Photo credit: webtreats, Creative Commons/Flickr

Photo credit: webtreats, Creative Commons/Flickr

Commenting.

Yes, commenting.

If you love reading blogs, magazines, news, and other types of info online, you know the comments section can be hit-or-miss. At its worst, the comments section can be a cesspool of hate, ignorance, and hostility. However, at its best, the comments section can be a great place for conversation and debate (though, this largely depends on the publication and the moderator, if there is one).

In fact, the horror of many comment sections is what makes me hesitate to comment as well; I tend to simply share an article on my own social media channels and engage in conversation there. Yet when a comments section is good, you can get into wonderful exchanges with the community and the author. Aside from helping you think, these exchanges that can lead to opportunities—jobs, guest writing, traffic to your own site, and more—and a larger network.

As I also get more active in commenting and reflect on the comments on my blog, I’ve picked up a few great tips to help build community and strengthen your brand.

1. Focus on publications and blogs that are central to your work, interests, or area of expertise AND have great comments. Obviously, there is no reason  to try to spark conversation in a place where people are calling each other names, being vulgar, or spamming. Pick a handful of niche sites that provide great information that help you with your work, have writers that you admire (or is published by an organization that you love), and have an active, engaging comments section. Ask A Manager and The Atlantic are places that have great content and comments.

2. Be consistent and follow the rules. You don’t have to comment on every post, every day, but be deliberate and consistent so people know who you are when you comment and you have a good sense of the pulse and tone of the publication’s community.

3. Ask good questions and offer helpful answers. Yes, it’s great to vent and offer an occasional “+1″ to someone else’s comment or post, but you really shine when you are thoughtful in your responses, too. This gets easier to do if you have a good understanding of a topic, the community, the publication, and your own expertise. To start, look at other comments (it’s OK to lurk at first) then offer your insights. Read these 8 tips on how to write a great comment.

4. Don’t be afraid to take it offsite. Authors and commenters often have their websites and email addresses attached to their profiles, so if someone’s comments have sparked a new way of thinking for you, or if you think they seem cool, connect on other social media sites or just shoot them email to introduce yourself. I’ve met many people on my own blog this way.

5. Use your name and write well. This is good practice for any personal branding effort, but it needs to be emphasized here: don’t write something you don’t want your name attached to and it’s hard to connect with someone when their writing is terrible. So take your time, be transparent, and offer a well-written comment.

Do you leave comments? Where and why? If you don’t, why not? Let’s discuss….in the comments section:)