By Matt Cooper published November 10, 2015

Is It Time to Ditch Your Company Blog’s Comments Section?

ditch-company-blog-comments-cover

There was a time, not so long ago, when a blog or news site’s comments section was considered a boon to Internet dialogue – a way for the “people formerly known as the audience” to break past the media gatekeepers and create meaningful discussion on an issue or topic. Comments were a new evolution of the traditional letters to the editor appearing in newspapers for more than a century. No single arbiter of taste would decide which letters appeared in the paper and which were thrown to the waste bin.

But if you’ve been following the goings-on in the media and content industry recently, you know that more publishers are giving up on this user-generated utopia and closing down the comment sections. Just search for the phrase “closing its comment sections,” and you’ll find a litany of outlets announcing an end to their comment sections – a list that includes The Daily Dot, Recode, CNN, Popular Science, and Copy Blogger.

Why abandon features previously considered essential for dialogue? Well, the editors of these outlets offer reasonable rationales worth considering for anyone who hosts a blog, whether it’s on a company website or your own personal domain.

Better conversation occurs on social media

The Internet looks a lot different than it did when comment sections made their debut. Many content sites now see almost half their traffic coming from mobile, and many of those mobile users are coming to the sites through social platforms like Twitter or Facebook.

“In our experience, our community hasn’t evolved in our comments,” said The Daily Dot editor Nicholas White. “It’s evolved in our social media accounts.”

While some bloggers and journalists wade into discussions in their comment sections, most steer clear of them. (There’s such a groundswell of support that people frequently use the hashtag “dontreadthecomments”.) However, just because they stay away from comment sections doesn’t mean they’re not engaging with their audience. Many journalists respond to tweets, for example, making Twitter a more likely platform for conversations between content creators and their audience.

Trolls derail every conversation

It turns out that when you give Internet users a blank page on which to write, too many like to fill it with ad hominem attacks and trolling. This type of demagoguery often alienates and sometimes even traumatizes the writers of the articles under which these comments appear (and some of the commenters who receive similar treatment by their fellow commenters). As a thought experiment, imagine a work environment in which you were constantly and easily exposed to vicious negativity every time you produced new work product.

Not only do trolls have a psychological impact on a site’s writers, but they affect readers’ perceptions of truth and facts. In its announcement that it was shutting down its comment section, Popular Science cited a study conducted by University of Wisconsin-Madison Professor Dominique Brossard that found “uncivil comments not only polarized readers, but they often changed a participant’s interpretation of the news story itself.”

Crickets chirp

Of course, millions of blogs don’t experience those problems because they don’t receive any comments at all. It’s not necessarily their fault, it’s just that most sites don’t attract enough traffic or write the kind of provocative content that spurs comments. If every single one of your blog posts is devoid of user-generated discussion, why offer a commenting tool at all? You’re simply sending a signal to everyone that your company blog is a ghost town, even if it has a high readership. By uninstalling the commenting software, you also could significantly increase your site’s loading time.

No problems here, we’re keeping comments

So let’s say you decide, after reading all the reasons for ditching your comment sections, that you still want to keep them (which, by the way, is a perfectly reasonable decision). How can you generate more vibrant, reasoned discussion?

Go niche

“We all like to joke that comment sections are all hell holes,” wrote Aaron Miles. “But when you tap into a specific niche, you can get an audience that is less prone to idiocy and trolling.” That’s because when you’re writing about some industry-specific topic, your commenters will find fewer segues to launching political flame wars that quickly trigger Godwin’s Law (as an online argument heats up so does the probability that somebody will bring up Adolf Hitler or the Nazis).

Niche blogs also tend to have smaller, more specialized audiences, who are prone to more thoughtful discussion.

Ditch anonymity

On the positive side, anonymity allows one to discuss delicate topics with which you might not want to be associated. More often than not, though, anonymity provides a shield to trolls and spammers who can spew hatred with impunity. Many media companies have installed the Facebook comments widget for precisely this reason; it forces commenters to be logged into their Facebook accounts, thereby ensuring any rhetoric is associated with their real-life identity.

Of course, it turns out that the Facebook widget isn’t a foolproof shield against trolling. “If you’ve been in the comment section of basically any article on The Huffington Post or BuzzFeed, the continuous stream of inanity, attached to people’s real names and photos even, seems to prove that basically nothing will get people to stop being dumb and/or terrible people on the web,” wrote Miles.

