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Around 15 years ago, forums and blog comment sections were staples of brand-to-fan communication. But the world’s moved on.

While many choose to focus on social media channels, some of the world’s most popular brands still blog as they have spent years attracting readers and building an engaged community.

But how do they manage reader comments to ensure the engaged community doesn’t become a free-for-all?

In this post I'll look at the different ways that brands curate comments on their blogs.

Free-for-all

Some brands allow anyone to post comments. It can be a great way to welcome new commenters.

Many people don’t take the time to leave comments; making them have to jump through hoops to leave a comment does little to encourage these people to contribute.

Yet comment sections that allow anyone to post content can suffer from a low quality discourse (especially if no one from the brand takes the time to respond to comments) which again can drive contributors away. 

Hangtime, the blog of The NBA, allows anyone with an email address to comment on its blogs.

NBA blog comments

While some posts attract high quality comments – such as discussion about player transfers - others – like its post-Super Bowl blog – attract more abstract comments, which seem to be more about making noise (like those ubiquitous YouTube “First!” comments) than contributing to a discussion.

For brands that want to use their blogs to develop a community of readers, allowing anyone on the internet to swing by and leave a comment probably isn’t the way to go.

Where are the mainstays? How does the brand recognise those who consistently post high-quality content? 

Keeping it in the family

Google and YouTube use a Google+ plugin for those who want to comment on their blogs. Meanwhile Instagram uses the Tumblr system of reblogs and notes on its official blog.

These systems not only help identify who is commenting, but also track sharing across the network, helping to create a sense of community amongst commenters.

Obviously not every company has their own plugin to rely on, but for those with multiple brands it is worth considering a universal sign up so that people can comment across all brands they are interested in.

Comment management plug-ins

BMW and ASDA are two of the brands that use hosting service Disqus for their blog comments.

Anyone wishing to comment on the brand’s blog has to have a Disqus account – ensuring that they have some sort of online profile (although, it doesn’t guarantee that their comments will be better, or even that they will not choose to use a pseudonym).

BMW comments using Disqus

It’s worth noting that Disqus has found comments posted under pseudonyms tend to be of higher quality than comments posted anonymously or even comments posted under the person’s real name.  

Third-party comment systems can be a great way for the brand to balance the needs of the blog and its readers and commenters.

For people who have online pseudonyms that they’ve used for years, the ability to contribute to discussions using their pseudonym is vital, but brands may also wish to have the added control that a comment system like Disqus provides.

Social media plug-ins 

Disney uses Facebook to allow comments on its blog. Theoretically, this means that those who comment are over the age of 13 (although there’s no guarantee of this of course). It also allows the brand to see who the person is.

The downside is, it excludes those who would rather not use their real names when posting (the plug-in may also list the school or employer that the reader attends – which would be a privacy issue). 

Community only

Some brands, like PlayStation, restrict comments to community members only. However, there needs to be a pretty compelling reason for people to take that extra step and login to comment.

Brands like PlayStation have existing communities, and people may stay logged into the site for other reasons.

PlayStation blog comments

For brands just getting into blogging, requiring readers to sign-up or login to comment may not go down well.

It is about knowing your readership and what you want to achieve with the community.

No comments allowed

Of course, brands don’t have to allow readers to comment on their blogs, but it gives a forum for people to respond to them, and helps the blog feel more like a community than just a platform for the brand to push out content.

Microsoft, Nike and Twitter don’t allow comments on their official blogs. While this doesn’t detract from the content posted, it doesn’t give the impression that the brands are particularly interested in dialogue and discussion.

For global organisations like these it doesn’t really impact the view of them by consumers, but for smaller brands, the inability to interact and provide commentary could.

Of course, allowing comments raises the possibility that people will use the comment section for complaints, questions and – in the case of Twitter – campaigning on issues.

If they feel they won’t be able to manage the comment section, they may consider it more prudent to avoid it completely.

Does a brand’s blog need a comment section? 

It depends on the brand and what it wants its image to be.

A brand can follow a rigorous content plan, posting regular content that adheres to its marketing strategy, but if readers scroll down to see a comment section full of abuse or comments that don’t really pertain to the content, it can detract from their experience of the blog. 

Comment sections are a great way for brands to include its blog readers. It can result in interesting discussions between readers and it can help brands gain insight into the minds of its audience.

But, comment sections require management and moderation. Brands need to ensure that they have the tools, people and processes in place to manage comments before they take the plunge.

Brands that do decide to allow comments from readers need to ensure that they choose a system that balances the interests of readers with the need to create a safe space for discussion (for example, the site could allow commenters to use pseudonyms while still needing to log in to comment, therefore being identifiable to the website.

Comments need to be moderated and managed to entice people to read below the fold.

Tamara Littleton

Published 9 March, 2016 by Tamara Littleton

 Tamara Littleton is CEO at social media management agency Emoderation and a contributor on Econsultancy.

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