The Compleat Guide To LiveJournal Stardom And Fame, Part II|
When I sally forth to seek my prey
I write my posts in controvers'ial ways.
I start a few more flames, it's true,
Than a well-bred writer ought to do;
But as simply a blog on the internet,
If you want to many readers get,
You must manage somehow to review
More sordid themes than e'er I do,
For I am the Comment King!
And it is, it is a glorious thing
To be the Comment King!
For I am the Comment King!
Hurrah for the Comment King!
Yesterday, I looked at what it took to get a larger friends-of list on LiveJournal. But I glossed over one of the biggest portions of gaining a large reader list: Comments.
Getting comments is important for the aspiring LJ Whore because while a large friends-of list is nice, the comments are the measure of how deeply your readers interact with you. A reader who's continually discussing your writings is someone who's far more likely to pimp your LJ in his journal, or to reference some discussion going on in a sub-thread of one of your posts. And this, in turn, will spread your name as far and wide as acid rain.
Also, a huge commentary is one of the best parts about LJ; I'll be honest here and say that I consider The Watchtower of Destruction to be my own personal bulletin board. I write on a topic, and a whole bunch of people dissect what I wrote. I get corrections, diversions, digressions, and - yesterday - naked pictures. Comments are the best part of LJ.
(Be warned that they can be addictive, though. I really have to work at working when I've got a thread with heavy commentage going. If anything's going to topple my goal of getting five short stories published this year, it's you guys.)
So that said, what makes an LJ commentworthy?
Step #1: Write About Questions.
Almost every comment-heavy thread asks a single question:
Remember, the point of comments is that they are a form of feedback, so if you want comments you need to try to engage the reader in a dialogue. When you write, you should be attempting to answer a question: Why do people hate gays? Why do people say something sucks based on popularity alone? Why doesn't the Atkins diet (or, in the revision, the bastardized "street" Atkins diet) work? Why do the new Star Wars films suck? Why does anyone read [LiveJournaller X]?
Mind you, it's not enough to just ask the question; a post that consists of the phrase "Why is Michelle Kwan the USOC sportswoman of the year?" might get you a few comments, but no more than a handful. What you want to do is ask the question, then attempt to answer it yourself. "Why is Michelle Kwan the USOC sportswoman of the year? She hasn't had a particularly strong performance this year, and her talents are failing. Here's why I think she got it..."
If you do something like that, people will no doubt post to tell you that you're full of it, that Michelle Kwan is still at the top of her game, and then someone else may defend you. This is how dialogues are started.
Step #2: Leave Room For Dialogue.
Some of my best posts have gotten the least comments. Gini's experienced the same thing. We write this perfect little gem of an essay, one we're particularly proud of, and we hit the "Post" button and wait for the comments.
What it inevitably turns out is that our essay said it all. We've written a moving essay about how beautiful the fall leaves are in Cleveland... But what's anyone going to say? You've either seen the fall leaves in Cleveland, or you haven't. If you have, we've pretty much nailed the experience. If you haven't, you've read the essay and went, "Oh, so that's what it's like!"
Either way, ain't nobody got much to say.
People feel dopey posting comments that say, "Great essay!" They generally want to save their accolades for complaints and clarifications. Thus, the things that make great comment-worthy entries are not always the best essays. Sometimes, my worst writings have gotten the most comments, mainly because I was so monstrously ill-informed that there was plenty of room for people to correct me.
There is a trick, though, to getting comments in an otherwise-closed post, though it only works if you have a middling friends-of list. In fact, I used it in the first post on this topic. Quick. Can you spot the shameless trick in that post?
It's here: "Now. I think that's it. Did I miss anything? Let me know."
People love to write about themselves. As such, any time you can ask people, "So how's this relate to you?" do it.
When I wrote about my problems with mispronouncing words, I probably would have gotten a fair amount of comments anyway because it left room for people to go, "I did that, too! Who knew?" But what really drove it over the top and got 273 comments was me asking, "What word did you fuck up in the most public and embarrassing way?"
