The Rules of the Conversation

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The Rules of the Conversation

Scenario #1: You are in a conversation at a party, maybe with one or two other people, and someone comes up, interrupts, and starts talking about something completely different. They typically end up controlling the conversation and the original groups quickly excuses themselves to leave and find new conversations.
Irritating lady

Scenario #2: You are at a networking event, maybe for a chamber of commerce or a conference. You are in a group of people discussing industry “stuff”. Suddenly, a new person joins the group, inserts themselves into the conversation, and talks about their business and why everyone should work with them. Amazingly, they are selling themselves and their business when no one asked anything about it. (Again, people walk away.)

Scenario #3: Telemarketing Calls.

How do these three instances relate? I’m sure many have been in these situations and can identify with at least one or two situations. They all focus on someone interrupting the flow of a conversation and not “playing by the rules.”

I like to attend networking events, they are fun for me and I especially like the local chamber of commerce events, as I have made many friends over the years. They are well worth the time, as I learn about local businesses and the people behind them. Ultimately, the goal of any social networking group is to refer business to each other because we like them and trust them. It’s a significantly strong network.

However, I have also been in networking groups that force the relationships, simply because a member provides the service. Those don’t typically last long. The best networking groups are those that focus on the long term relationships and building those “like and trust” ideals.

Much like those networking situations above, the internet tends to devolve people into conversation interrupters. I am not really sure when it became cool to drop a link into someone else’s blog. Link exchange requests have always been suspect, in my opinion, as I have no knowledge of this person, their site, or even their business. Why would I offer a link to a site where I have no knowledge of the content or the purpose?

It seems as though the entire principle of interrupting conversations has taken on a whole new light.

First, the obvious comment spam (which didn’t even pass the spam block):

Obvious comment spam

Then, the insideous link dropper, interrupting the conversation to talk about himself:

Crappy comment spam

This is just terrible grammar, the depth of which is superseded only by the arrogance of the link. When the commenter states, “SEO Article” he is attempting to make it look like it is MY article he is referring to, when the hyperlink obviously shows that it is HIS own article that he is complimenting. Funny enough, when I followed the link to his site, it does everything that I preach against; keyword stuffing, repetitive usage, non-contextual positioning. Bottom line – it’s nowhere I want to send my visitors.

The questions in my mind when I see a link in a comment are:

  1. Who are you?
  2. What is the purpose of the link?
  3. Do you contribute to the conversation?

To me, this is worse than spam. It’s SEO’s who know enough to work things to their advantage, and it looks like crap. No wonder SEO is getting a bad reputation.

Now, I’m not totally against link-dropping in comments. There have been times that I’ve allowed them to go through. Here is one from the Accessibility Blog that I allowed:

comment in conversation

The author of this comment contributed actual content to the conversation. When they link to a resource that everyone can use, and it is on context with the conversation, so it was helpful to everybody. At that point, I didn’t mind the link to an article on their site – they contributed and marked it as such.

As Nigel Tufnell observed, “It’s such a fine line between stupid and clever.”

So, here are my rules for conversation . . .

  1. Have something to say that contributes to the conversation.
  2. Don’t be forward in linking to your own stuff. Build a reputation first.
  3. Don’t “trick” the author into getting a link. Link text appropriately.
  4. Most visitors don’t read blogs to see other people’s comments – it’s the author’s blog, not yours.
  5. and finally,

  6. Ask Yourself – Would you do or say the same thing in an offline conversation among a group of people?

Do you have rules for allowing comments on your blog? Are they more or less strict?

Related Posts:
How to Get Links Without Trying
The 3 C’s of Marketing: Content, Context, Community
Social Media Under the Microscope

About the Author:

Matt has taught Google employees how to understand and use Google Analytics, consulted with Experian on how to present data, developed online marketing training for both Proctor and Gamble and Johnson & Johnson and presented analytics methodologies to Disney, ABC & ESPN. As founder of SiteLogic, Matt teaches marketers how to create measurable and profitable strategic marketing plans.


  1. Bill Hartzer July 5, 2007 at 2:33 pm - Reply

    Great post…it’s true that you can definitely see right away whether the comment is there because that person wants to comment on your post or whether they’re just commenting for the link or not.

    Those programming the blog comment bots are getting more sophisticated, but they’re still a bot–they generally don’t have intelligence and thus they just make a comment that has absolutely nothing to do with the actual post.

    In the case above, though, the “SEO” blog spammer might have narrowed down the general topic of SEO blogs and posted the same thing or something similar to a lot of blogs–it might still be a bot.

    Have you tried to actually search for that comment in quotes to see how many other people have been spammed with that same “comment”? At this point I’m not sure if it’s actually a bot or not, as there’s only five results for “Really great SEO Article and very helpful.” in Google right now.

  2. Bob Selden August 21, 2007 at 1:58 am - Reply

    Thanks Matt. Great article. I am a real amateur when it comse to Blogs and SEO, in fact I am in the people business (an organisational psychologist), so I can readilly relate to your “conversation analogy”. I rarely reply to articles or blogs, but this one hit a nerve with me. I submit a lot of articles to various websites and am really annoyed when they put advertising hyperlinks into my artîcles in the guise of a knowledge or comment link. One of my favourite business management sites (which shall remain annonymous) only started up 12 months ago and quickly developed a great reputation. Unfortunately, they have just started the hyperlink practise, so I will no longer be using them or recommending them to any one else.
    Thanks once again for your article, Bob Selden.

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