I try to do this as much as I can, but since I use the dreaded Blogger it's harder to respond than it is with Typepad and Wordpress. Then again, I don't get many comments anyway unless they're entering a giveaway.
Like you, I try to respond to all comments even if it is just to say thanks. There have been a few times I haven't gotten to a comment, but I try to make sure to always go to the commenter's blog and comment.
I used to send emails to new commenters, but I have gotten lazy and I don't do it as much anymore. I always reply in the comment section. However, if it is personal or comment that needs attention I will send an email. I do try to leave a comment on their blog. But I feel bad that I only leave one comment on their blog to possibly never return to it. I don't want to get in the habit of 'I will only comment on your blog, if you comment on mine.' I can't possibly keep up with everyone's personal blog that follows mine. I would like to, but I can't.
I just started an automated thank you email to new commenters. I also try to respond to all comments, even if it's just with a "Hi, thanks for the kind words". I will also visit their blog and comment if I have anything to say, stumble it or share it in other ways if I really enjoy it.
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Toxic Free Blog - by Brittany Glynn
Brittany is a director of the Toxic Free Foundation and created the first ever Toxic Free Certification Program. Weekly, Brittany publishes the Toxic Free Blog and provides coaching to over 10,000 families in the United States alone. She is the author of a Toxic Free educational series and co-author of several Toxic Free learning programs. Brittany is also an award winning author.