I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: one of the very best things about posting a diary here is the conversation that unfolds in the comments. I am delighted to see familiar “faces” who’ve followed me for a while, as well as people unfamiliar with my snarky writing style.
Commenters bring to the diary another dimension: connecting my thoughts with theirs, and sparking the comments of others. Commenters offer validation, and in some cases, alternative views that perhaps I had not considered. Some folks just drop by; some spend a while interacting with me and with the other commenters.
Part of my role as diarist is that of hostess, hanging out with the commenters, responding to their comments, offering further insights, and showing appreciation that they took the time to read my diary and engage with me.
Commenters are my customers. Without them, I may as well hit “delete” rather than “publish” when I finish a diary draft. I don’t have as many followers as some folks here, but what I may lack in volume is more than made up for by the intellect, wit, insight, thoughtfulness, and wealth of personal experiences that they are willing to share.
Comments give me a chance to gauge reaction, revise my thinking, and make my next diary better. They give me ideas for future diaries. In some cases, they lead to very productive interactions with others who share my beliefs and concerns 'behind the scenes'.
As my customers, I want to give my readers and commenters good value for their time. I want to make them feel welcome.
While I can’t offer them refreshments or door prizes, I want them to come back in the future with the knowledge that they can rely on me as a source of information, insight, or idiotic little poems. Treating them with respect and engaging with them in spirited exchanges seems to work pretty well.
I haven’t had too many problems with pie fights or ugliness erupting in my threads (hopefully I have not just jinxed myself by saying that…) Part of that may stem from my natural tendency to avoid conflict by helping people find common ground even when they disagree.
As hostess of my comment forum, I try to defuse tensions, apologize for anything I’ve done to contribute to commentary heading for a train wreck, offer alternative ideas, or simply ask whether we could all return our focus to the issues at hand, rather than letting circumstances derail us.
While there are no hard and fast rules on how a diarist should interact with their readers, I would like to offer a few suggestions that have worked well for me.
First, don’t post a diary at a time when you will not be able to hang out for half an hour at least to read and respond to comments. People who post and run, or tell us “I won’t be around” are doing themselves no favors. Don’t publish until you are available.
Engage and appreciate your early commenters. In essence, they are the “beta testers” of your diary. If they have a good experience interacting with you, it will show, and others stopping in and scanning the comments are more likely to read your diary in its entirety, and get involved themselves in the comments.
Be a good commenter in the diaries of others, as well as your own. I am much more likely to follow and read the work of people who have commented in my diaries. Even if a comment sums everything up perfectly, and there’s nothing to add, a diarist who shows some appreciation will get more visibility in the long run. If people take the time to craft a well-researched or brilliantly witty comment, acknowledge it!
Interact respectfully with someone who has offered a different or opposing view. Ask them for further explanation. Consider whether their views add to your understanding of an issue.
Think of your own diary as a sacred place. You wouldn’t want to contaminate your home or your surroundings with nasty, venomous stuff. While you cannot prevent other people from saying inflammatory, derogatory, or nasty things, you can certainly prevent yourself from doing so.
Sadly, there are people who seem to root through comment threads looking for a fight. Don’t be that person in your own diary, and please resist the temptation to take the bait and engage with people whose intent is to hijack your diary and the worthwhile comments it has received. Your "well-behaved" commenters look to you to maintain order. Don't let one or two malcontents drive away your customers!
Finally, remember to ENJOY interacting with your commenters. They have thousands of diaries to consider. Give them a reason to remember yours as a positive experience.