Last month, Talking New Media reported on a study that sought, among other things, to find out what readers want when it comes to online comment sections. The study, funded by the Coral Project, surveyed 20 news websites to retrieve its data (you can read the entire report here). Even though the study focused on news media websites, the insights it found can be useful to any brand that posts original content.
Internet comment sections are a mixed bag; they’re often regarded as notorious hotbeds of trolling, spam and public abuse. The Guardian made waves last year when it published its exposé of “the dark side of Guardian comments,” showcasing how toxic communities can become online. That said, you shouldn’t close comments—in our socially connected world, allowing discussion around content is vital. And if you can moderate comment sections well, you can enjoy the rewards without the risks.
The Importance of the Internet Comment Section
There are three compelling reasons to allow comments on your website:
- Comments contain valuable data.
- Closing comments means stifling conversation.
- If comments are closed, you merely move discussion to other platforms that are harder for you to control.
In a well-moderated comment section, everyone can have their say. What readers write holds important data: you learn what they find important, criticisms they might have about your reporting, their experiences related to the content and more. You don’t want to turn your back on this data, because it can inform future content or make your services better suited to meet their needs.
Also, content is about generating discussion and action just as much as it’s about informing readers. By fostering a community around your content, you let readers identify with the brand and let them function as active collaborators.
How to Fix Your Comment Section
So, how can you cultivate an awesome online community around your brand? First, know that readers want their questions answered: according to the study, three quarters of commenters wanted journalists to answer factual clarifying questions. Essentially, the story isn’t over once you hit the publish button; it’s important that you engage with your audience’s questions and comments related to the story.
Not only does this strengthen reader’s trust in your brand, but you strengthen the original piece by clarifying issues and questions within the platform, right at the source.
Shape Discussion for Your Online Community
In the study, half the participating commenters want journalists to contribute to the conversation. Another half want insightful comments to be highlighted. By taking an active role in the discussion, you’re able to point it into a constructive direction.
Try posting a prompt for discussion at the bottom of a piece or in the comments to encourage quality, relevant posts. Highlight the best responses—this makes readers feel valued, and helps to keep conversation on-track.
There’s a Place in the Comment Section for Anonymous Users, Too
This might be a surprising find: one third of the commenters say they want platforms to allow anonymous comments. Sure, the shield of anonymity can lead to trolling, but this isn’t an issue when you have strong community guidelines in place and good comment moderation. In fact, protecting one’s identity can be important for weighing in on certain topics, especially if you run a news media brand.
Fast, Accurate Comment Moderation to the Rescue
With all the benefits of allowing commenters, what’s the drawback that so many brands run into? Frankly, moderating communities can be tough work; it’s expensive to hire a team to moderate at all hours, and most automated tools are seriously flawed due to their reliance on keyword blacklists.
But if you want to enforce a safe space to foster community discussion, don’t despair.
Smart Moderation is a machine learning-based artificial intelligence, and it moderates just like a human would. But unlike a human, it’s fast: spam, abusive language and profanity are erased within the minute of posting, and the software runs 24/7. This is all done at high accuracy rate, and you can train the software to enforce your custom community standards.
While the tool works on your favorite social platforms, it’s able to integrate into your web platform, too. If you use the software across platforms, you may access data on all the comments it moderates on a single dashboard.
It’s easy to moderate comment sections and communities with some extra help. Sign up here for a free trial and take the first step to building a respectful brand community.