Highlight good discussions to encourage positive online debate

There has been a lot of handwringing about the broken-ness of comments online. Great comments take the right strategic editorial approach and a bit of effort. Did anyone really believe the only thing a media company needed to do was slap a comment box on the bottom of articles? Too often that seems like the case.

What still baffles me after all these years is the low-hanging fruit that most news organisations are missing with community. Digitally native media doesn’t miss these easy wins. For instance, Lifehacker has a Discussion of the Day. Walter Glenn sums up the idea:

Great discussions are par for the course here on Lifehacker. Each day, we highlight a discussion that is particularly helpful or insightful, along with other great discussions and reader questions you may have missed. Check out these discussions and add your own thoughts to make them even more wonderful!

It’s a simple and positive way to drive people to the editorial features focused on discussions. They even call their commenters participants. Simple touches that all communicate a positive sense about the conversations they want to create.

Why don’t newspapers do this more often and print the best responses in the paper as well? Highlighting the comments in print would be a way to reward the  best comments, and hey, it might also drive some print sales. It ain’t rocket science, just some simple strategic thinking about user engagement.


3 thoughts on “Highlight good discussions to encourage positive online debate

  1. Because, as far as I can tell, too many people within newspaper community teams are only looking to examples from within their own industry, and not exploring what other industries – and online startups – have done with comment-based community. There’s so much learning they could be applying – but they’re not paying attention to it.

    • Suw has done a lot of social media work in different industries. They all think their social media issues are special, are unique. News media aren’t an exception to this.

      From my own experience in news, the other issue is that they keep trying to solve social problems with technology. Tech can help, but social problems require social solutions. The other issue with this is that social media strategies require some rethinking editorial. That has been a huge challenge. A lot of editors still want hyper-provocative content but don’t like it so much when the audiences pushes back.

      • Yes, it’s just another manifestation of the “special pleading” I’ve had from pretty much every title I worked with in the late 2000s as to why social media would’t work for them.

        It’s interesting how editors who don’t want to take responsibility for the reaction their commissioning causes see the solution as forcing people to take responsibility for their comments…

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