Nonetheless, when there’s a strong tie to a user’s actual identity, especially when there are potential professional implications for abuse, comments can work well. LinkedIn already has a built-in way to authenticate commenters on Pulse posts. Similarly, commentary sites like the rapidly growing Quibb make an effort to authenticate users and have them interact as people with professional identities – not strangers in the night.

Foster and moderate discussion

If you enable comments, you have the responsibility to engage with them. Too often we see an “anything-goes” mentality in which the commenters are essentially left on their own. This sends two signals: (1) You don’t care about your readers, and (2) There are no rules of engagement in the comment sections.

Take a look at a blog where the writer takes the time to respond to commenters (Neil Patel’s Quick Sprout is a good example of this), and you’ll find a readership willing to engage in thoughtful discussion.

If you’re not willing to foster thoughtful discussion, then I must return to my original question: Why bother with a comment section at all?

CMI actively engages with its readers in the comments section to answer our audience’s questions or participate in thought-provoking discussions that advance the content marketing industry. Want to advance your own blog? Get CMI’s free Ultimate Guide to Blogging.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Matt Cooper

Matt Cooper is the CEO of Visually , a content creation platform that enables businesses to connect with their audiences through premium visual content - created fast and cost-effectively by highly vetted creative professionals. Matt is passionate about the latest visual content marketing trends and best practices for video, infographics, e-books, presentations, web interactives, and more. Follow him on Twitter @matt_cooper and learn more via Visually’s blog.

Other posts by Matt Cooper

  • http://love2dev.com/ Chris Love

    And of course there are the performance ramifications caused by 3rd party comment management systems like Disqus http://love2dev.com/#!article/Why-I-am-Ditching-Disquss-and-You-Should-Too

    • http://www.verticalmeasures.com/ Arnie Kuenn

      That might be the reason will soon abandon comments on our blog.

  • http://virtualvalley.io/ Tom

    Very interesting post!

    I agree, better interaction can occur on social media, but that doesn’t create the same social proof on the webpage itself.

    Keep them coming :)

  • https://www.mikesawyermedia.com msawyer80

    Great points, I’ve seen both sides of the field in my career and for companies I’ve worked for. At this point, I agree with the niche aspect, it tends to foster close relationships with those who are seriously following the topic matter.

  • http://www.seniorhousingforum.net/ Senior Housing Forum

    This is an area that really fascinates and baffles me. I publish a successful (meaning I make a nice living at it) B2B site and some articles get a lot of comments and some none. I have had essentially no difficulty with trolls. The one baffling phenomena I have seen is this.

    As the site has grown in prominence in the industry the number of comments I receive has decreased dramatically. I am not sure this is the entire answer, but it seems that as the site has become more visible to industry leaders, there is more pressure on team members to not post anything that could possibly deemed as being controversial.

    I think it hurts the community and the industry, but I am clueless as to how to make it better. If anyone has figured this out I would love to hear.

    The one thing I am looking at is launching a community platform that might create a safer space, though even this effort is more about doing a better job of monetizing my reach than specifically about improving dialog.

    Steve Moran

  • http://www.bigskywords.com/ Greg Strandberg

    What’s to keep the same problems on your blog commenting section from appearing on your social media account’s posts?

    There is none.

    What you’re doing by getting rid of a blog’s commenting section is freeing up time. As if the section keeps you so busy that this time saved will benefit you.

    There’s nothing wrong with doing away with duplicate tasks, which two commenting sections essentially are, and the moderation that goes with them.

    Still, when you close your commenting section to me you’re also closing a door. It sends a message – look, but don’t stop and come in.

    Is that what you want your business to say these days?

    • http://Shopify.com/blog/ Tommy Walker

      It’s a bit general, isn’t it. Not all articles are worth commenting on, not because they’re “bad” but because they’re not really about discussion. If I read an article that has a lot of research (which I frequently do) I’m not likely to comment, because I’m not there to talk.

  • Matt Cooper

    Now I’m debating whether I should comment on the comments on my own post — thanks for the constructive comments :-)

  • http://www.freelancewriterinchicago.com/ Dan Stelter

    I agree with the point on comments about them being overtaken by trolls. In many blogs, it’s absolutely no-holds barred, every man for himself. I’m thinking mostly with really big comment sections, like ESPN. People are fearless with what they have to say.

    However, I must agree they’re a great way to engage. But as was said, you have to put time into monitoring them.

