Is social media sharing the new commenting?

November 25 | offbeatbride

facebook-comentingI've written before about watching comment counts slowly drop across the Empire's blogs. What does it mean? Why is it happening? What can I do to turn the tide? Why do people comment on Facebook (where comments are lost within about a day) instead of the blogs (where they stick around for years of usefulness)? WHY WHY WHY.

But you know what? I think I'm done worrying about it too much (although please keep commenting!), because I've got a new theory: social media sharing is the new blog commenting.

I'd been musing on this for a while, but it was this post that really turned the tide for me: Viral Journalism and the Valley of Ambiguity. You should probably just go the post, but here's the part that was the most important to me:

To share a story is in part to take ownership of it, especially because you are often able to comment on a story that you are sharing on social media. If you can share a piece of information that's an absolute truth – whether that's how to uninstall apps on your phone, or what the NSA is really doing – you too become a truth teller. And that feels good. Just as good as it does to be the person who has the cutest cat picture on the Internet.

Sharing a story means that in some sense we stake our reputation on it. That's why sharing a story is not the same thing as enjoying a story, reading a story, or even learning from a story.

As a publisher, I've always prioritized toward comments because it's content that I "own." Yeah, someone else wrote it, but I own the pageviews (and the related ad sales)… and in exchange, I bear the responsibility of keeping those conversations in-line with my brand. Hence, our stringent commenting policies because I believe VERY strongly that if your website's full of assholes, it's your fault.

But in 2013, readers are migrating away from blog comments. Commenting takes too much time ("You mean I have to actually type my name!?"), moderation can feel be weird ("How dare you delete my comment? 'Fuck you, you fucking fucks' is TOTALLY inline with your comment policy!"), and let's be honest: we'd all just rather shuffle around in Facebook's blue walled garden.

We all know I have long loathed comments left on our Facebook pages instead of on our blog posts, and honestly: it's still frustrating for me. That said, it's started to sink in that readers aren't coming back to blog comments… and really, social media shares are more valuable for me anyway. Here's why:

Sharing is linking (DUH)

I'll start with the obvious one, here. When you comment on a post, you give me two pageviews and a few minutes of engaged time on my website. When you share a post, you potentially give me dozens of hundreds of pageviews from people who click the link.

Sharing is owning

As the Viral Journalism and the Valley of Ambiguity article points out, readers share posts they feel says something about them. When you share a post positively, you're taking ownership over what it says. You're identifying with the title, taking on the post's thesis as your own. If you're sharing a post negatively (hello, hate-reading?) you're doing the same thing, but in opposition: "This post is everything I AM NOT." (More about that in a minute.) Either way, when you share a post, you're using it to make a statement about yourself… and if I might get cynical for a moment, as someone who lives off of pageviews, using one of my posts as a way to make a statement about yourself to your own community has the potential to be more beneficial to my business than you commenting on that post.

Sometimes not owning the conversation is awesome

Watching my real-time web-stats, sometimes I'll see a crazy spike on a post, and see that all the traffic is coming from Facebook. When it's an old, contentious post, I know for a fact that the conversation happening on Facebook is NOT good. But you know what? All that ranting and hate-read chatter and trainwrecking? It's not happening on my site. While it certainly impacts my brand, it doesn't reflect my brand… it's not like coming to Offbeat Bride and seeing people using racial slurs or fat-shaming each other in the comments. I'm all for people hating on my websites — I'll take the pageviews, and Facebook can deal with the assholey comments.

So, where do we go from here?

I'm not quite sure what all of this means yet. As the io9 article points out, stories that get shared aren't always the stories that we learn from or enjoy. I don't plan to start catering our stories to sharing, but I am starting to think differently about post titles.

I know that some of you were like ACK TOO HEAVY HANDED when the AddThis share modules showed up a couple months ago, but that shit has been the most awesome thing EVAR for me. The stats alone — I can see what posts are getting shared in what ways, and what's getting clicks, and it's hugely useful.

It's also been fascinating to see the way Offbeat Families readers engage with the posts now that they CAN'T comment (when the site ceased publishing new posts, we also closed ALL comments on all archived posts). They're more likely to share posts and just include their comment with their share. (And that's fine by me! Someone wants to rant about circumcision on their own Facebook page? AWESOME! We don't have to moderate comments about foreskin all day!)

Does this mean blog comments are dead? I certainly hope not, because I deeply enjoy Empire commenters. The folks who comment consistently and hilariously? They make my job better, every day. I guess the biggest take-away is this: Comment counts are just one of many metrics I use to measure post engagement, and in the hierarchy of metrics… comment counts are sliding.

