The Importance of Commenting from RTDNA 2017 Conference
In the RTDNA session, Commentary, Commenting and Diversifying Your Voices, our Head of Marketing, Allison Munro, moderated a conversation with news media executives from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) and The Weather Network (Pelmorex Media). The two panelists included Jack Nagler, the Director of Journalistic Public Accountability and Engagement at CBC, and Carrie Lysenko, the Head of Digital at Pelmorex Media. Their discussion explored the pros and cons of online commenting and how news media organizations can overcome the challenges.
— Carrie Lysenko (@carrielysenko) May 26, 2017
How Important is Commenting in News Media?
For the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), commenting is not just a value add; it’s critically important for their brand strategy. One of their goals is to provide Canadians with a place to explore their diverse opinions, and commenting supports this vision. Nagler states that commenting has helped them become a better newsroom because their readers improve the stories being told.
At The Weather Network, Lysenko stated that commenting is important because nature-enthusiasts want a forum to share their opinions, photos and videos. Lysenko also noted that when they turned off comments, there was a significant drop in pageviews and attention time.
This echoes our findings that brands with commenting can increase their pageviews by 248% and attention time by 364%. Researchers for the MIT Sloan Management Review also confirm that users’ willingness to pay for subscriptions increases with their growing online social activity.
“Only an engaged user will become a long-term subscriber.”
—Tobias Henning, GM of BILD
A majority of website visitors would also agree that website commenting is valuable. In a recent survey of their audience, CBC found that 70% of respondents said that comments were important to them. Furthermore, they saw that 70% of website visitors spend at least 15% of their time onsite just reading comments.
Using Comments to Create New Stories
CBC receives story tips and article corrections within their comment section from their loyal readers and watchers. Nagler asserts that audience contributions add a lot of value to their articles as they spur further discussions and stories.
He gave an example about an article on a wedding party that fell ill during their stay at a resort. After reading the story, another reader commented that she too got sick at the same place. From there, an investigative story was born, providing valuable information to other travellers.
CBC now takes their top comments and creates stories from them in the Revenge of the Comment Section. As these stories are made from comments, they offer a quick and cost-effective way for publishers to post new content.
Similarly, users share their photos and videos with The Weather Network, which drives further engagement and new content. Lysenko described when The Weather Network connected one of their website contributors to Canada Post to create an official stamp. After viewing the photo he submitted, they made arrangements to create the stamp and tracked his story on their website.
Three SEO Benefits of Online Commenting
User-generated content, such as comments, can be indexed by Google if it’s placed higher on the webpage. For example, editors can choose their favorite comments and place those quotes within the body of an article.
Furthermore, pages with active content updates, such as new comments, can trigger additional reindexing and improve the recency and relevance of the page in search results.
Your audience may also use keywords around a topic that differ from what journalists write, and can provide closer matches to search terms.
The Truth Behind Facebook Commenting
While your Facebook page may be a hotspot for online commenting, it can’t take the place of commenting on your website. And it’s not only because your direct website visitors are more loyal than your Facebook readers, but also because Facebook doesn’t give publishers all their first-party audience data from commenters. (Similarly, Facebook’s free commenting platform for websites also keeps your invaluable data.)
Both CBC and The Weather Network recognize that publishers should focus on getting readers to comment on their websites and collecting their audience data. That doesn’t mean Facebook or its tools shouldn’t be used at all; in fact, Social Login is an extremely valuable tool for news media websites.
— RTDNA_Canada (@RTDNA_Canada) May 26, 2017
When users are able to register for news websites through their social media account, this greatly reduces friction when signing up. It can even increase conversion rates by 20% to 40%. Lysenko adds that if you have the capability to import data from their social account into their user profile on your website, then you’re taking advantage of Facebook login without giving away your data.
“Direct visitors are more loyal than Facebook visitors.”
—Terri Walter, CMO of Chartbeat
Moderation is the #1 Challenge for Community Management
Both panelists say that the greatest challenge to commenting is moderating online discussions in real time. With so many trolls online, moderation is vital for publishers who want to provide a safe space for their users. And according to Engaging News Project, users’ interest in returning to a website almost doubles if they know the discussion will be civil.
— Viafoura (@viafoura) May 26, 2017
CBC found difficulties with both pre-moderation and post-moderation. With the former method, moderators review comments before they get published. But this time-consuming task doesn’t allow for real-time discussions, which are so important for timely news and weather events. With the latter method, users are able to post comments without review, and inappropriate comments only get removed if they are flagged by the community and reviewed by a moderator. While this avenue is much less time-consuming, brands risk having content on their website that doesn’t align with their guidelines.
Like some media companies, CBC has even opted out of commenting altogether on certain stories that may trigger heated arguments. Similarly, The Weather Network chose to disable commenting on stories about climate change, finding too many undesirable comments between advocates and deniers.
Since then, The Weather Network has decided to employ automated moderation to manage their online communities. Automated moderation uses artificial intelligence to automatically detect and delete offensive comments. This allows conversations to unfold in real time while maintaining a brand’s community guidelines.
They have also decided to offer self-moderation tools that allow users to personalize their online experience. These include the ability to mute other users and to dislike and flag comments.
Save Time and Resources with Automated Moderation
Website commenting has been an important feature for both the CBC and The Weather Network, helping them increase brand loyalty.
It’s also been invaluable to their audiences, who enjoy reading the comment section and sharing their content with others. However, many users get deterred from engaging on your website if the discussions aren’t civil and respectful.
Automated moderation is the latest solution to this problem, giving media brands a cost-effective way to moderate their communities. Media organizations have also shown that automated moderation drives further engagement, by increasing comments, likes and registered users, while significantly reducing flagging and the time and effort needed by moderators.