What factors influence online commenting? Let's face it; most of us don't have the time to comment on every single blog post we read. When was the last time you left a comment on a blog post or article?
It's quick and easy for us to hit the share button if we find a blog post interesting - we can even add a comment to the tweet before we send it out - but to actually craft a thoughtful response to a post - that takes time and consideration. What makes us stop and post a response?
There are many elements that influence whether or not we will leave a comment. Maybe we know the author, maybe we want to know the author, perhaps we're part of a community of regular commenters and commenting is now a habit.
In looking at this issue, what I've found is that certain aspects, such as the ability to comment anonymously, and the influence of the potential commenter's gender, may influence the likelihood of leaving a comment. But it's the experience of the reader and the emotions that the post elicits that are the primary influencers at play.
The ability to post anonymous comments may encourage some people to post responses, especially when the topic is sensitive, or the opinion they want to express isn't something they want to be held accountable for.
Websites that only permit readers to comment using their real identities often force people to sign in to a specific commenting system, or comment by linking a social network account like Google+ or Facebook. Again, some people won't want to link their accounts like this, while others will balk at having to go through an extra few minutes of sign-up just to post one comment.
According to research by Livefyre (2014), 78% of respondents - who had commented anonymously in online discussions - refuse to comment on blogs or articles if they're forced to use their real identities. Other studies have shown that anonymous comments encourage participation by promoting a community identity.
So allowing people a space to anonymously contribute their opinions to a discussion could help increase the engagement on your blog post or article.
A study of The New York Times website showed that men were far more likely to comment on articles than women. Another study, by Sydney University, found that for some sites as much as 79% of commenters were male. It also found that women tended to prefer posting under their own names, while men preferred anonymity.
There may be deeply rooted social reasons why men tend to comment more than women - perhaps they have more free time, or feel more confident that they can express their opinions without being trolled. It depends not just on the nature of the site, but of the community of readers and existing commenters. Is it welcoming to newcomers? Are people too forthright? Is there an agenda? All of these factors may influence the likelihood of people leaving a comment.
Other, smaller surveys have found that readers are more reluctant to comment on a blog if they don't feel they have anything to add to the discussion. For example, if you stumble on a book review based in the town that you live, you would be more motivated to comment if you'd read the book yourself and if you felt your town was unfairly portrayed based on your experience.
If the topic under discussion is too obscure, or the reader has no opinion on the matter one way or another, they're unlikely to take the time to comment - unless it's a quick "great post" kind of remark.
Another big motivator for leaving comments on an article is to reply to other people's comments with your own experiences and thoughts on the issue. The more people the post strikes a chord with, the more populated the comment section is likely to be.
It takes time for people to leave a comment.
Some may need to navigate cumbersome captcha systems before the site will even let them see the comment box. The post could be full of useful information, stuff that they will take away and remember, but still, they may not choose to leave a comment.
If, however, the post evokes some sort of emotion - maybe the writer is funny, maybe their opinion is controversial, maybe the post makes the reader feel angry or makes them feel especially keen to demonstrate their expertise - people will be more likely to take the time to post.
Thanks to studies like the one by the University of Pennsylvania, we already know that emotional content (particularly positive emotional content) is the most widely shared. Commenting is another way for us to share content and our reactions to it.
Posts that educate and inform may be printed out, shared or bookmarked for later - but it's the ones that rile people up that get people talking.
"Stay away from the comment section" is a regular refrain in the online world. The thing is, many people do. There are countless blogs that see next to no comments from readers, even when their readerships are high. Turning off the comment section when a controversial topic is discussed is also an option, but may hinder engagement.
The choice to comment, and what they say, lies with the reader. The content creator needs to provide solid reasons for people to take the time to comment and needs to think about the audience they want to attract. They need to ensure the space is safe and welcoming, that debate is encouraged, and that offensive comments will be removed if they want to develop an active and engaged community.
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