For every 1000 people who read a tech blog post, there may be one that leaves a comment. Lurking in the crowd are any number of people who work for companies related to the subject of the post. They almost never comment, and when they do they often come across as obnoxious, self-promoting and spammy. It doesn't have to be that way, though.
There are a number of ways that you can join in a conversation online, even though you have economic interests in it. You who work in the various sectors we cover often know far more about the products, people and trends at issue than we who cover a relatively broad beat do. We like it when you leave good and useful comments. What do those look like?
Being transparent about who you are and what your interests are is fundamental, but beyond that there are a variety of ways you can add value instead of being an annoyance. Below, we discuss five of those ways; we hope you'll add thoughts of your own about how to comment appropriately - unless you work for one of the comment hosting companies, of course (just kidding!).
The Fundamental Mood of a Good Comment
Bad comments from companies are loud, self-centered, only semi-relevant and often have the tone of a spurned lover. Good comments from companies are super humble, gently engaged with competitors and focused on adding value to the discussion of the whole sector.
A Grey Area
One comment type that lives in a grey area is the "don't forget about us" comment. That's one of the most common types. It's annoying. This author at least welcomes emails like this because it's hard to remember all the relevant companies in any given sector. Leaving a "what about me?" comment publicly though just looks bad.
Here are five ways you can add more value than by just throwing your company's name and link into a blog post's comments. An example is provided for each strategy; these are decent examples, really great examples are still too rare, unfortunately. We know you're capable of really nailing it though and we don't want you to be afraid to try.
1. Update Us on New Developments
When we write about any company or service, one thing that we ought to make sure we do is consider where that company's competitors are in the market. We hope to compare feature sets, user growth and any number of other factors. That's easier said than done, though, so we welcome comments from competitors that provide us updates about where their service is at.
This is especially true when we're talking about a new technology that only a limited number of vendors have implemented support for. A good recent example can be found in the comments on our story about C-Shirt, the Creative Commons remixable t-shirts passed on by QR code and mobile phones. QR codes are common in Japan but are just starting to emerge in other places.
In a comment responding to that post, Eric from a semi-competitive company called SpringLeap complimented C-Shirt's integration of QR codes and Creative Commons, then pointed out that SpringLeap would soon be adding QR code support to their online clothing service too. QR codes are unusual enough that we were glad to learn about another company moving in that direction.
Feel free to comment about updates to your service that we may not be aware of when they aren't so rare, either. If you can focus on the update more than on the "me too" feel, then we'll appreciate you taking the time to broaden our knowledge of the field.
2. Clarify Your Product or Market Position
Never is it as obvious that top tech bloggers have limited knowledge about the things we write about than when we write about you or your company. Who knew we could be so wrong?
At those times, a good blogger will welcome your clarification. We may not have used your product enough to know about the big differences between it and other products it got thrown in a list with. We might have some real misconceptions about where the company stands in growth, history or target audience. Please, let us know in comments so we can be more informed next time we write about you or your sector in the future. This is a conversation!
When we wrote about the adoption rate of Microsoft Silverlight earlier this week, we said it could be picking up the pace compared to the adoption rate of Adobe Flash. We were (I was) wrong in our assessment of the situation. Adobe's John Dowdell jumped in to comments and put some numbers in perspective for us. He also offered some analytical perspective of his own, as someone deeply engaged in these issues. His comment wasn't particularly gentle, but that's ok - he works for Adobe and we were very wrong in the assertion he was commenting on.
3. Articulate Differentiation
You know your company and your competitors better than we do. Tech bloggers tend to know the nitty gritty about one or two niches that they personally engage with most closely, but we often write about far more than that. That's ok, but we could use your help, vendors, in fleshing out the details and differences between various service offerings. Our readers come to our sites to learn about what tools are available to solve particular problems. There is no way we could articulate the full breadth of options and the differences between them as well as we plus our commenting readers can.
As long as you don't stop at "me too," go on too long or talk only about yourselves - comments about differentiation are more than welcome.
When we wrote about hedge fund power research suite FirstRain in April, we mentioned another service called RivalMap. RivalMap's Kris Rasmussen jumped into comments and let us know his company's product was adding several of the features that FirstRain offers (foreshadowing yesterday's announcement of a partnership with Newsgator) but that the primary differentiation was a price margin of tens of thousands of dollars!