  1. I just hate commenting here from my phone. Sometimes I would rather have a few people see my comment on Facebook then let it get lost in the ether than concern myself with longevity of usefulness when the alternative means dealing with commenting here on my phone, or waiting for my slow-ass laptop to realise it isnt plugged in anymore and it can wake up now, finding the website and… It's 10 minutes later and my witty retort has been lost to the ether.

    6 agree
    • I hate commenting via phone, too, mostly because it NEVER remembers to auto fill my name/email address/website and that gets long and cumbersome AND THEN I have to start writing my witty response, which is often changed to something less than coherant thanks to Swype. So I only comment when I really really feel the need, and can formulate exactly what I want to say quickly, or I'm on the computer. But 99% of the time I'm on my phone (unless I'm working, like now…ha!)

      3 agree
      • I find that my name and e-mail address usually do not get auto filled even when using a regular browser on my desktop computer.

    • Agreed. Since a lot of my OBE browsing is done during downtime at work or while I'm getting ready for the day, I use my phone. I try to leave something to show that post has been read and enjoyed (I liken it to recycling- doing my little part), but no way am I going to spend 10 minutes attempting to navigate autocorrect for a long response.

      2 agree
    • Yeah, mobile use is absolutely a huge contributing factor in sharing instead of commenting: when you're on your mobile (which fully 50% of the Empire's readers are) it's a lot of tapping to type a response… as opposed to a ONE CLICK/no type action to share or like.

      3 agree
  2. For me it really depends on the site. If I didn't know the Empire commenting policy, I may just share instead of getting involved. If I don't know a site, I don't read the comments because too many sites let assholes type freely. So I think some of it may also relate to the fact that when we share, we can moderate what sort of crap we read and engage in a conversation. Also, on things I share, I do it because I know people who would be interested. When I comment directly, it's because I am interested directly.

    6 agree
    • Is it weird that I hate-read comments on other sites? I *always* read the comments and sit there shaking my head about what a bunch of assholes everyone is. (That was really bad grammar, but too bad.)

      *hangs head* I also sometimes feed trolls on facebook groups cuz I think they're funny….

      • Once one figured out what I was doing and we just sort of virtually high-fived and left.

  3. Personally, I will comment more on a site if I want to communicate something to the post/website's author/editor – like this one. Or, if I want to share with the community in sites where I trust the community (like this one, which as Little Red Lupine mentions is because the comment policy is what it is). But if I just want to share my personal thoughts that I don't feel are relevant to the wider community, or I want to analyze the post for myself, then I will tend to link it on a social network site (often my Tumblr if it's for more extended commentary). I also share posts on social network sites if I want to specifically share the sentiment to someone who I know *isn't* a regular reader, or wouldn't normally come across that post (like my brother, who is definitely not planning a wedding or family but who occasionally benefits from the Offbeat Home posts about pets since he has a dog).

    I'm not sure if that is indicative of others' commenting habits, but I guess I separate it out this way: Comment on site when interacting with that site's editors/community; comment on social network when interacting with personal friends/family or just commenting for myself. How that affects your business model, I don't know – but I think that combination is what makes a site interesting, for me.

    5 agree
  4. Until recently, it never crossed my mind that commenting had an impact on the Empire's pageviews/ ad sales, etc… After reading a few of your posts about this topic, it became clear how important the comments actually are. I probably learned the most from "Why Tribesmaids forget about the Offbeat Bride blog (and what it means for Offbeat Home's forum)"

    The post and comments that followed taught me that where you post the comment makes a huge difference for the Empire. Now that I understand this, I tend to like the facebook posts so my friends can see what I'm liking and then I comment on the blog.

    3 agree
  5. This is probably a dumb question, but I have been meaning to ask… In the comment form it asks your name, email address, and website. Why does it ask for a website? I never fill that in but I have always been confused by it. Especially on the offbeat bride page where it says "Please just use your real name in your comment, not your business name or blog title. Our comments are not the place to pimp your website."

    • If you provide your URL, your name will link to it. You can see this in action on the first comment in this thread, from Heather. While your email is never displayed or linked (it only helps make your picture show with your comment), your URL is linked from your name, so that other commenters can learn more about you. Your URL could be anything… including your social media profile of choice.

      I'm fine with business owners using their business URLs there, as long as they use their REAL name. In other words, I'm totally cool with a comment from Jane with the url, but we're NOT ok with a comment from Jane Smith Photography. The worst is when commenters use names like Toronto Wedding Photographer. UG. Thanks to automatic nofollow links in comments, comment spam like that hasn't worked for almost a decade, so it makes people not only look like spammers…. but like ill-informed spammers.

