As anyone in PR today knows, an article’s comments section can be as revealing as the piece itself. Online comments are so fascinating that there’s even a book about the topic (Reading The Comments.) Yet anonymous comments can be controversial due to the negative conversations they may spark, prompting many publications to limit or do away with them altogether.
Many outlets have moved comments to Facebook or other social platforms due to the negative impact of anonymous comments, or simple lack of participation. Research shows that few readers actually take the opportunity to comment on an article. Slate found that of 12,000 pieces published, the articles “almost never engaged more than 1 percent of their readers as commenters,” but that 12 percent of the sampled 12,000 attracted participation from over 100 commenters.
For the PR-savvy, though, there may be hidden gems in online comments. We choose to look for what’s useful in a comments section and offer three ways a PR team can leverage what they find there.
Look for potential business opportunities. Comments are, after all, a form of conversation. While some readers use comments to vent, others look to start a relationship. When Wendy Roberts, CEO of Five Elements Robotics, penned this article on the future of robotics, she heard from a poster who began by disagreeing with her article’s thesis but ultimately wanted to discuss a potential deal.
Glean ideas for future articles. As noted, sometimes the comments section is more interesting than an article itself. With that in mind, we often scan reader comments for interesting additional angles on a topic. For example, when a regional publication’s coverage of Not Your Father’s Root Beer prompted a writer to comment on using root beer for a marinade, our team got busy enlisting a chef to do just that, resulting in coverage like this.
Show us what’s trending. Many publications list their “most-commented on” articles at year-end, and the lists can tell us a lot. The New York Times list cited an article about Amazon’s bruising workplace (which we just “commented” on in a post last week) while The Washington Post included a story about House of Cards. As the author of Reading The Comments insists, “Conversations ‘on the bottom half of the Internet’ can tell us much about human nature and social behavior.”