Though many times ignored or simply overlooked, there is a lot going on in the area beneath the articles and blog posts you read every day — the comment section. Accusations, finger pointing, and sensationalism are what led Nick Denton, founder of the controversial blog network Gawker Media, to attempt to revolutionize the way we interact with stories.

Commenting platforms have untapped potential to facilitate meaningful discussions, and could also enable a new form of content marketing for brands. While their functions are beginning to evolve, most publisher commenting sections are still playing host to irrelevant and often offensive ramblings. Gawker Media (and blog named Gawker which headlines it) is particularly known for its commenting subculture, complete with cliques of “superusers” that comment just as much as a normal person might check his or her email.

Denton’s mission to better the commenting sphere has pushed the topic into the limelight, setting a higher standard for discussions and clearing a path for meaningful content created by the readers themselves.

New Strategies to Guarantee Quality Discussions

Gawker Media’s smallest site generates 2 million unique visitors a month. With a readership that large, lacking a “fence” to keep out distasteful or pointless comments can lead to a commenting wasteland.  “For every two comments that are interesting — even if they’re critical, you want to engage with them — there will be eight that are off-topic or just toxic,” said Denton at South by Southwest Interactive this past March.

Denton has redesigned Gawker Media’s commenting system several times in a pursuit to improve the discussion quality. Gawker Media’s new system Kinja launched in April and aims to benefit the reader more than commenter. The commenters are charged with the task of approving or dismissing subsequent responses to their original comments, naturally letting the cream rise to the top.

This gives the commenter accountability for what they post, as well as an efficient way to moderate discussions through crowdsourcing. Denton hopes this will help produce worthwhile content that will not only be valuable to the readers, but will also give brands a chance to utilize the discussions in their marketing strategies.

Hearing Both Sides of the Story

One of Denton’s main selling points for this system is that it will provide a chance for minority opinions to be heard and not drowned out by the majority. Furthermore, it will give the subjects of the stories the opportunity to personally interact with readers. This new process could provide the same opportunities for public figures to directly interact with the masses in the same way Twitter allows — without the 140 character limit.

When discussing the new system, Denton has used the example of Dov Charney, CEO of American Apparel, who has been featured many times on the Gawker site Jezebel in an unflattering light. Charney had contacted Denton multiple times to dispute the claims via telephone, but if the current system had been in place, Denton could have told Charney to go to the comment section to dispute Jezebel‘s claims publicly.

The most interesting discourse often happens outside of the publisher’s domain, yet providing a quality forum for the conversations to take place within the scope of the public would take online media to a new level. To help facilitate this, Denton says he encourages that all employee discussions about articles take place over Kinja, not over private email exchanges or IMs.

The Potential for Comment Monetization

There are many ways for brands and companies to integrate into publisher commenting content. The image above is a comment thread from The Huffington Post where commenters are given public “badges,” sponsored by TV network TNT. It has partnered with The Huffington Post to create an immersive marketing campaign called “Armchair Detective” to promote its crime drama lineup, complete with sponsored stories and crime quizzes.

Taking TNT’s approach one step farther and actually hosting discussions could be a valuable new frontier for brands. But why wouldn’t brands just utilize Facebook to host discussions and interact with consumers? Denton claims that Facebook Pages are a great place to interact with existing customers, but not an ideal place to attract new ones.

On the flip side, this form of content marketing can be risky, especially on a particularly angled news site such as Gawker. However, if brands are willing to take a chance on progressive and intriguing content, they should consider utilizing commenting platforms to interact with consumers seamlessly and when they’re most engaged.

[Image Credits: Open Knowledge Foundation, Alamo’s Basement, Eric Kilby, Lindsay Kincaid]