      2 agree
  6. I think what you will find is you will have less "drive-by" commenting, and more comments from your regular readers. While this means a drop in comments overall, it will likely mean less hefty moderation, and more meaningful content. I think you're doing a great thing by embracing the evil blue box (as opposed to the T.A.R.D.I.S. which is the NON evil blue box…)

    2 agree
  7. For me, sharing = I agree with pretty much all of this, and I want to know what my friends think about it. Commenting = I have something to add or I disagree with some of this, here's my two cents. Sometimes you guys are so spot on, I just sit and nod my head and pump my fist in agreement. And then it feels silly to leave a whole comment essentially saying "Me too!"

    11 agree
    • Oh man, this is SUPER interesting… because it essentially explains why comments can feel disproportionately negative. This isn't news of course (it's why many publishers intentionally produce contrarian click-bait posts to convert readers into frustrated commenters; see: Jezebel) but it's sorta depressing. It means we only really can expect to hear from some kinds of readers if they're unhappy/disappointed with a post… it's easy to understand why my editors and moderators are prone to feeling burnt-out. SUPER interesting feedback. Thanks!

      4 agree
      • Another thought (I'm so chatty today!): If we had a THIS! option on the posts, I would use it, like, a lot. I haven't got a clue as to whether or not that helps the biz side at all, though. I don't Like because doing things on other sites with my Facebook account squicks me out; I hate that I have to log in and then I'm logged in unless I log out and maybe my Facebook name shows up somewhere on the other site and I've lost control of my account etc. Maybe I'm just paranoid, but it goes against my grain to Like or Share from outside sites. If I want to share on Facebook, I copy/paste links.

        3 agree
        • This is not the first request for a THIS! button on posts. Unfortunately, a proprietary THIS! count doesn't translate into much business value. It's a pretty arbitrary number that would be hard to explain to potential advertisers.

          Post THIS! buttons would be easy to add, but they just wouldn't serve much of a function other than giving readers an extra button to click along the Share bar. :/

    • Yeah, pretty much. THIS! is so useful on comments.

      Or, in other words, ME TOO

      1 agrees
      • Exactly. I agree with most of the readers' comments here.
        I read the empire primarily on mobile, so commenting is extra effort. I use THIS pretty liberally though, because it's easy to click.
        I comment more when I want to tell someone (post author, usually) something specific.
        So if I like a craft or a pretty dress, I just THIS someone else's comments. And in the asking for advice posts, I wait until there are a few comments, and if nobody has given advice I want to give, I'll comment, or if they have, I THIS.
        In contrast, I share things when I like the post and I think a lot of my friends will like it too.

    • I'm the opposite! I don't leave a comment if I disagree, because I hate to see negative comments on this beautiful, beautiful blog. (I may have a small – read: large – girl crush on Ariel also).

      After Ariel posted about comments being essential to her business, I basically try and comment on everything I can, even it it's just to say "ME TOO!"

      3 agree
    • I'm late to this game, but the entire sentiment I had for this post is in this comment. I know tons of people in apartments with tiny balconies – share the growing herbs in coffee cans post. I am struggling with gift ideas and I know many people doing the same – gifts under $20? Perfect, I will let everyone on my newsfeed know. While it feels silly to comment saying "I'm sharing this to Facebook", I just learned that the lack of commentary is less than great. What's the best way to go about that? It's no skin off my butt to say "I love this" in a comment, so is that what I should be doing?

      • I know that with the gift guides, for example, those are a HUGE labor of love for me. So a comment letting me know that you liked it enough to pass it on makes me feel extra warm and fuzzy. πŸ™‚

        1 agrees
  8. I personally don't comment until I get comfortable somewhere. Yes, even a place like OBE with an actual comment policy. It's not just that I'm uncomfortable jumping in because of something like, I don't know, maybe getting attacked or whatever–it's because the first comment-centric online community I got involved in is the safest of safe spaces I've ever been in, and I have a habit of watching and waiting, to make sure I don't accidentally say something asshole-y.

    But also, I don't typically comment on OBE main posts because I don't have anything to say. Right now, I'm sharing my commenting habits; that's something to say. If someone posts a photo of their dress on the Tribe and I love it, I'll comment that I love it, because I want to support them and their dress. Boom, mission accomplished. But on the main OBB, it's less personal, so I don't feel inclined to comment, even if I like something. I lost interest in Facebook a while ago, so I don't even share anymore. I don't know, maybe I'm not the best case study here πŸ™‚

    I do read all the long comment threads in old posts, though. So much awesomeness in there.

