Why turning off the comments is a threat, not a solution, for media companies

Trolls, spam and misinformation have given commenting spaces a bad reputation.

Websites that are flooded with offensive and untrustworthy comments can lose the respect of advertisers and users. Publishers often think that the only solution is to give up and close down their commenting tools.

But shutting off the comments isn’t a solution; it’s a catalyst for serious business problems.

The issue with dropping commenting from your website

The reality is that media companies suffer the second they get rid of their website’s social tools.

(Without comments, companies) lose a direct connection with their audience (and just provide) passive content for readers, as opposed to creating active opportunities for feedback and opinions,” says Mark Zohar, Viafoura’s president and COO. “That feedback loop between content, publisher and author is critical for high-performing content and re-engaging audiences.”

In a nutshell, media organizations need commenting tools to get closer to their communities and create better experiences for audience members and staff.

Companies that drop their comments aren’t solving anything; they’re just allowing their worst audience members to damage their brands. 

Throw in the fact that 50% of new user registrations happen on web pages with commenting tools, and it’s easy to see why social spaces are must-have website features for all publishers hoping to grow closer to their audiences.

Cupped human hands on a table with speech bubbles in the middle.

How to run safe and successful commenting spaces

Comment moderation is a publisher’s greatest weapon against offensive user behaviour. The importance of supporting any online social tools with advanced comment moderation services cannot be overstated — it’s what separates the safe, lucrative social spaces from those that are doomed to fail.

Media companies that pair their online commenting spaces with effective moderation give themselves the greatest chance to grow their audiences, customer loyalty and revenue without damaging their reputations.  

“People want to participate in communities where they feel safe,” Zohar explains. “We know from our data that communities and sites with active, positive moderation that’s civil generate engagement on-site.” 

When protected by Viafoura’s automated moderation services, our data shows that customers have seen engaged users spend 168 times more time on-site, gain up to 2,000 new monthly registrations, and view 3.6 times more pages than media companies without commenting tools. 

“Where (commenting) doesn’t happen, we see a drop-off in engagement,” adds Zohar.

Instead of ditching comments, media companies can draw on moderation to create safe environments that invite journalists, readers and commenters to communicate and connect with each other. 

Nervous that moderation might be too expensive to invest in? 

There are plenty of cost-effective AI-based and human moderation options available. You can also look for an engagement tool provider that includes moderation services directly in their commenting solution for an affordable, hassle-free experience.

Get rewarded with user data

Newsrooms don’t get much value from sending content into a void, where they never hear about it again. Moderated commenting tools give journalists the chance to have positive conversations about their content, get feedback about it from their registered readers, and use that information to make content even more compelling in the future. 

This means that as registered users leave comments on your site, you can expand your user data beyond their general profiles to include information on audience behaviours, interests, sentiments, propensity and purchase intent. 

Once you have that declarative data, you can feed it into your business model. 

“Allowing for users to communicate directly with you and (other readers) around content creates insights, (leading) to rich user profiles that evolve over time as they participate actively in the community,” says Zohar. “By understanding user behaviour on-site as well as user interest and propensity… publishers can improve things like newsletter curation, sign-ups and target users for subscriptions.”

The more first-party data you can get from commenters, the better you can group like-minded users together to personalize their experiences, send them subscription messages and show them relevant ads.  

In other words, your commenting solution has the potential to give you an edge over your competitors. So whatever you do, don’t turn off the comments!

Want to know more about our commenting and engagement solutions? Click here to check out our product suite.

What You Can Learn From Your Audience’s Comments

Now that reader revenue is a priority for media organizations, online conversation tools have become critical for growing relationships between digital visitors and brands. 

Discussion-based website tools can thoroughly engage readers, building up reader loyalty and amplifying their willingness to pay for a subscription. Yet, the importance of commenting tools goes beyond visitor engagement — they also offer insight into the state of an online community.

“We [as a media industry realized] we needed to understand the niche of our community to serve them in the way they wanted to be served,” states Anita Zielina, the director of strategic initiatives at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism. 

And what better way to learn about your community than from your members’ words and interactions? 

To help you make the most of your commenting tools, we’ve broken down different types of information you can unravel from your community’s conversations:

Important Questions That Need to Be Answered

Your comment section is a precious space for community members to socialize with others and discuss your content. As a result, you can expect to find questions that visitors have posted right on your digital properties in hopes of finding an answer from your staff or a fellow community member.

Questions found within comment sections are highly useful and actionable. Not only can they directly inform media companies when content needs to be clarified, but they can also highlight precisely what answers your community members want you to create content around. 

One publisher, Santa Cruz Local, has even earned support from the public by answering questions its community puts forward about local issues.

Dig deep into your readers’ feedback, comments and interactions to determine what’s on their minds,” reads an article on What’s New In Publishing. “This will help you publish the stories that answer to your audience’s needs.”

By taking a few moments to sift through your community’s comments, you may find that your audience is itching to help you identify gaps in your content coverage.

Topics That Audience Members Are Interested In

Media organizations can also detect what topics visitors are fascinated by through their commenting tools. 

More specifically, the ebb and flow of interest in different topics is often mirrored by the number of recent comments posted. Companies can pay attention to which content pieces have trending conversations centered around them to find the topics that resonate most with their active communities.

In other cases, users will explicitly post about what topics and events they’re curious about. 

Some companies may even wish to use their comment section to ask community members about their interests. 

In fact, an analysis of 20 sustainable news media companies found a significant commonality between the successful organizations. 

James Breiner, an expert on digital journalism and newsroom leadership, explains that “[all 20 of the companies] use two-way communication or interactivity with the public to get story suggestions and news tips, and to do collective investigations.”

Ultimately, each of the sustainable media organizations communicated with their communities to fuel their editorial strategies.

Know Whether or Not Your Trolls Are Under Control

According to a study conducted by the Center for Media Engagement at the University of Texas, offensive comments, no matter how many civil posts precede them, can distort how a visitor views a news website. 

Commenting tools are essential for media companies to engage and nurture their audiences, though. This means that media companies must turn to an effective comment moderation solution to handle trolls as quickly as possible to keep their social spaces safe. 

Not sure if your moderation system is doing a good enough job of keeping trolling behavior in check? 

If you look at your comments and notice that good comments are being attacked or overwhelmed by negative comments, your community’s health is being threatened by trolls. After all, a single troll can drown out the majority of positive comments on a page. 

Keep your digital properties protected by ensuring that your moderation system is able to understand and block all forms of incivility specific to your community guidelines, region and language. 

Engaging your audience through social tools will help you form a connected, loyal community. However, there are several other advantages that come with hosting comments on your website or app as well. 

Tap into your community’s words and interactions within their comments to determine how you can improve the online experience around your organization.

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