I don’t get it. From my statistics, it appears that I have a pretty good readership for my weblog, about 200-300 people per day, but no-one ever comments on what I’m writing. I just don’t get it, what’s wrong? is there some design error on my site, or … ?
Actually, that’s a very common experience and I see a similar situation on my own blogs too. It turns out that usability guru Jakob Nielsen’s actually analyzed this and come up with what he calls his 90-9-1 rule. He explains it here: Participation Inequality: Encouraging more users to contribute.
Nielsen basically posits that 90% of the people who visit a social or community forum are lurkers, people who read what you’ve written, but never quite get sufficiently motivated to contribute a note, comment or email message. The remaining 10% are the contributors to your blog or discussion forum, and that further breaks down into 9% who are occasional contributors and 1% who are frequently contributors and typically account for the vast majority of your comments.
Specific to blogs, he suggests that the rule is better described as 95-5-0.1.
As usual with Nielsen’s work, however, there’s more to it than what he writes, because there are so many ways you can influence or encourage people to contribute, and there are many topics that are more likely to engage readers than others. (An interesting book on this subject is Robert Cialdini’s splendid Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion).
For example, this blog attracts a lot of comments, but relative to the traffic level we see, it’s far less than 5% of the visitors who are contributing something, by an order of magnitude or more. On the other hand, a more typically political blog might well see that 5% (or even 10%) figure, or higher, if its content is sufficiently controversial.
Note also that there are important things you can do to adversely impact your feedback level too in the world of blogging, including any friction you add to the comment transaction itself. For example, I’m a big fan of Typepad, but if you foolishly configure it to require people to have a “typepad key” to be able to comment, I can guarantee you’ll see far, far less than 10% or even 1% comment on your articles. You might seen 0%, actually, because there’s just too much of a hassle factor.
Neilsen recognizes this too, by offering his number one recommendation make it easier to contribute. His most interesting observation, however:
“Reward — but don’t over-reward — participants: Rewarding people for contributing will help motivate users who have lives outside the Internet, and thus will broaden your participant base. Although money is always good, you can also give contributors preferential treatment (such as discounts or advance notice of new stuff), or even just put gold stars on their profiles. But don’t give too much to the most active participants, or you’ll simply encourage them to dominate the system even more.”
Anyway, I hope this gives you some food for thought and helps you think creatively about how you can better engage your audience and gain more discussion on your blog!