Sifting through comments posted online about a story you’ve published — The comments range from the insightful to the inciteful. They inundate your publication's social media channels. You devote your time or that of your staff to respond and hide the profane, and to what benefit? If you are not using reader comments to your advantage, you are just wasting your time. Here's how.
Comments can provide you with breaking news, story ideas, sources, useable quotes and photos for stories and are a treasure-trove of potential letters to the editor that could provide you with significant site traffic. Perhaps even some advertisers.
First though, in full disclosure, at TAPinto, we only allow comments on our social media channels, not on our site itself. This is because we want our site to be civic-minded and not to exacerbate division. People can express themselves on our site by writing letters to the editor, which we publish as long as they are not defamatory or factually inaccurate. Regardless of how you handle comments, you should always use them to your benefit.
If you’ve written a controversial development story that people have commented on, think about doing a follow-up reaction piece that links back to the original controversial story. You’ve written the original story, so you have the guts of the reaction piece done. And lo and behold, look at all of those people commenting on the story on your public Facebook page. Use those comments as quotes in your reporting. If they provided photos with their comment, message them and ask them if they took the photo and if so, would they permit you to use it? If they answer yes to both, you now have photos to run with your reaction piece. You’ve also made a relationship with a reader who can provide you with more information, not just on that story but also other things around town. They could also tip you off to something “about” to happen, which may not yet be known publicly.
While looking through the comments posted about that controversial story, you see someone commenting that your publication should investigate the developer’s political contributions. Another says that the developer’s sister works in the city's inspection department. Another says the developer did a similar development three towns over. Guess what? You just received many potential stories with multiple layers.
Beyond these ideas, how about messaging people who make worthwhile comments to submit a “Letter to the Editor” for consideration for publication? If people comment on Facebook publicly, they are likely willing to say something similar in your publication itself. Then post the link to the “Letter to the Editor” back onto your Facebook page, generating additional traffic for your publication and even more comments.
Look at who is commenting on your stories. If you see someone who owns a business in town actively engaged, reach out to them. Let them know you appreciate their engagement and that you can provide similar exposure for their business. Comments by business owners and business leaders in town are great sales leads.
While many publishers look at comments as a required nuisance, they should be looking at them as ways to generate story ideas, sources, page views and even revenue. Why have comments at all unless you derive a real benefit to having them that outweighs the time and energy spent dealing with them?
Michael Shapiro is the founder and CEO of TAPinto.net, a network of 80+ franchised online local news sites in New Jersey, New York, and Florida. These sites often represent the only daily news source in their respective communities.
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