that you’ve reached the point that the right thing to do is to spend less time interacting with each individual. Many CEOs of growing companies have the same issues. They think of all the sitcoms (not Happy Days) where the kid became suddenly (and temporarily) popular and neglected his or her best friends and all the other little people. IMO you have to make this adjustment, and it’s not hypocrisy. You still have to reply to me of course, because I’m pathetic that way, but you can ignore some of the others.

  13. When this question arises for me I ask myself what my intention is on the web. My intention is to spark a flame in others. I don’t see it as my responsibility to keep your flame lit once I’ve done so. I offer the content and hope it inspires. I make the connection via email and trust that the two folks I connect will follow up. If they don’t, it’s okay. I have to be content in seeing myself as having done my part.

    With my blogs, Twitter streams, podcasts and videos I seek to jump start an idea, conversation or experience. If I stand over one fire, say, my personal blog, and poke it with a stick/stoke that fire in the comments, I fail to ignite other fires that day. It’s time I’m not spending, for instance, creating the systems that will give birth to a scaleable business.

    There are times when I prune one sliver of the web knowing it will negatively impact the others. Sometimes I spend an hour or two reading and hanging out in the comment sections of other people’s blogs. But you can’t do that all the time. Just like a gardener can’t only add fertilizer to her garden.

    Cultivating a garden, growing a business, co-creating in the digital world, whatever the practice, requires you to move your attention from one section to another. From flower to flower. From blog to blog.

    Growth requires movement and stillness, in equal measure.

  14. Thanks for the shout and link to my post! I struggle with when/whether to respond to each comment. Even though I’m not blogging as frequently anymore, I feel like I really have to carve out time to respond, and often that means not getting to it until a few days later (when my responses can seem stale). Thanks for the gentle reminder that, while I probably shouldn’t feel guilty about not responding every time, blogging is a two-way street and I need to do better in acknowledging readers.

    @amymengel

  15. I’m in Panera loving all the discussion!

    Ultimately, we will all come to the conclusion that keeps us sane.

    I realized also that commenting benefits ME. After I read a post, commenting forces me to digest the content and form and opinion. Whether or not they reply I have already been bettered b the experience.

    I think it’s rather funny that on a post about responding to comments you responded to almost every comment. Hmm. Wonder what that means? (all in good humor)

    On the flip side I tweeted Chris Brogan this week and he tweeted me back! I was floored and thrilled! The man has over 137,000 followers and he tweeted me twice! I think I’ll forever be a fan now:)

  16. As the author of a blog with a very small niche, I have never felt compelled to respond to every comment I receive ony blog. I am usually interacting with them in some way, though. Either on their own blogs, on my FB fan page, etc. I find it incredibly off-putting, however, when I visit a new site and the blogger has put up an explanation about *why* they can’t respond to comments or e-mails. I’m one of those old school people who think blogging is about community and if you’re not interested in that than perhaps you’d be better suited to writing a book or giving a talk at the library.

    I feel similarly about people on Twitter who have lots of followers, but who only follow a few. If you’re savvy enough to have that many followers than you’re probably smart enough to utilize lists as well. Failure to do that tells me you either have a real high opinion of yourself or are stuck on high school. Either way, it’s a turn off.

    • I feel similarly about people on Twitter who have lots of followers, but who only follow a few. If you’re savvy enough to have that many followers than you’re probably smart enough to utilize lists as well. Failure to do that tells me you either have a real high opinion of yourself or are stuck on high school. Either way, it’s a turn off.

      I’m curious about this because I get that criticism a lot. I only follow about 450 people with 10k or so following me. Does that mean I’m supposed to follow thousands and then use lists to sort through the noise? Why wouldn’t i just keep my follower numbers small and only follow the people who bring the most value to me? I’m genuinely asking because it’s something I hear a lot.

      • I’ve never believed in that idea of following a lot of people simply because they follow you. After all, most don’t ever engage whatsoever, and I only have so much time anyway. Just like those folks followed me for a reason, I follow others for a reason. If those happen to merge, great. If not, no big deal. It’s the same feeling I get with people who will drop everything to answer whatever call comes on their cellphone. I mean, it’s there for MY convenience, not theirs.

      • Lisa, I would tend to agree with you. I only have 455 followers so I don’t necessarily fall into this category, but for those that do follow thousands back to even out their numbers, it’s obvious that they are not actually listening to all those people anyway. It’s impossible, so in reality by following thousands back and simply putting the people they care about into lists, they are just putting up a facade of caring. I don’t think that following a handful of those that bring you value is self centered at all. I think it’s being realistic

      • Follow value and then extend it, expand it through your own network. My personal philosophy is to give new followers a chance, even if I don’t immediately perceive value. “Don’t judge a book…” and all that. If time demonstrates a lack of value (either to me directly or to my network), then I prune.

