Penny Riordan, Director of Digital Content Partnerships at GateHouse Media and Katie Steiner, Communication Associate at Engaging News Project share their best practices for commenting, engagement, and beyond.
Q: How do you create an engaging online community?
Penny: If you haven’t already, start looking at your comments. Look for the people who are asking the questions. Ask a follow up question or state a fact – that’s how you get people to come back into the conversation.
Katie: Engagement is a two-way street between news organizations and their audiences. It’s when audiences are involved in the story process. And on the flip side, it’s when readers can connect with each other and with the news organization. It’s this connection between all the different players that makes up an engaging online community.
Q: What are the benefits of commenting and what would you say to someone who’s turned off commenting as a feature?
Penny: Comments are a great way for readers to engage with each other and with you and your organization. And if you are going to shut down comments, you’re going to have to find another way to engage with your audience. So why eliminate an important and easy way for readers to interact on your site?
Katie: Removing comments is a rash decision. It’s what newsrooms do when they think there is no other way to fix their commenting sections.
Often, the problem is that newsrooms aren’t willing to experiment and feel they are limited in terms of resources. The Engaging News Project is here to tell you that there are strategies you can use that don’t require a whole lot of resources. There’s things like Quizzes and the Respect Button that can make all the different when it comes to engagement.
Q: What is the the role journalists and editors play in creating an engaging and civil online community?
Katie: Journalists and editors involvement is really important.
If you have an Audience Engagement Specialist, it’s not just their responsibility to create an engaging and civil online community. It’s the newsroom’s job too and this means journalists and editors. When the newsroom works together, they can create a better experience for everyone.
Engagement is good for the bottom line. It keeps readers coming back and ultimately increases revenues.
Q: Was there a lot of educating you had to do internally around engagement and commenting and if so what approaches did you take?
Penny: We delivered several presentations to our newsroom. Added to that, there was one training with the Engaging News Project on comment moderation and best practices, which really helped us turn a corner.
We took the time to train digital editors who were focused on the front line to give them the tools that they needed to jump into the comment sections. We found that often journalists just don’t know where to start and digital editors can be afraid to share their opinions. So we had to overcome this problem. We helped by talking them through those canned responses. Phases like “Thanks for reaching out” and “Good question” can help newsrooms engage with the right users.
I can’t tell you how important it is to us at GateHouse Media to continue emphasizing to our newsrooms the benefits of engaging with our audiences.
Katie: And to help make that case, I would encourage everyone to connect with us and check out our research. Share with us your experience and best practices! The Engaging News Project is always looking for new ideas and feedback from journalists, editors, and people who are interested in engagement.