I’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.