        Bottom line, though, manage it the way that it makes the most sense to you and don’t worry about “best practices”.

    • See, I have a blog in a medium size niche.

      All of my posts are evergreen and rank very well, and the result is that comments are spread pretty evenly across hundreds of posts (unlike a blog like Outspoken Media’s, where comments tend to be focused on the most recent posts). So I get about 100 comments a day across probably 75 posts. It’s all I can do to approve/moderate the comments, nevermind respond to them.
      I could probably count on one hand the number of comments I’ve responded to, and yet the community is very strong. The people, of course, deserve most of the credit for this, but I also attribute it to strong moderation on my part. If you’re not constructive or if you don’t add to the conversation, your comment doesn’t get published. So yeah, you can help steer the conversation without directly contributing to it.

      As for Twitter, why do *you* need the ego boost of having someone following you who really has no interest in anything you have to say?

  17. I’ll be honest, when I initially started reading blogs I expected bloggers to respond to my every comment (quite selfish I know) or else I wasn’t coming back, unless they were THAT good! But when I started blogging and hanging around more blogs I realised you honestly can’t respond to every comment you receive.
    I think the most important type of comment to respond to are direct question-comments. But then again, what’s to say there aren’t private discussions taking place else where?
    I’ve learnt to not expect response from every dropped comment. It would be nice, but it’s not a do-or-die issue any more. That’s my thought on the matter… :)

  18. Ah you hit the nail on the head, but I thought you were going another way. I thought you were highlighting the inherent contradiction in social media which is do I connect for the community’s benefit or for mine? It’s a age old networking question that social media spotlights and the web traffic tips and tricksters don’t help the cause for altruism.

    The other issue is there are plenty of rewards for content originators but ZERO appreciation for commenters. I always thought that it was convenient for the reader to keep comments on the site of the originator.

    However, those bloggers that don’t allow comments, Seth Godin for example believe if you want to comment on my work, do it on your blog, thereby creating a link and all the love that goes with it back to the originators blog.

    I believe commenters are the glue that makes the web social. They should get some kind of recognition as originators, albeit that will be difficult. So absent the formal structure I’ll carry on commenting in the hopes that others will have a little “hhmmm” moment.

      • See, this is one thing that’s great about smart comments:
        I learn.
        Thanks, Stanley, for mentioning sidewiki — never heard of it. And I’ll check out that link you included because I get Seth in my email inbox and didn’t really think about his blog — he always responds to me the day I reply to his post/email feed, so I feel completely connected.

        But for one of the greatest reads (and follow up reading) on bloggers and comments or not, you guys must (probably already have) read Naomi Dunford’s http://www.IttyBiz.com about why she closed comments (last year, gotta search the archives.) Great post, big hoopla in response, a smart focus on her killer posts, service and products, and after (what seemed like) several months, she quietly opened comments on a selective basis.

        Thanks for posts that attract interesting commenters —

        ~GirlPie

  19. I found your site through Janna’s. great discussion. I feel like a small fish in a big ocean here. My blog is growing, but still small. I have a good amount of readers, but not great commenters. I try and engage them or email them back, but I am on blogger and I can’t thread a reply that also emails them (that would be great) .
    And alot of people don’t include an email in their blogger profile (why??)

    I have thought of switching to Disqus or another platform that would allow more of a discussion. But then I think (I only get 10 comments on a post, what kind so discussion do we need?) BUT… then I think if I had a comment platform that allowed more discussion, there might be more discussion.

    It is hard to juggle blogging with all of my “real” responsibilities– especially when blogging is making me a just pennies. I want to blog because I love it, because I have something to say. Not because I am trying to get more readers, more, more clicks, more pennies. But sometimes I think “all I need is one little push and I would be propelled to the next level of blogger” And then what? would I really be happy?

    My blogging Joy is often taken when I view it as my job to “network” vs cultivate relationships.

  20. Well, ethically speaking a blogger should respond to each and every comment, however for bloggers like Darren Rowse, who gets literally hundreds of comments on every post, it’s hardly possible. Besides, nature of the comment also comes into play. Generally, a blogger will reply to a comment that adds or extends the post content. I agree with Gary vaynerchuk’s advise to care about your readers, but it would be very unfair to label a blogger as hypocrite if she can’t reply to all comments. But occasional interaction must happen so that readers don’t feel like they are talking to wall

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