How should media brands manage online comments?

Most media brands allow comments on their articles, partly in the spirit of open debate, and partly because everyone else does. But this can cause problems when commentors have a very different opinion to the parent brand.  Journalists have to take care to check their facts and fit in with their readers’ expectations; commentors have no such constraints, but their views will be read alongside the original article.  Here’s some suggestions for how to manage comments whilst not stifling debate.

1.Encourage profiles

An email address is usually required to post a comment, but this can be a hotmail address and still permit anonymity. Many specialist sites encourage commentors to complete a profile, which is visible to users.  This provides some comfort that the commentor knows their subject, and makes it harder to rant anonymously.

2. Appoint moderators

The ideal is to review all comments before publication.  This may be time-consuming for your own editorial team.  Can you find moderators from the community who are prepared to monitor comments and alert you if a debate gets out of control? In return you could offer privileges on site or early access to scarce offers – see my post on creating a club for some more ideas.

3. Seed with friendly posts

Ask your staff or moderators to post comments in the style you want to encourage others to adopt.

4. Publish a policy

Make it clear to users of the site – and commentors – that you want to encourage positively-intended comments.  However state that you cannot take responsibility for factual inaccuracies in comments, and the user will have to check the authority of the commentor.

5. Promote rating

Test a rating system for comments (like Amazon reviews) so that users can see who has a reputation for helpful comments, and so that commentors become keen to preserve their reputation.

I’m keen to hear from media brands on how they both encourage and manage comments on their sites.  Just comment on this article – but please be constructive!

Carolyn Morgan’s consultancy business, Penmaen Media, helps media brands grow in a digital world.  We also work with non-media businesses to help them use the web to grow their revenues.  Find out more at www.penmaen.media

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