People told me by the hundreds. And that's how you turn a simple essay into a dialogue.
(Incidentally, I read every goddamn comment I get. Frequently, I get these mopey posts saying, "Well, I'm comment #4,000, and you'll never see this, but..." No. I read them all. I may not reply if I'm short on time, but I do read them.)
Step #3: Write About What Annoys You.
You know what post first pushed my wife over the "75 comments" mark? (Actually, she'd never beaten fifty before, either, so it really catapulted her into the stratosphere.)
Not politics. Oh, she'd written about politics before, but the problem with writing about politics is that everybody does it. There's only so many "I loves me some gays/I hates me dem gays" threads you can see before your eyes glaze over.
Nope. It was her essay informing parents that their teenagers were having sex. If you want an example of how to generate commentary by the third sentence of your opening, study this:
"Your children are having sex. If they aren't, they will be soon, so just assume that they are. It's kind of hard to fathom that someone has to tell you, the first post-60s generation, that this is so, but apparently a lot of you are hoping that your kids won't take the drugs you took, won't pull the same stunts you pulled, and won't be groping each other the way you did."
Her next big comment thread (73 total) was "Here Thar Be Blood," a vitriolic rant on the idiocy of menstruation. Up until then, she'd been getting 5s and 11s of comments, slowly creeping up. Those two put her over the top.
You would be surprised how widely shared even the smallest annoyances are. In fact, the smaller they are, the better they tend to be for commentary; everyone's annoyed by Iraq and the al-Qaeda to some extent. But write about your hatred of J.R.R. Tolkien, and people will comment in huge torrents of email, going, "Oh, thank God! I thought it was just me!"
Remember: The best topics for comment are, essentially, "Why is this so stupid?" Gini's always been a good writer, but only recently did she catch on to what engages people.
Step #4: Reverse Your Normal Impulses.
If you're an angry guy by nature, writing an angry essay is not going to leave any room for comment. After you write "BUSH SUCKS HE FUCKING SUCKS MY ASS DONG THAT COCKSUCKER," nobody's going to leave a comment - because if they agree, they have nothing to say, and if they don't they'll be terrified of getting into a dumb flame war with you.
If you're a conciliatory person by nature, writing a pleasant essay that excuses whatever it is that bugs you with a "But I guess that's how people are" will not get comments either, because you'll be so wishy-washy that nobody will be able to disagree with you.
Cross the wires. Be a little less angry or a little bit less nice. Either way, you'll be moving towards the middle, which is where most of the people are to be found.
Step #5: Don't Ask The Question If You Don't Want The Answer.
If you write, "Why does everyone think I'm a big fat loser?" you'd better be prepared for people to venture a lot of unpleasant theories. If you ask, "Why in hell is Bush so popular?" you'd better be prepared for the conservatives who will - *gasp* - attempt to defend Bush.
If you don't want to hear opposing viewpoints, then don't fucking ask. Too many people write these long tirades about their political viewpoint and then get enraged when someone suggests that hey, maybe there's another way.
This especially applies if you start discussing your personal life. People will comment and tell you what you should do, and sometimes strongly, especially when you hit the 200+ friends-of mark. You have been warned. If all you're going to do is flame the people who speak up, then you might as well stay home.
(Which is not to say that dismissing someone for an idiot every once in awhile is bad. If someone's clearly a fool and can't back up their arguments, say so; you don't need them hanging around anyway. But if the only way to do something is your way, then this is not a dialogue - this is a monologue.)
Step #6: Do Not Under Any Circumstances Use LJ-Cuts.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Lemme sum up your pro-LJ-Cut arguments for you:
Blah blah blah courtesy to others blah blah blah how dare you take up my friends page blah blah blah bandwidth blah blah everyone loves the LJ-Cut blah blah blah even Mother Theresa said the LJ-Cut was next to Godliness.
