I’ve been having an ongoing discussion with several friends about what keeps them engaged in blogging, podcasting and the like, and why they have shut down some of their older projects or put them on hiatus.   Some folks don;t feel like they are generating any sort of consistent audience or comments, so they lose steam thinking all their “work” and passion is somehow being lost in the void.

In order to figure out how valid this might be, I went back and looked at Forrester’s Social Technographic Ladder and statistics about online participation.  While people creating content online has increased to 24%, and there’s a huge increase in the number of Joiners and Spectators, the number of critics has remained the same at 37%.  Now let’s do a little math.  If we make the assumption that people creating content are by and large interested in having people respond in some way, like by leaving a comment on your blog, and that they do the same to blogs they read, we do the math and (37% – 24%) it looks like there’s only 13% of people not producing their own content on the web who are making the effort to comment or otherwise engage online.  That means the vast majority of any blogs audience are readers and lurkers, but not necessarily participants in the conversation.

This doesn’t surprise me all that much.  Number one, we have trained generations of people that you read information in newspapers or magazines, listen to the news on the radio or watch it on TV, but your ability to talk back and respond has never really been viable and meaningful until now.  You could yell at your TV, but no one on the other side could hear you.  You could write a letter to the editor, or call the station, but even then, you weren’t sure if what you said made any difference at all.  We’ve been used to broadcast, not interactive media.  And getting used to the very nature of conversation and give and take online is going to take breaking a lot of old habits of being passive recipients of information.

But if you look at people who do comment on your blog or work, that is like taking your audience and converting them into “hot leads”.  People who are willing to engage with you online, positively or negatively, have presumably given some thought, have emotionally engaged with your work, and are willing to do something about it.   They’ve taken an action, even a simple one, and done something in response to your work.   There’s probably a proportion of your audience who does emotionally engage with your work, but doesn’t have anything to add or feel they are furthering the conversation, but those that do comment- those are the actors- the ones you’ve fired up enough to respond.  That’s the essence of conversion of audience to leads to customers- your commentators are the ones that cared enough to become customers, even if the product you are serving is free.

The worth of ideas is measured in an ever-increasingly crowded marketplace, making it more important than ever to make sure your ideas are tagged, optimized, shared, retweeted and the like to get traction.  Sometimes what you say makes an impact- other times it doesn’t.  But comments are an indication of conversion to conversation, and it’s going to take a while to get people used to the fact that they can talk back and engage online.  But just because not everyone’s converting to be a “buyer” doesn’t mean you don’t have a lot of window shoppers and passive interest.  (Your blog stats will give you an idea of your passive consumers)  The trick is then to encourage comments and teach people what you want from them as an audience.  Justin Kownacki wrote about this in his post from about a month ago about asking his readers to be a better audience.  And I think it’s incumbent on all of us to make sure we let people know what kind of feedback we want and how we want it, while making it as easy as possible to manage.

That said, here’s mine:

I love getting comments on my blog.  If you want to keep a comment just between us, please send an email.  Any feedback is better than none- don’t worry about overdoing it.  If it gets oppressive, I’ll let you know 🙂

Commenting on the note version of the blog post in Facebook is great, too, but it doesn’t translate over to the main blog.  So if you want more people to see your comment, please choose to comment on the blog before Facebook.

Please let me know where to find your blog , website or any other online work, so we can connect there as well- I’d love to read what you’re writing.

And most of all, thanks for your time.