    To me, a blog without comments becomes a magazine. I think their benefits for interaction, service, relationship building, and market research outweigh their negatives.

    And for most companies, they don’t get a crap load of comments that are too time-consuming to monitor.

    Interesting piece.

    • http://www.diannahuff.com/ Dianna Huff

      “To me, a blog without comments becomes a magazine. I think their benefits for interaction, service, relationship building, and market research outweigh their negatives.”

      Totally agree.

    • http://blog.marketwired.com Marketwired

      Agreed – a blog without a comments section does become more like a magazine. But if the comments section isn’t being moderated or engaged with by the blogger, it’s the same – just a one-way dialogue. If there are better conversations happening on social channels, why not shut the comments down and focus on engaging where your audience is willing to share their thoughts?

  • http://GrowMap.com Gail Gardner

    Even though comment moderation takes time, I still love a blog with a thriving comments section. When I invest my time reading something, I like to be able to contribute. I found long ago that I naturally just don’t frequent sites with no comments and if I happen to read something on one of them I will put my comment somewhere else (Google Plus or Facebook typically as my thoughts don’t fit as well on Twitter). Their loss.

    I understand why sites remove comments, but that doesn’t mean I end up reading them and what I don’t read doesn’t have an opportunity to get shared. Blogs don’t load as fast as non-blogs. That is just a fact.

  • http://trinityinsight.com Jason Bauman

    When I was younger, I read “Ender’s Game” and one of the things that really stuck with me was how Peter, his older brother, basically dictated global policy as Locke, an online persona that gained popularity because of the strength of his argument.

    When I entered high school, I eagerly joined my first forum, excited to see this world where your argument mattered more than how old you were or where you live… Then I discovered the internet.

    Heavy comment moderation takes time, and requiring “real names” isn’t enough to stop trolls from attacking the site. Just look at any local paper that uses facebook comments. You’ll see them filled with people saying terrible things. If a writer takes the time to actively monitor their comments, they can be a great resource, one that fosters a sense of community and brings people back, but more often than not, the effort of maintaining a comment section isn’t worth it for most content creators. Personally, I like how The Verge and other Vox sites manage comments. For most articles, they’re disabled, but there is a link to their forums where you can make a post talking about the article. This gives you community without risking having someone putting something vile on your homepage, or trash talking your writers when they’re asleep. For reviews, they open comments, at least for a bit, but they have a very active mod team now.

    I like comments, but sadly I’m no Locke, and we don’t really have a culture that could allow someone like him to gain a voice right now.

  • http://www.diannahuff.com/ Dianna Huff

    I enjoy reading blog comments and often learn more from comment sections than the post itself. I like seeing how the general population thinks about things.

    As for social media replacing a blog’s comment section — hmmmm, maybe. But to do this, one must have a rich social media presence. For some of us with a purposely limited presence (moi), social media won’t help either.

    Plus, with social media changing the rules all the time, you can’t place your trust in the various platforms. Better, I think to own and manage your medium. While my blog sees fewer comments these days, I’ve continued to leave comments open.

  • http://onreact.com/ Tadeusz Szewczyk (Tad Chef)

    Should you make your blog into a top down “news” section again like before the Internet or in the nineties? Should you give away your comments to third parties like Twitter or Disqus? Should you give up conversation and go one way broadcasting again?

    This is like giving up customer service because some people complain.

  • dreweastmead

    great post

  • http://blog.marketwired.com Marketwired

    If engagement around your content is happening elsewhere, there’s no reason not to ditch the comments section and focus your attention where it is happening. It seems like Daily Dot editor Nicholas White articulates what seems to be the main reason most sites are shutting down their comments sections: “In our experience, our community hasn’t evolved in our comments …. It’s evolved in our social media accounts.” Sites have to go where their community takes them.

  • http://virtualvalley.io/ Tom

    There is always trolls in provocative topics, whether you like it or not. But not all people who are posting negative feedbacks are all trolls, some of them are just really disgruntled customers/clients that wants to get in their way by expressing through blog comments. Though, somehow, its hard to identify who are trolls and who are genuine dissatisfied customers as the trollers themselves makes use of those steamed-up emotions to escalate the tension in the discussion.

    On a personal perspective, i’d rather have comment sections ON, as I do like to engage and learn about my customers/clients. It’s another way of specifically addressing their needs and what else should be improved in the companies products or services. BTW, Great article Matt! really worth the time to read and share! :)