There are probably even better examples of company comments intended to articulate differentiation. One of the inspirations for this post was a comment left by Iterasi (disclosure: a consulting client) in a post about competitor LaterLoop over at WebWorkerDaily. Company blogger Alex Williams thanked WWD's Jason Harris for mentioning his company in a review of a competitor, praised the competitor's unique feature set, then articulated some fundamental differences between the companies that Harris didn't mention in his review and finally closed the comment with more appreciation for the competitor. That's a model example of a company adding value in a dignified way to a blog post about a competitor.
4. Talk Up the Other Team
Have you seen the blog posts on places like TechCrunch or GigaOm about one company announcing a round of funding or being acquired, where that company's competitors leave a nice short comment simply congratulating them on their good fortunes? Just a short congrats, signed by the name of a representative of a competitor, with their name linked via the URL field in comments to their company's site. That's classy. Don't throw your URL into the text of the comment or take that time to talk yourself up. Just offer a dignified congratulations and the unspoken message is that your niche is further validated, a rising tide lifting all boats. Don't act like you're drowning.
A different but good example of this kind of comment can be seen in our April post about the ongoing success of aggregator PopURLs. We wrote about PopURL's new sponsored collaboration with Intel.
Semi-related competitor DIYStartupNews.com left the following comment:
"This ia great idea and reminds me of techmemes sponsored news sources.
This is smart marketing move by intel, more companies should look at sponsored branding of sites like this. I should imagine they are getting a good return on their investment. "
Well, we bet you think it's a great idea, DIY, maybe you'd like a little of that kind of action yourself. Also, why enter your URL in the "name" field? Is that what your mother calls you? We'd love to get to know you as a person in this industry.
Criticism aside, that was a good comment - PopURLs did come up with a smart model that's reminiscent of another successful model, Techmeme's sponsored feeds. We hadn't thought of that comparison, otherwise we would have mentioned it. That was a useful celebration of PopURLs' success and a good comment to leave.
5. Add Humor or Insider Insights
People who eat, sleep and breathe wikis, video hosting or local review sites for example all have jokes, details and perspectives that those of us who simply use and occasionally write about such services just can't have. Leave some of that information in comments! We'll all feel smarter, we'll feel like ReadWriteWeb is the place to come for deep insider knowledge and everyone will appreciate you and your company for it!
When we wrote about the growing number of serious uses for wikis last month, Whit from Wiki.Answers.com jumped into comments and pointed out that Comscore called Wiki.Answers the fastest growing site of 2007. Touche! That was something that we suspect wiki-heads probably knew. (I've consulted for wiki companies and remember now that Wiki.Answers were mentioned as a big player.) As a non-specialist in the field of wikis, though, that's the kind of detail that I just didn't know. It was self promotional, and a link would have been nice, but it's an undeniably important detail in a general conversation about the growth of wikis.
An even better example of offering insider knowledge in comments can be found in a comment from this morning to our coverage of Japanese video site NicoDou. Jane from Akibanana.com, a news site that supports a company offering tours of a particular Japanese sub-culture, left an incredibly helpful comment that included two good links to sites other than hers, some updates on the topic of the post and other information that we simply didn't have the context to include in our original post. It was a fantastic comment and gave readers a great reason to click through the commenter's name to learn about the company she represents.
A lot of this is common sense, but some of it is particular to the emerging culture of the social media market. We're blessed at least in the US to have a very active social media economy - so lots of our readers here have jobs with companies related to the subjects of our writing. We want you to participate, you have so much you can add! It can be a great way for you to increase you visibility in the market, as well. See our post about the New Robert Scobles for a discussion about other ways this can be done.
If we saw half as many simple "don't forget about me!" comments and twice as many comments focused on humbly adding value to the conversation from the perspective of someone working at a related company - the quality of conversation in the tech blogosphere would be dramatically improved. We'd love to see that happen.
Are there other ways you've seen value added appropriately in comments by company representatives? We'd love to learn about more strategic options; spamminess is really annoying, learning together is fun and fulfilling.
Images via Flickr CC: "I Must Be Getting Old" by idogcow and "Welcome Hands" by dtcchc