That's a lot of comments. How many were helpful?
A recent article on Mashable had some good things to say about how websites integrate community with content. The author’s main gist was that site owners should not just give up on providing community and leave that to the likes of Twitter and Facebook. Instead, you should
Do it on your terms, but have a goal of enabling people to engage in the ways that they want. The content itself should be the hub for web discussion, and not just another spoke on the wheel. These practices will increase the value of your community, your content and your brand.
I agree completely that content should be the hub for discussion, and that we as site owners should be looking for better ways to enable this discussion.
Most sites these days settle for “comments”, which often take the form of an unthreaded pile of user-submitted content that sits below an article. Comments tend to make sites look busy, but how many real conversations or exchanges of knowledge do you see taking place within comment threads? On most sites, not many. This may have been enough “community” to engage people in the early days of the web, but we have the tools to be smarter about it now.
Each site owner must ask him or herself, “How can I help my visitors interact with and help each other right here, on this page, without sending them to Facebook, Twitter, a forum, or, god forbid, Google?”
The answer to this question will vary depending on the site. In the case of ecommerce sites, the answer may be user reviews, or user ratings. If you are selling a product or service, the answer may be customer support forums. If you’re discussing politics, comments may indeed be the way to go. In my (somewhat biased) opinion, social Q&A could fit the bill in any of these contexts. In many cases, you’ll want more than one of these solutions to fit your users’ various needs.
When thinking about adding community tools to your site, consider the following questions:
- What type of knowledge might my visitors have that would help other visitors? (Feedback on products, tips on solving a problem, personal experiences, etc.)
- If my visitors have knowledge that could help, how can I best enable them to share it? Is a plain text box enough, or would some structure help them organize their thoughts?
- Would a structured tool like user reviews or Q&A provide more value than plain comments?
- How can new visitors find the knowledge that other visitors have shared? Are you truly leveraging your UGC? Are the nuggets of wisdom buried in comments or forums?
- Is real-time helpful? Real-time tools have a lot of buzz, but do my pages have enough simutaneous traffic for these tools to make sense?
- What can I do to make it easier for people to interact on my site? Don’t worry about people abusing/spamming the site until it actually happens – it’s great to prevent spam, but not good if captchas and email confirmations are keeping your community from getting off the ground. Try to use passive spam filtering (like Akismet) rather than active moderation queues that slow down your feedback cycles.
- How can my community tools integrate intelligently with social media? Don’t settle for “Post this comment on Facebook” because that type of interaction is unlikely to generate much interest when it appears in the user’s Facebook feed. Look for tools that post things to Facebook or Twitter that are likely to generate feedback or direct people back to your site.
Once you’ve considered all these, remember that you are not constrained to a single solution. Maybe User Reviews and Comments would work well together on your site. Whatever route you choose, be sure to experiment! Try out a few different solutions, and choose the one that feels right for your site, and then keep a close eye on how your visitors are using it to see if it’s really increasing interaction on your site.