Some of my clients are pushing me to interact with people who comment on my articles. What’s the best way to handle this request, and what kind of interaction are they looking for?
—I Thought I Wasn’t Supposed to Read the Comments
Although none of my clients have required me to respond to comments, four of my 10 clients strongly encourage it, and one client even offers bonuses to writers who take the time to communicate with readers.
If your clients are asking you to interact with commenters, I’d urge you to take the time to read the comments, respond politely, and use your influence to spur thoughtful discussions about your articles. This approach will benefit both your clients and you, and probably won’t take up too much time from your workday.
Why do your clients want you to take the time to read and respond to comments? Well, digital publishing is obsessed with the idea of engagement. Your editors want people to share your articles via Twitter, Facebook, Digg, and other sites—but they also want readers to spend as much time engaging with each individual piece as possible. If an article can trigger a conversation that keeps people on the site for another 90 seconds, the publishers make more ad dollars, and the editors get to show off to their bosses during their performance reviews.
That’s where you come in. When commenters see the writer is reading and responding to their thoughts, they are likely to return to the article multiple times.
As Quick Sprout’s Neil Patel explains:
By responding to comments, you are encouraging more comments, which indirectly helps increase social shares, which should help you increase your social traffic. Not only will you get more search traffic and repeat visitors, but you will also get social media traffic.
This is good for your client, and it’s also good for you. Every positive and productive comment you make helps build your expertise and your audience. A reader who sees you as an interesting person, not just as a byline on an article, is more likely to follow you on Twitter, visit your website, and seek out your other writing—which, by the way, is also good for your other clients.
So what kind of interaction is best? When you are responding to comments about your own articles, here are some good ways to inspire discussion and engagement:
- If a reader makes a great point, acknowledge it. Especially if it’s something you hadn’t thought of before.
- If a reader comments in a way that indicates a misunderstanding, provide a friendly correction. You don’t have to claim the confusion is your fault, but in most circumstances, it’s a bad idea to blame the reader.
- Comment in a manner that invites other people to join the conversation: “You made a really good point about XYZ. How do you handle this problem? Has anyone else had this experience?”
And here’s some advice on what NOT to do (no matter how much you want to):
- Don’t respond to every critique or counter-argument with “Well, actually…” Let your readers share opposing views.
- Don’t attack or humiliate the readers. Don’t make comments like “Did you even read the article?”
- Don’t reply to every comment. Your job is to jump in when you can contribute to the discussion without making the discussion all about you. Let the readers drive the conversation.
You may wonder whether it is fair to ask writers to read and respond to comments “for free.” Most of the time, commenting on your own articles is unpaid, the same way responding to emails doesn’t come with compensation. However, like pitching and responding to emails, taking the time to reply to comments can benefit your career in the long run. Not only does it help you build relationships with readers, but it also shows your clients a tangible way you add value to their publications. Being regularly visible in the comments can lead to more assignments and more referrals down the line. (I suspect, but cannot confirm, that my commitment to the comment section has helped get me writing gigs.)
So how do you respond to comments without slowing down the rest of your paid work? I have two personal rules that guide my responses. First, with a few rare exceptions, I only engage in an article’s comments on the day that article is published. Commenting drops off significantly after the first day, so there is very little advantage in continuing the discussion. And second, every morning, I put all of the articles I’ve published that day in individual tabs. After I finish a big chunk of writing, I hit refresh on every tab, read all the new comments, and start responding.
Some clients make it easy for you by letting you subscribe to their comments section so you get an email notification whenever there is a new comment. I use email subscriptions to follow the comments sections for two of my clients, but I wish all of them offered it.
Lastly, keep in mind that you shouldn’t limit yourself just to comments on your own articles. You’re already reading your clients’ publications daily—or you should be, anyway—so if you see another article that inspires a comment, drop one in. You’ll be contributing to a community, ensuring your name and your voice remain part of the conversation. And hopefully, if other writers and readers see you commenting on other people’s work, they’ll be more inclined to return the favor when they come across your byline.
Nicole Dieker thinks responding to reader comments is one of the most fun parts of her job, and she loves a well-monitored comment section. If you have questions about building a freelance career, send them to Ask a Freelancer via firstname.lastname@example.org.