American Press Institute
Want more comments? Look at how you write articles on your site. Articles that describe why they matter to specific groups of people generate more comments than articles that don’t describe how they affect people or that focus on just one person.
Want to boost interaction among commenters? Try encouraging commenters to respond to each other by name.
These are some of the insights from two recently-published scholarly articles on engagement and interaction in comment sections.
Comment sections are a controversial subject. Some news organizations have begun to eschew comments altogether, including Reuters’ and the technology siteRe/code, arguing that much of that discussion now occurs on social media.
But community conversation has become an important part of news, and organizations interested in increasing the volume of comments and generating more interaction between commenters can draw inspiration from the new findings.
More comments appear on articles with several key attributes, according to research by University of Zurich doctoral student Patrick Weber. News about events that have a clear beginning and end, for example, yields more comments than news about ongoing situations. This result suggests that an article describing a jobs bill being passed would receive more comments than an article about ongoing debate about the same bill.
Weber’s analysis of 1,000 articles from three German newspapers also identifies articles that attract fewercomments: Among those he found are international stories and stories that focus more on facts than analysis.
News organizations also can encourage discussion among commenters. Research by University of Mainz students Marc Ziegele and Timo Breiner and their professor Oliver Quiring examines which comments are most likely to inspire a reaction from other commenters. They analyze 1,580 comments left in response to political stories from two different German news organizations.
Personalized comments that directly address another commenter are more likely to get a response, Ziegele and his colleagues find. So are comments that pose a question.
One finding that may be less surprising is that controversial comments increase the chances that others will respond. But one finding may not be so expected: Short comments — those with 10 or fewer words — are far less likely to prompt a response.
Comments leading others to respond
Controversial comments were 1.7 times as likely as uncontroversial comments to stimulate feedback
Data Source: Marc Ziegele, Timo Breiner & Oliver Quiring. (2014). What creates interactivity in online news discussions? An exploratory analysis of discussion factors in user comments on news items. Journal of Communication. doi: 10.1111/jcom.12123
American Press Institute
Website design, the researchers find, affects commenting and interaction, too. Weber concludes that prominently featured articles garner more comments. The University of Mainz team discovers that comments at the top of a commenting thread receive more responses than other comments.
It is important to note that these studies demonstrate correlation, not causation. By identifying factors that correlate with more engagement and interaction, however, they provide a solid starting point for news organizations interested in testing factors that could produce a robust conversation.
News organizations can use these findings to examine whether the following factors affect comments on their sites: