Michael Shapiro | for editor and editor
Sift through comments posted online about a story you’ve posted — Comments range from insightful to thought-provoking. They flood social media channels with your post. Are you spending your time or your staff’s time responding to and hiding profaners, and for what benefit? If you’re not using reader feedback to your advantage, you’re just wasting your time. Here’s how.
Comments can provide you with breaking news, story ideas, sources, quotes and photos usable for stories and are a treasure trove of potential letters to the editor that could provide you with significant site traffic. . Maybe even some advertisers.
But first, in full transparency, at TAPinto we only allow comments on our social media channels, not on our site itself. This is because we want our site to be civic and not exacerbate division. People can express themselves on our site by writing letters to the editor, which we publish as long as they are not defamatory or factually inaccurate. Regardless of how you handle comments, you should always use them to your advantage.
If you wrote a controversial development story that people commented on, consider doing a follow-up reaction article that links back to the original controversial story. You wrote the original story, so you did the guts of the reaction piece. Lo and behold, look at all these people commenting on the story on your public Facebook page. Use these comments as citations in your reports. If they provided photos with their review, send them a message and ask if they took the photo and if so, would they allow you to use it? If they answer yes to both, you now have shots to run with your reaction piece. You’ve also established a relationship with a reader who can provide you with more information, not only about this story, but about other things in town as well. They could also give you a warning that something “is about” to happen, which may not yet be publicly known.
Scrolling through the comments posted on this controversial story, you see someone saying that your post should investigate the developer’s political contributions. Another says that the promoter’s sister works in the city’s inspection department. Another says the developer has done similar development in three cities. Guess what? You have just received many potential stories with multiple layers.
Beyond these ideas, how about sending a message to people who make helpful comments to submit a “letter to the editor” for consideration for publication? If people are commenting publicly on Facebook, they’re probably ready to say something similar in your post itself. Then post the link to the “Letter to the Editor” on your Facebook page, generating additional traffic for your post and even more comments.
Watch who comments on your stories. If you see someone who owns a business in town actively engaged, contact them. Let them know that you appreciate their engagement and that you can provide similar exposure to their business. Feedback from business owners and business leaders across the city are great leads.
While many publishers view comments as a mandatory annoyance, they should view them as ways to generate story ideas, sources, page views, and even revenue. Why have feedback unless you get a real benefit out of it that outweighs the time and energy spent processing it?
Michael Shapiro is the founder and CEO of TAPinto.net, a network of more than 80 franchised online local news sites in New Jersey, New York and Florida. These sites often represent the only source of daily information in their respective communities.