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Optimizing the Comment Experience

Posted on 11.18.2010

Commenting on the content of others is one of the great hallmarks of Web marketing. Not only do you get to participate and share your thoughts with others, but you have the opportunity to generate exposure for your own brand simultaneously. With great rewards, however, comes great risk. Those without the proverbial savvy to engage in a meaningful way (we're looking at you, spammers) put the entire commenting ecosystem in jeopardy. Follow along with these five general rules of engagement for commenting (on your own website and others) and you'll pleased, very pleased, at the results.

Five Rules of Engagement for Commenting

- Participate in the Conversation: If someone has taken the time to write something and you have taken the time to read it, it seems like a waste to go off-topic, right? While it's easy to say "great article", it is far more meaningful to say "great article - here is why". Even a brief note on how the topic impacts you or how you believe it might impact or influence others is valuable to the entire commuinty. 

- Reward Positive Contributions: Every so often, someone will leave a comment on content that will be profoundly interesting. Should that occur on your own website/weblog, reward that positive contribution. Whether it comes in the form of recognizing the comment through another comment or actually reaching out via email just to say thanks, rewarding positive contributions shows that you are not just listening but also appreciative of their interest and participation. Rewarding positivity will set the tone and encourage repeat visits and greater interaction over time.

- Punish Disruptive Behavior: Much like you need to reward positive contributions, you also need to punish disruptive behavior. If you are the commenter, nothing good comes out of flame wars and posting offensive, threatening and inflammatory rhetoric. As the website operator, you must curtail disruptive behavior with great swiftness. While it's easy to install Akismet or other spam-fighting solutions, do engage in IP banning should things get out of hand. Remember that things indeed can get worse; curtailing negative behavior immediately and without question should be the rule. 

- Provide Supporting Data/Arguments: While opinion should be allowed, providing supporting data (and encouraging it if you are the website owner) should be on the minds of anyone leaving a comment. It's one thing to say that things should be a certain way and explain why, and something immensely more valuable to show some proof. Whether it is something simple like a link to a Google Trends or Yahoo Clue report or sharing snippets of more in-depth research, everyone benefits when commenters provide supporting data.

- Declare Personal Interest: Transparency was the term du jour many years ago and it should still be an important rule to live by. If you represent a particular company or interest, being honest about your affiliations at the outset will prevent others from finding out and exposing you.

While the default comment systems in most content management systems are perfectly viable, there are many more powerful alternatives you just might want to consider.

IntenseDebate is a comment system that can be added to any site including WordPress, Blogger, Tumblr and others. The platform enables users to reply and moderate comments via email, and its threading feature (nested replies) makes it simple to follow the conversation. One of the best features of IntenseDebate is the rich user profiles as the platforms provides a reputation score of sorts for commenters. Comment history and comment voting are some additional benefits of using IntenseDebate, in addition to its powerful administration tools and social commenting features that enable readers to post comments by signing in through services like Facebook, Twitter and OpenID.

Disqus is a popular commenting platform, similar to IntenseDebate, which can support sites both large and small. To say Disqus is "feature-rich" is an understatement - inline media embedding, support for mobile websites, social integration and powerful tools for moderation and spam control. Perhaps the best feature, however, is that Disqus enables site owners to bring the conversation back to their site by collecting Tweets, mentions and other reactions from across the Web. That means that even if someone does not actually comment on your post or page (instead doing so on Twitter), it will still appear as if they did. Disqus is immensely popular and is now being used on nearly 500,000 sites.

As an Internet marketing professional, however, you should realize that as important as comments are to the community of your Web property, you'll need to get out and engage in the conversation away from your site as well. Commenting can be a time-consuming endeavor; fortunately, there are a few tools to make the process simpler.

coComment is a long-running service with some 280,000 sites and it helps Web marketers manage, power and research conversations on the Web. The service enables the discovery of conversations that are connected to individuals, tags, sites and groups. Users can then track any comment in the network wherever they occur and coComment summarizes everything in a single location. Integration is very simple and plugins (and platform specific code) are available for WordPress, Blogger, TypePad and Movable Type.

co.mments is another service to consider for tracking comments. While not nearly as robust as coComment, those looking for a simple yet powerful system will be pleased with co.mments.com. After signing up for the service you will be able to bookmark conversations you find interesting, track conversations and comments that occur (users can check up on new comments, remove conversations and add their onw), and follow them by subscribing to a personalized tracking feed that can be viewed in a feed reader or email. Very simple but very useful.

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