April 6th, 2009
Traveling to different newsrooms is a big part of my job, and no two newsrooms are completely alike.
I’m an evangelist not just for social media tools, but getting newsrooms and news organizations to interact with readers at a very basic level. Some folks — many of whom are full-time bloggers — are naturally good at it, but when it comes to reporters, many don’t even want to engage readers on the “Comments” section of their stories.
This post will help guide you through this very act. There are a few things to remember, however:
1. Responding to comments is part of your job. Period.
2. Do not judge your readership based on a few bad apples. If you’re a reporter, don’t give up on your digital audience after a couple of crap comments. They’re probably anonymous, anyway.
3. There is no such thing as a one-comment story. If there’s one comment, there are two: the first comment and your response. Once you reach five comments or so, you don’t need to respond to everyone, but it’s good to continue to be a part of the conversation.
Here’s when you absolutely must respond to a reader:
- When a reader has a question about your story. Sometimes, through no fault of anyone’s, there are details that are edited out or just not addressed at all. If a reporter can provide an extra bit of information, it’s incumbent upon them to do it. Hell, there’s nothing wrong with leaving a reader happy.
- If someone bashes you. Sometimes comment boards can spiral out of control, especially when a reader bashes you, but if you respond to an angry reader, it cuts them off at the knees and may ultimately win them over. If the commenter responds, and you have their e-mail address, answer them privately.
- When you feel you have to keep your conversation and comment strings on point. If your comment board allows for threaded comments, this may be a non-issue; however, sometimes the conversation just takes an unexpected turn. Don’t be afraid to jump in and keep folks on track.
Sometimes the conversation can just spiral out of control. Here’s when I think it’s OK to ban a commenter:
- When someone makes a racist, sexist or homophobic comment.
- When one of your readers bashes another. Keep folks polite, and they’ll keep coming back.
It may be good to sit down with your site producers and editors to create a clear set of rules — Terms of Service, if you will — for your site. This way, if you ban someone, they’ll know exactly why. Just don’t go ban-happy.
Steward the conversation, and acknowledge your good readers/commenters. If you do, you have a real chance of building community around your blog or beat.
When do you think it’s OK — and not OK — to respond to comments? What’s your rule of thumb?