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.

Here’s How Successful Media Companies Listen to Their Community Members

Every media company is on a journey to win over and retain audience members. Whether companies are aware of it or not, each piece of content developed, employee hired and partnership made is centered around improving their ability to serve their audiences.

That’s why it’s essential to develop a thorough understanding of your company’s community, including their likes and dislikes and the value they see in your company.

Logan Jaffe, an engagement reporter at Pro Publica, puts it simply: “If we can’t listen to people who are already engaging with us on a basic level, how will we listen to people who aren’t yet — to the communities we’re pursuing new engagement with?”

Media companies that hope to grow must, therefore, go above and beyond to please consumers. And that often involves listening to both the individual and collective needs, opinions and interests of their community members. 

To paint a picture of what listening to the public could look like for you, read on to discover how successful media companies are listening to their communities. Once you know how to appeal to their interests and habits, you can build new and better relationships between consumers and your brand.

Seek Out Direct Feedback From Community Members

Give your company the information it needs to grow by allowing consumers to share their opinions and preferences related to your brand.

To prompt actionable feedback around your company’s digital content and user experience, all you have to do is ask visitors how your brand can improve.

News publisher Santa Cruz Local, for instance, conducts interviews with community members to learn more about them and the issues that matter. As a result, the publisher has produced a business model that earns 80% of its revenue from readers.

Poynter Editor Kristen Hare explains how the content at Santa Cruz Local is based on “listening to the community to understand what kind of news it wants, what questions it has and offering different paths to getting it.” 

But listening to your community members doesn’t need to be time-consuming or require much effort. Companies can successfully collect information from users through relevant Q&As, live chats and even conversations online.

“We are better journalists when we listen to the community that we serve and really make sure that those viewers and that audience have a seat at the table,” states Erica Hill-Rodriguez, KTTV’s news director.

In other words, you can get clarity on how to entertain and support consumers simply by listening to what they have to say.

Monitor Engagement Data

Your user data is a precious resource that can help you make sense of your community’s behavior and preferences. While many publishers tend to fixate on drawing insights from metrics like page views and unique visitors, media companies are beginning to focus more on engagement data. 

“We don’t chase eyeballs, we focus on engagement,” states The Nation’s president, Erin O’Mara. “And an engaged community is really meaningful, not just the way they interact with us but also how they can be ambassadors for The Nation.”

As a 155-year old publication that continues to thrive amid the pandemic, The Nation has secured a highly interested community by understanding how to best engage its community. 

Follow in The Nation’s footsteps by listening to your user’s engagement data to know what topics and tools successfully spark engagement across your audience.

Extract Insights to Personalize Online Experiences

You can show consumers that you listen to and understand their interests by creating a digital experience based on their behavior.

Dig into your user data to pull useful insights that can help personalize the way they’re served content. That way, you’ll increase the likelihood that your digital visitors will engage with your content and messages. 

“When we know who our users are, we’re able to communicate in a more personalized and targeted way with different kinds of subscription messaging,” says Ben Cotton, VP of product at the New York Times. 

In an ideal world, your online user experience should be magnetic — every movement from your community members should trigger an adjustment on your digital property. As a result, you’ll serve up content and messages they’re interested in and ready to respond to. 

With consumers controlling a significant portion of company revenue, business decisions must hang on every action, word and pattern made by your community. And taking the time to understand and support your readers will show them that your company is worthy of their time.

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