Now, in the context of journalism we’re talking about building connections with readers, not with friends. But in an age of declining trust, we need to do that. Want to minimise the effect of intentional misinformation? Build trust between you and the readers.
And that means opening our eyes again to the potential of the comments section.
A solved problem
But in the age of membership models and paywalls, you should quite reasonable expect to have intelligent, cogent commentary available to the members from the members. If your paywall subscribers are all frothing loons who TYPE LIKE THIS< LOL, then you have a deeper problem than community management can fix.
But spaces that enable conversations like that don’t just happen by accident. The have to be created and protected.
You just need to ignore, or remove, the bad actors, and reward the thoughtful, useful or witty with responses. Model the behaviour you want to see. Punish the behaviour you do not want to see.
We know how to do this.
It requires time and it requires effort. And yes, it requires money. Many industries are well aware that community management is a core discipline, and one that needs skilled practitioners. The games industry is one example - most big games companies have community management and engagement teams, because they know an engaged and loyal base is much more easy to sell the next title or expansion to.
You know what? For once, Twitter and Facebook have helped us out here. They offer so much more oxygen to the bad actors that it’s much more rewarding for them to go troll over there than it is for them to trouble us. Comments sections rarely have anywhere near the volume of comments they did a year ago.
Also: you don’t need to open comments everywhere. Just where you have a community, you have staff willing to engage, and a potentially viable topic. Perhaps steer clear of, say, Brexit or the politics of the Middle East. Start with sports, or fashion, or design. Places where people tend to be enthusiastic and knowledgeable. Make them feel part of your community, not just an ignored voice below the line.
Audience engagement starts at home.