Do your blog comments make a good impression?

There are many reasons people have for posting comments on this site or others: because they’ve got something to add to the conversation, because they want to correct an error, because they like taking part in a debate, because they’ve got a question to ask or a myriad of other reasons.

For those seeking public office, judicious commenting on other people’s sites can also be rather like going to events and meetings in the area; it’s a way of getting to know people, getting known by them and discussing relevant issues. Reaching out to other people’s sites, particularly if they aren’t party political ones, often gets to more of the public than expecting them all to come to one of our sites.

The content of your comments is crucial to achieving all of these, but there’s one aspect that is often over-looked: having a good profile on blog commenting systems. Suppose, for example, that you comment on a site that requires you to login with a Blogger (Google) account. That means your comment will appear with your name – and a link through to your profile on that system. What you have, or haven’t, done to refine that profile can have a big impact on what people think of you. Doing a nice comment but neglecting the profile is a bit like remembering to wear smart clothes to a meeting, but then handing out a tacky business card.

Commenting options vary greatly across different blogs: some require you to login with a particular account (e.g. Blogger or WordPress), some give this as an option but allow other comments and some don’t offer any account login options. What will suit you best depends on which blogs you frequent, but it is likely you will quite often be wanting to comment on sites that offer Blogger, WordPress or Google account options or let you comment using your Facebook profile.

Even if they offer freeform commenting too, using your account helps save you against the occasional typo in your name or web address, along with the convenience (if you remain logged in) of not having to type in name and other information each time.

Some people prefer freeform commenting, typing in their name and site URL, on the basis that this creates a comment with a link back direct to your site and so may bring some search engine benefits to your site.

In my experience the boost is very little, whilst consistently using your account profile helps build a more consistent and credible online persona, particularly as it helps you avoid having to mix and match between sites that require an account to be used and those which allow open commenting. In addition, having an account profile page that appears in search results is itself helpful. As with most advice, experiment a bit and see what suits your own circumstances.

So what can you do to improve the appearance of your profile? Let’s take Blogger first. My own profile is at http://www.blogger.com/profile/17596137350950820090. Note that I’ve given my full, real name. If you consistently use, and are known by, a nickname it would make sense for that to be on display. But otherwise you want to make clear that this is really you. Hence too the photo. I do a lot of training and talks, so a simple head and shoulders photo makes it easy for people to associate the person they have met with this online commenter.

The profile page also shows those blogs I am following via Blogger. The impact of these is a bit like the choice of books on your shelves or magazines on your desk. They help give people an impression of who you are and what you know about – though if you try to fake it by putting a whole load of items on display about an area you don’t really know about, you’ll soon be found out once you start communicating with people.

Other information about me is fairly sparse as Blogger’s options are generally for fun stuff, whilst I am going online in a professional capacity.

You can set all of these settings by logging in at www.blogger.com, which uses your Google account (free to create if you do not yet have one). Once logged in, you can use the ‘Edit profile’ and ‘Edit photo’ links to set your profile’s contents. From that initial ‘Dashboard’ page, you can also control the blogs that appear on your profile, using the ‘Add’ and ‘Manage’ buttons near the bottom.

You can also control what information appears if you comment on a site that uses Google Friend Connect, although the settings are buried a little. Once you have added at least one blog to follow, click on ‘Manage’ and then on ‘Settings’ next to the name of one blog. Although there is a ‘Settings’ link next to all the blogs listed, they all take you to the same core settings for photo and links. So click on any and you will see that you can add a photo and set of links which will appear via Google Friend Connect. I just use the same photo again. Unlike the main Blogger profile, you can easily display links to more than one of your online presences, so I have created a set for Facebook, Flickr, LinkedIn, Twitter, Lib Dem Voice and so on.

As ever, when setting options to share information about you on the internet, pause for thought about exactly what you do want shared and what people will be able to see as a result of the options you pick.

WordPress accounts are another popular option for blog comments. People often only think about creating accounts at www.wordpress.com if they want to use its blogging services, but it is worth creating an account and refining your profile for the commenting benefits you get.

You can create an account for free if you don’t yet have one. When you are logged in, clicking on ‘Edit Profile’ in the ‘My Account’ menu at the top lets you set information that appears linked to your comments, such as your photo. WordPress.com uses the Gravatar system, which is also used by some other blogs, including Liberal Democrat Voice, so there’s a useful bonus from setting your picture through here. You can also give other useful information such as your name and website (which is where your name will link to from comments you post).

‘My Comments’ in the ‘My Account’ menu gives you a handy list of all your recent comments made logged in with your WordPress account, along with any responses from other people. Blogs often give you other ways of keeping up with responses, but this is a handy one-stop-shop for all your WordPress account comments.

If a lot of the other people and sites you hang around are WordPress.com powered, there are quite a few other features in the ‘My Account’ menu you may find useful, such as the tag search tool which can help you find interesting stories you would have otherwise missed.

Some sites use the Google Account system instead. You may already have one, such as if you are a Blogger user – see above – or have GMail or use on of Google’s other services. You can get a Google Account at https://www.google.com/accounts/Login and this is also where you login to customise your Google Account profile. Again, the key points are the ability to set your photo and to set links and basic information which appear on your profile page. All this is done via the ‘Edit Profile’ link in the top left.

Finally, an increasing number of sites let you comment using your Facebook Profile. The advantages of this is that if you are already logged in to Facebook there’s no extra login or typing of name and so on. Also your comment will then appear on your profile page in Facebook – making that list of things you are up to, and which other people might want to see or respond to, more comprehensive. This Facebook Connect system works best if you are willing to share your Facebook profile photograph with the outside world as it will try to put this next to your comment. If you’ve not shared your profile photo, you will just get a silhouette icon appear next to your comment.

Facebook Connect steps you through the simple options the first time you try to make a comment using it. Basically, it asks if you are happy to give the system permission to access your Facebook data and also requires you to login to Facebook to show that you really are that person.

Armed with Blogger, WordPress, Gravatar or Facebook settings, you can comment away with added impact. I’ve picked these based on my experiences and market share (in the UK). You may of course find that another system is used where you comment often (such as LiveJournal, used by several popular Lib Dem bloggers), in which case the same general advice applies – make full use of the options available to refine how you appear.

This is an updated version of a post I wrote last year, updated to cover Facebook Connect and also to cover issues raised in comments on the first version. Thanks to everyone who gave feedback first time round.

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This entry was posted in Online politics.
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