    1 agrees
    • But on the main OBB, it's less personal, so I don't feel inclined to comment, even if I like something.

      Fascinating! This totally ties into some of what we talked about over here… Tribe members feel emotionally compelled to respond to each other's posts (even if it's just quick "that's cute!") but don't have the same emotional response to validate posts on the main blog. HA. My poor editors — this combined with the previous comment suggests they just never get any love. πŸ˜‰

      • LOL…I would argue (not that you are arguing with me, obviously) that it's completely rational to not feel emotionally compelled except on the Tribe–because most of the time the editors are not writing about their own wedding. And even though the profiles are filled out by the couple, there's a disconnect between who published the post and who had the experience, and you can't be 100% sure that the couple will get your comment, and well, I'm just not thinking about cheerleading the OBB editors like I am about Tribesmembers!

        I feel like maybe I shouldn't keep going on in this vein until I read the whole thread on the post you linked, though…another reason I don't always comment–I haven't always read entire comment threads and I don't want to be redundant!

        • Oh, I'm definitely NOT saying it's irrational — I'm just saying it's too bad for my editors and their feels. πŸ™‚

          3 agree
          • That's cool. The feeling part of me died years ago. πŸ˜‰

            Actually, based on all this awesome feedback, the next time a post I write gets no love, I'm just gonna tell myself that CLEARLY I nailed it and everyone is just nodding, fist pumping, and moving on with their lives, secure in the knowledge that I kick ass.

            22 agree
          • Maybe you could add a sentence or two in the comment box above or below your no -drama comment policy. Something simple like… We love comments! They engage our readers which tightens our community. They are also critical to our advertisers and help keep our sites online, and they also make our editors feel so good. You would write it much better:)

            I would have started commenting back in 2010 had I known it was helpful. It just wasn't on my radar.

            2 agree
          • That was another very interesting article Ariel. I only know that for me, I would have commented a lot sooner had I understood my comments had a positive impact on the site. I did not subscribe to OBE until recently, only OBB, so I think I must have missed most of the posts that mentioned it. With the transient readership on OBB, adding a note about comments in the comment box, might just be the little prompt that is needed for people to make the extra effort to comment (and feel welcomed and appreciated for doing it). Or maybe it wouldn't have an impact at all…??

            1 agrees
  9. Hey! I just have to say, I've been reading your posts for years. I go back to 2009 when I was planning my offbeat wedding. I love it. <3

    1 agrees
  10. You know, reading this post it occurs to me… I never use the "AddThis" feature to share…well, anything, anywhere. I never share! I think this is either because:

    1) My first thought when I see those items is "Ahahaha… NO. No, I will not be handing out any email addresses to you, Unknown Spammer. Why don't you take your little share button and stick it directly up your ass?" Seriously — my first reaction to sharing links is distrust and anger and I think that feeling carries over even onto sites I trust, like OBE.

    2) I'm a selfish bitch who likes to hoard all the Internet goodness for herself.

    2 agree
    • 1) is interesting to me because, unless you use the AddThis bar to share via email, AddThis doesn't ask for your email address.

      Also, fascinatingly creepy trivia: even if you just copy 'n' paste the URL field and manually share it, AddThis can track it, and I watch those share stats super closely.


      1 agrees
      • I don't mind if you track that it came from email — I just object to picking up my friend's email address ( which is not mine to give out ).

        But in point of fact, it doesn't much matter what whether it's email or Twitter or Facebook or Tumblr or whatever. Paranoid bitches like myself view these features as security breaches because they require you to provide at least your personal information and, in the case of email, somebody's else's information as well ( which is the more egregious breach in my opinion — it's ok for me to trust your site; it's not ok for me to trust your site on behalf of somebody else ).

        1 agrees
        • This is exactly how I feel! I don't mind at all that you can track a copy/paste share–that's actually really good news in my mind, I didn't know that. What bothers me is logging in to Facebook while I'm doing other things, and then Facebook knows what I'm doing and posts my activity for me on my profile (this actually happened to me a few years ago…they may have changed their settings since then but that's why I don't use the Like/Share on other sites). And on some sites, seeing that little box of people who have Liked/Shared using Facebook just squicks me out, because past experience with Facebook tells me that I can't be 100% sure I won't show up in that box.

          But I'm glad to know that if I copy/paste-share something you still see the stat!

          2 agree
  11. Hey Megan et al,

    Yes, if noone says anything, it probably IS because everyone's reaction was just sort "Well, that's cool."

    Also, you guys are awesome.

    That is all.

    7 agree

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