07 March 2008

Managing Comments “Not Rocket Science”

Flummoxed by how to manage readers’ comments? A social media consultant offers his best practice guide.

The current VP-Editorial at the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News reckons newspapers often fail with user interaction initiatives and “seem allergic to the idea of letting readers have their say”.

According to Mark Potts, the solution is for newspapers to “trust the readers” and get to the stage where they are only managing the tiny proportion of posters who want to abuse the system.

He notes on his blog: “Sifting through all the acceptable comments to find the offensive ones is like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack. It’s just not worth it.”

Potts has recently put his plans into action at Philly.com and here are his top tips for successfully managing comments.

1. Required Registration with Confirmable E-Mail Address

“Pure anonymity is a recipe for disaster”

2. Unique Usernames

“We suggest that readers use their real names; some do, but that's a subliminal effort to make it clear that posters' identity is important to us.”

3. Profanity Filter

“Filtering comments and rejecting them if they use a banned word is one of the simplest ways to control comments.”

4. “Report Abuse” Buttons

“Enlists the community in the effort to police what's happening in comments or on discussion boards.”

5. Clear, Upbeat Language About Behaviour

Comments forms “set a tone and clear expectations for behaviour”.

6. Selectivity About Stories Getting Comments

“We’re avoiding stories that might be racially charged, for instance.”

7. No Formal Moderation of Comments

“We keep an eye on them, but not in a systematic way. We trust the “report abuse” function to let us know if there are problems.”

And a final thought from Potts: “I think all of the problems that newspaper sites have with implementing comments is a metaphor for the old-school newsroom thinking that’s crippled the transition to a more conversational style of journalism.”

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