Reader engagement is stronger than ever thanks to rapid technological advances in the past decade, and yet not all feedback is warranted. Inflammatory reader comments on online articles can create a hostile environment for fellow readers and publishing staff, and can be incredibly damaging to media brands. But is turning off the comment section and moving reader conversations to third-party social media platforms really the best way to manage the problem?
A comprehensive new study from the World Editors Forum seeks to uncover how media organizations around the world are approaching the online comments challenge. Researchers studied 78 news organizations in 46 different countries as they set out to uncover best practices and find media companies that are succeeding in promoting constructive conversations with their audiences.
- There is evidence of high-profile news organizations shutting down comment sections and moving conversations to social media platforms such as Facebook. However, 82% of those we surveyed still invite their readers to comment on their sites. More than half of those allow comments on all articles, although many are doing so reluctantly and are unhappy with the quality of the comments they receive.
- Closing the comment section is increasingly a strong consideration and option due to the abusive tone and poor quality of comments, as well as concerns about cost of moderation, legal liability and lack of use.
- Most of the news organizations surveyed say comments are important, “adding to the debate” (53%), “providing ideas and input for future stories” (53%) and “encouraging diversity of opinions” (47%).
- While opinion pieces receive the most comments (23%) and analytical articles receive the highest quality responses (26%), topics most likely to attract inflammatory comments differ by region. In Europe immigration tops the list; in Africa, it’s politics and race; in South America, it’s politics; in Asia and the Middle East, it’s politics and religion; and almost anything can stir up incendiary remarks in North America.
- A handful of news organizations such as The New York Times and Pakistan’s Dawn are able to maintain a vibrant constructive commenting community through consistent investment in comment moderation, reaping the benefits, not only in terms of reader loyalty, but also in business revenue.
- Despite the challenges, many news organizations continue to look for different ways to engage and solicit comments from their readers.
Visit www.wan-ifra.org/microsites/do-comments-matter to learn more about the WEF 2016 Global Online Commenting Report and to download the study.