Time to Remove Comments From Your Website?
Over the past two years, several high-traffic news sites: Recode, Reuters, Popular Science, The Week, Mic, The Verge, and USA Today's FTW, and mostly recently NPR.org have removed the ability for users to submit comments on their sites. These organizations cite moderation issues, the value of anonymity among commenters, legal issues, and emergence of social media as the reasons for removing comments from their respective sites.
This blog post will explore evolution of onsite interaction, the emergence of social media and its role in online conversations, and our recommendations for promoting digital interaction with your content and brand.
The Evolution of On-Site Interaction
Web-based bulletin boards provided users with the first opportunity to interact with each other in a forum setting. The demand for interaction grew with the proliferation of blogs and websites during the late '90s and through the 2000s.
Organizations used comments to promote interaction among their audience members and solicit feedback. For some time, it was a successful strategy that yielded great results.
Unfortunately, it didn't take long for on-site comment forums to evolve into playgrounds for internet trolls, who use the comment sections to harass users, promote products, post inappropriate content, and cause general mischief.
Website owners have been forced to manage an increasingly complex environment that requires them to encourage user interaction, while battling troll activity. This puts tremendous strain on the organization. Managing this balance for a site or network of sites requires resources. An organization must employ staff (usually a team), produce guidelines, and possibly develop code to flag the entries that meet disqualifying criteria. What was once thought of as a simple, useful way to interact with users, has morphed into a major operation and cost center for website owners.
In 2014, Recode, a leading tech blog, decided to remove the comments functionality from its site, and move the discussion to social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. In announcing the decision, the editors wrote:
We thought about this decision long and hard, since we do value reader opinion. But we concluded that, as social media has continued its robust growth, the bulk of discussion of our stories is increasingly taking place there, making onsite comments less and less used and less and less useful.
Recently, NPR announced that it is going to remove comments from its website. In its announcement, NPR gave the following reasons for removing comments from its website:
- Social media is now its most powerful source of audience interaction
- NPR's reporters have their own social accounts that allow for one-on-one interaction between reporter and audience member
- While unique visitors have grown dramatically, less than 1 percent of the audience is commenting on the site. In the most recent three month period, only 0.003% of the visitors have posted a comment on the site
The Emergence of Social Media
Recode in 2014 and NPR in 2016 cited the diminished use of onsite comments and the emergence of social media platforms as the reason for removing the commenting functionality of their respective sites.
While the most primitive social networks date back to the beginning of the internet, social networks did not come to prominence until the early 2000s with the launch of Friendster. Soon after, MySpace, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter were conceived and developed. Since that time, millions of social networks have been launched. Today, the top social networks attract one billion unique users per month.
Social networks are designed to promote interaction between users. When a user logins into a social network, he/she is prompted to post, or comment on a post. While brands were initially skeptical of the validity of social networks, they have come to realize that, for maximum exposure, they must post their content on the most popular social sites.
At the same time, social networks have developed the scale, technology, and processes necessary to moderate the interaction of millions of users.
It is not a surprise that sites like Recode and NPR have shifted their commenting focus to the social sites. Recent studies show that today social media sites dominate a user's time online. Nearly 20 percent of a user's online time (desktop and mobile) is spent on social networks. It has been reported that Facebook alone consumes 14 percent of a user's total online time. Source: http://www.businessinsider.com/social-media-engagement-statistics-2013-12
Should you remove comments from your site?
Every case is unique, but you may want to consider implementing the following test to decide: unless there is a consistent and meaningful amount of legitimate comments, and the moderation effort is minimal, you should remove comments from your website, and shift your user engagement and interaction resources to other platforms.
Moving the Conversation to Social Platforms
Social media's dominance is only going to increase. Shifting the interaction with your audience from your site to one or more of the social platforms make sense. Engage with your audience where they are spending 20 percent of their total online time.
Encourage social sharing and following. It will dramatically increase the number of eyeballs that see your content, and increase the exposure for your organization.
That said, it is important to implement a strategy and specific guidelines for managing user engagement over the social platforms. Like in the comments section of a website, there will be detractors, and those who seek to cause disruption. Self policing within the social networks happens, but in some cases, direct responses may be necessary.
As with other marketing efforts, be sure to measure, analyze and refine your efforts. Most social platforms allow you to capture the level of reach and engagement for each post. Use the in-network analytics to understand trends and adjust your strategy accordingly.