5 ways engagement solutions can improve the quality of the conversations your audience is having

Online toxicity is something that nobody should have to put up with, whether they’re a visitor on your site or a member of your team who feels personally attacked and harassed by the comments on their articles. Yet it’s something that happens all too often. 

According to a survey conducted by the University of Texas at Austin’s Center for Media Engagement, 33.9% of news commenters and 40.9% of news comment readers name argumentative comments as the reason that they avoid commenting or reading comments. That means to build a safe and active user community, you need to support your people, and that includes both your audience and your team. 

Making your comments section safer will make your editorial team comfortable with building their following on-site free of harassment, which will then allow you to collect declarative data from your audience. 

Below, we’re going to look at five ways rich engagement solutions can improve the quality of your community’s conversations to build not just a civil space for your audience to communicate, but also a brand-safe environment to grow your revenue. 

1. Letting your editorial team build their following on-site

A community engagement solution with a comments section is perhaps the most valuable resource you have at your disposal. 

Placing a gated comments section on your site lets you draw user conversations away from social media and onto your brand’s website, where your editorial team can start to build their following and form a deeper relationship with their readers. 

An engagement tool with a comments section also allows you to gather declarative data from your audience to see what types of content they engage with the most, down to the topics and authors they prefer. With this information, you can provide curated content recommendations to try and increase their time on your website.

2. Impact of civil community on engagement

No matter how good your content is, users aren’t going to stay on your site if trolls are openly harassing them with personal attacks and hate speech. While many brands have chosen to turn off comments due to toxicity, this isn’t good for long-term growth as it reduces the average time a user spends on the site. 

The most effective solution for dealing with toxicity and creating a civil community is to use AI moderation, which is essential to keep your comments free of harassment, abuse, racism, sexism, and spam. 

Argentina’s leading conservative newspaper La Nación recently took this approach by deploying a community engagement solution that preemptively moderates comments before they go live to make sure that no one has their experience adversely affected by abusive comments.

Hands on laptop keyboard.

3. Using the community for sourcing and investigative follow-ups

When you use a community engagement tool to provide a space for your audience to communicate, you give them the opportunity to actively play a greater role in your content creation process by helping journalists source stories and conduct investigative follow-ups. 

As loyal users of your site, your audience is often the best judge of what stories are relevant to other users and can recommend what stories you should cover. Having authors leave comments welcoming other users to provide tips (or even putting up a tips web page) is a great way to make them feel heard. 

Allowing your audience to participate in sourcing stories lets them know you value their support, while helping them form a deeper relationship with your brand and your journalists, which will make them more likely to stay on the site long-term.

4. Creating more relevant newsletters

When backed with the right data, newsletters are one of the most potent engagement tools that you have at your disposal, as they enable you to engage users via their inboxes and encourage them to click through to your site. 

However, the success or failure of a newsletter depends on how personalized it is. If you don’t have access to the right data, you’re not going to provide your readers with relevant content. 

Using your community engagement solution to gather first-party data can help you identify which trending articles and topics to send users. They’ll be more likely to interact with the content and click through to your site.

5. Creating a brand-safe environment

Advertisers are the backbone of many modern media organizations and are vital for monetizing the content that journalists produce. Yet many publishers struggle to create brand-safe community spaces that advertisers are comfortable placing ads on. 

This is particularly true if a user community has problems with toxicity and abuse, since it’s unlikely that advertisers are going to want to feature their products alongside such negative sentiments. 

As a result, using a community engagement tool with AI-driven moderation is essential for making sure that your site is brand safe for your, and for your advertisers.

Use engagement to deepen your relationship with your audience

If you want to deepen your relationship with your audience, you need to offer them a space that engages them. That not only means building a user community, but also proactively moderating the conversations they’re having to make sure they’re free to communicate without being harassed.

The top 5 reasons people don’t participate in a news brand’s comments section, and how to change their minds

Building an active user community goes far beyond adding a comments section to your site. If you want your audience to participate in the conversation, you need a strategy to attract and nurture unregistered users.

Part of that strategy involves enticing users to engage with interactive, personalized content and recommendations, and the other involves lowering the barriers to entry and making your community more accessible to your audience. 

Below we’re going to look at the top 5 reasons people don’t participate in communities around news brands, and what tools you can use to create a civil and thriving community.

1. They don’t want to be the first to comment

If you’re trying to establish a new user community, your comments section won’t have many, if any, commenters. At the same time, your users might be hesitant to be the first to comment on a post. 

You can address this challenge quite easily by encouraging authors to pin comments inviting users to participate in the conversation in the comments section. 

For instance, an author can post the first comment on an article requesting open and honest feedback and pin it to the top. This approach sets the tone and welcomes users to leave their opinions.

2. They’re put off by toxic comments

Toxicity is one of the main reasons why some people don’t take part in online communities. No one enjoys being abused or harassed, and without proactive moderation, even a civil conversation can devolve into chaos. 

The prevalence of online toxicity, particularly on social media, was highlighted just a few months ago when CBC announced that it was closing Facebook comments on news posts due to “an inordinate amount of hate, abuse, misogyny and threats.” 

Using a community engagement tool with AI-driven moderation capabilities is critical for automatically taking down negative comments and creating a safe space for users to post and engage in civil discussions free of harassment and abuse.

Four adults looking at something on a tablet.

3. Your content isn’t relevant or engaging

In many cases, users don’t interact with content because they find it dull or uninteresting. If your audience doesn’t find an article compelling or relevant to their interests, they’re unlikely to engage with it and comment. 

The only way to address this is to provide more relevant content and personalized recommendations. You can do this by prompting users to subscribe and gathering first-party data to segment your audience into cohorts with similar interests. You can then use this data to recommend content that’s more likely to engage them.

For instance, if a user is interested in cryptocurrency news on Bitcoin and Ethereum, a community engagement platform can understand these interests and notify them whenever a writer releases a new article on a relevant topic or if a commenter they follow comments on the article.

4. They don’t have a reason to comment

Sometimes even if a piece of content is interesting, users won’t participate in the comments section or the community surrounding it because there’s no incentive or reason to leave a comment. 

Using interactive content like live blogs, Q&As, and Ask Me Anything (AMA) sessions can help you provide the audience with a reason to comment by granting them an opportunity to engage with gated individuals like journalists, subject matter experts, and other well-known figures to increase not just registrations, but also time-on-page. 

The Independent used live content to great success during the pandemic by doing a live Q&A with a travel expert on the UK’s COVID-related restrictions. Likewise, MPR used a live blog to offer real-time coverage of the Kimberly Potter trial, with a comments section for users.

5. They don’t know you have a user community

Users won’t join a community if they don’t know it exists. While adding a comments section is a crucial step in creating a user community, your audience isn’t going to use it if they don’t know it’s there.

Announcing the launch of your user community on your site with a blog is essential for making your audience aware that they have a chance to communicate with other individuals. 

Many media organizations have used this strategy to kick-start their user community growth. For example, Xtra Magazine announced the launch of the Xtra Community through a blog post, as did TheTimes-Tribune.com, which released an announcement to promote the launch of a new commenting platform.

Make your comments section safe and relevant

To encourage users to participate in your community, the most important thing is to make sure that you’re offering your audience the opportunity to consume and engage with relevant content in a safe environment.

Using a community engagement tool with moderation capabilities gives you the best of both worlds. You can gather first-party data on users’ preferences to inform future content creation, while also using AI moderation to automatically remove abusive comments and create a safe space.

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