One of the most popular aspects of the social media format is comments. Content readers and customers have the opportunity to make their opinions known, both positive and negative. Analysts say the ability to comment has empowered to consumers to keep merchants honest and to sway popular opinion. But there’s a dark side to comments and more merchants and media companies are growing vocal about the problem.
Earlier this month, a new Constant Contact survey showed that a significant number of small and medium sized businesses (SMBs) say negative comments are hurting their sales. Often, these SMBs don’t have enough staff to deal with both solving the problem and improving their social media images after they takes a hit from negative comments. In an entertaining Riff column which appeared in a recent Sunday New York Times magazine, Michael Erard lays out his case in support of media companies who are fed up with negative comments and are tempted to annotate them. The comment culture, in general, Erard says, are ‘wild back alleys where people sound their acid yawps’. He suggests that local newspapers ‘have mistakenly treated comments as the digital equivalents of letters to the editor.’
Erard’s suggestions do not fall on deaf ears. This week, Popular Science, a 141 year-old publication, shut off its comments section. The editors have appreciated the many thoughtful and positive comments they received regarding their articles. But, the publication also has to fend off “trolls and spambots.” Authors and editors believe that a “fractious minority wields enough power to skew a reader’s perception of a story.” Popular Science remains committed to producing content that is scientifically accurate. The publication doesn’t want scientifically inaccurate comments bent on swaying public opinion to then sway public policy.
Businesses face a similar quandary. A small number of customers who are adept commenters can quickly damage a carefully built reputation. Whatever they decide to do, business will need to tread carefully. Merchants, in particular, should know that consumers rely on comments, both good and bad, in the purchase process. Ad-ology Research, in its AudienceSCAN report on all U.S. adults, has found that up to 82% of consumers read comments and reviews written by others on products they are considering purchasing.
Popular Science’s stand is likely to be controversial but its new position reflects the frustrations of both media companies and merchants. Will other media companies follow? Will the trend of curated or annotated comments become more popular? What steps have you taken as a media company or as a business when it comes to handling excessive negative or inaccurate comments?[Sources: Erard, Michael. Riff. New York Times magazine. 22 Sep. 2013. Web. 26 Sep. 2013; Small Business Survey. Constant Contact. Sep. 2013. Web. 26 Sep. 2013; LaBarre, Suzanne. Why We’re Shutting Off Our Comments. Popsci.com. 24 Sep. 2013. Web. 26 Sep. 2013]