Q&A with Dorie: Newspaper and Blog Online Comments

Let’s take a question from the field. One reader in Ohio asks, “Any idea on how often people read online comments to newspaper articles? I often have clients that obsess about these and would love something more definitive to tell them.”

Here’s my short answer:

  1. Though increasing numbers of people are reading articles online, regular folks aren’t scrolling down and ogling the comments section. They really don’t care; it’s an insiders’ game.
  2. That being said, one audience that reads the comments (besides your clients and your competitors) does actually matter, and that’s members of the media. Desperate for relevance, they fixate on the number and type of comments. They want to cover stories that generate reader response, and often (sorry, guys) have a naive understanding of the fact that most comments posted, at least in a “campaign-style” context, are planted. Thus, to them it can seem to be  a barometer of public opinion.
  3. Thus, I’d advise putting a little bit of time into this (posting online comments responding  to coverage) – but not too much. It’s far less important than other things you can be doing, like direct voter contact (in a political context) or taking your own initiative to create favorable press, such as starting a blog or videocast. To make your efforts  successful, it’s best if you: 1) rely on volunteers and not paid staff to do the posting, unless it’s meant to be an “official response” (you run the risk of too much trouble if a paid staffer is perceived to be masking his/her identity); and 2) have that person comment frequently and over time on a variety of articles. That way, they’ve built up a reputation as a member of the online community, not just someone who dive-bombs in to promote your cause or product.

So readers, did I miss anything? And what are your questions? Let’s have at ’em!

Dorie Clark is a marketing strategy consultant who has worked with clients including Google, Yale University, and the National Park Service. Listen to her podcasts or follow her on Twitter.