Early creators of blogs envisioned them serving a role akin to online forums. Blogs could be places to share ideas, ask questions, or learn information. They could allow writers and thinkers to reach out to a broader audience. From a business perspective, blogs could help attract interest or grow a fan base.
However, depending on what purpose your blog serves, the need for comments has changed. Many businesses and individuals see blogs as a place to create long-form content. Some blog posts may not require conversation. And, as with any online property, creating a place for public discussion means the potential for both good and bad dialogue. Comments that consist of arguments, incorrect statements, or sometimes hate speech, can turn a useful tool into a horror show.
This series of changes has led some online publications to shut down the comments sections on their blogs. Both Popular Science and the Chicago Sun-Times made waves in the publishing world for their decisions to remove comments sections from their websites.
The discussion of how to fix the current status of comment systems leads to a pertinent question in the business world. Should your company blog allow comments? Or can you redirect all of your conversations onto other channels, such as social media?
Social as the New Forum
Think about how you promote a new blog post after it goes live. Most likely, you’ll share the link on Twitter, Google+ or Facebook. Maybe you also add the lead photo with an outbound link to Pinterest or Instagram. The circulation happens almost entirely on social media channels. Since social is the place where your followers are first encountering your blog post, it makes sense that the conversation stemming from the material can also happen in that place.
Centralizing on social media also changes the dynamic of the relationship between business and clients. A blog on the company’s website requires the customers to seek out the content. Social media networks offer a more neutral place for conversations. Fans choose the type of social bond they want with your brand. That’s the type of relationship a growing use of social has started to normalize, and it will likely become more common over time.
Fortunately, the changes on social media platforms have made it even easier to engage in two-way discussions. Twitter’s capability for replies and direct mentions gives the opportunity for chats with one or multiple people. Facebook also integrated nested replies to its own comment system, so fans can talk to each other within the umbrella of one status post. Google+ offers similar options for replying to comments as well as to main posts.
Making the Decision
In deciding whether or not to use comments, start by considering what role the blog plays for your company. Is it a marketing tool that promotes your products and services? Is it a source of long-form content for your social profiles? Is it intended to drive traffic to your website? Your choice about comment use should work with your vision for the blog, so give careful thought to your short- and long-term plans for the property.
Some brands, and even some whole industries, might be better served by continuing the classic comments system. For instance, if your company depends on display advertising for income, then having eyes on your website would be important. Ditto for any brands that use their blog for lead generation and want potential customers to spend more time on the website. Having social media profiles is still important, but don’t take comments away if they’ll accomplish important goals.
If you’re considering doing away with blog comments, a few common trends could sway you to go through with it. How much do your customers use mobile devices? Many traditional comment systems for blogs don’t work as well on mobile devices, whereas social media companies have taken steps to ensure their services can be used easily on tablets or smartphones.
Removing blog comments also can avoid an unnecessary division in your online audience. Some brands may already face difficulties in having their fans split across multiple social networks. Using a blog as another place for interactions between company and customers can further those divisions, and make more work for your social media team, since you may already be seeing blog discussions happening on social.
Preparing For Change
Having a strong social media audience built up in advance can aid in the transition. After all, if most of your readers are already gathered on a social platform, that should reinforce the idea that blog comments are further fracturing your conversations. Also, be sure that you understand where that audience is before shutting down comments. Encouraging them to adopt a new social network might mean that you’ll lose their readership. Try to reach out to them and spark discussions on the social networks where they’re already active.
If you do opt to remove commenting features from your company blog, be ready to guide the transition. That includes addressing your fans’ reactions to and concerns about the choice. The knee-jerk response to removing comments from a web property is frequently negative, because it might seem that the company is discouraging discussion. That reaction can be mediated by a clear plan for how and where people will be able to talk about your posts.
Finally, make sure that your social media team is prepped and equipped for the change before you announce it. They’ll be at the front lines of the switch, so give them whatever resources possible to make it a smooth change. Your community manager will be the one addressing any concerns and handling the extra volume of posts. Give them guidance for the change just as you do for your followers.
With the right planning and preparation, making the switch away from blog comments can strengthen the base of your social audience as well as improving your brand’s social presence.