But there's one fact which all of the LJ-Cut people ignore: Putting up an LJ-Cut is, essentially, saying, "This isn't important. You can skip it." And people do. Every time I've seen someone hold an LJ-Cut experiment, to see if people read what they had to say, it's been the same result:
An LJ-Cut reduces your readers by about half, and sometimes up to two-thirds. And if people don't read it, they don't comment.
The inevitable riposte is, "But people will skim past large entries, anyway!" - and that's true. A lot of people will skip right past this entry, for instance. But some people will read it just because it's there, and they'll get engaged halfway down, and bingo you have a comment.
I'm not saying all LJ-Cuts are evil: I want LJ-Cuts for photos, spoilers and quizzes. And I'm also not taking a moral stance in this case: You can do what you want. It's like yesterday; I said that if you wanted to be popular, you had to add everyone back, and people said, "Ferrett, no, that's wrong."
Unfortunately, it's right. I've seen it happen at least three times: People either gained popularity when they started adding everyone back, or they lost popularity when they stopped adding people back. Adding people gains friends.
Likewise, regardless of what you personally think of LJ-Cuts, LJ-Cuts cost you comments. Thus, if comments are your goal, you will want to eschew the cut. Then again, I don't add everyone back as a matter of course; you are free to LJ-Cut your posts. Being the Biggest LJ Rock Stah is not my main goal, and it probably shouldn't be yours, either.
Step #7: Post At 8:00 a.m. On A Weekday
The biggest comments I get are the essays I post early on, when people are just starting their Friends list in the morning. If I'm one of the top twenty entries, I have a much greater shot at getting a reply than when you get to the Skip=350 phase, when they're exhausted and just skimming.
Early-morning posts get more responses than afternoon or nightly posts. And yes, I have studied this.
Step #8: Respond, You Idiot.
If someone writes something in your journal, it's because they were moved in some way by your writing. Every comment is a tiny act of fandom.
Therefore, it's of all at interest, write back.
Commentary is a dialogue, not a monologue, and acknowledging that yes, someone wrote five paragraphs on a topic vaguely related to yours is simply a courtesy. Find something to say about it, even if it's just a sentence or two, so they don't feel like their words fall into the aether.
Don't write back to everybody, of course; that feels phony. Sometimes you just don't have much to add, especially when someone writes "LOL." But if you're sitting there waiting for more comments to flow, the first step is to prime the pump by saying, "Hey, I read that. Did you think of this?"
To quote Brighn: " Since most people want to be LJ stars, the best way to get your own ass kissed is to kiss other people's." He is sooooo right.
Step #9: To Thine Own Self Be True.
I'm discussing very mercenary methods of getting comments, but most people can sense a phony personality very quickly. Write about what you're interested in first, and then think about making it comment-worthy. If I was primarily concerned with popularity, I wouldn't write about porn, or suicide, or self-responsibility when applied to specific people, because every time I write about that I watch my numbers drop.
But on the other hand, I like to think that the people who do stay stick around because I write about whatever crosses my mind.
There comes a point where you can sell out - and frankly, LJ isn't worth it. LJ's a fun diversion and is certainly a great joy in my life, but I write for fun. I have serious writing that I do for cash; this is my place to unwind. You're not going to make money blogging. You might get some pleasant bennies, and some fan mail, and some other very nice stuff... But nobody's going to pay you for this. As such, the exclusive pursuit of pseudo-celebrity is a waste of time.
You can enter the popularity contest, sure. Just don't give up too much in an attempt to win it.
Here is the point where I'd say, "So did I miss anything?" - except you all read Step #2, so you know what that means. But seriously, I am curious as to what you perceive as common threads in your most-commented-upon entries, because the science of what gets feedback is still a very fascinating thing to me.
'Course, it helps that the community of LJ fascinates me, too.
Current Mood: accomplished