Though between 1 and 2% of web users leave comments on websites, actually relevant contributions are hard to find. A few tips to spot them :
- Read ALL comments. Often a gold nugget hides within a testimony. You can contact its author.
- Highlight the best comments so as to encourage quality contributing: it shows web users that their comments are read and taken into account.
- Try to get conversations going in the comment thread, to see if an interesting contribution creates others, like some kind of virtuous circle.
As a whole, the more journalists contribute to comment threads, the more they make users feel like helping with newsbringing. The call to action is another powerful lever to develop audience contribution. If your readers feel directly concerned by the issue raised by an article, they won’t hesitate in answering such a call. Finally remember this “recipe”: the first comment left by a reader is most often higher in quality than usual, because it stands on the author’s legitimacy. More to the point, a reader starts commenting when he has something relevant to write.
Maintaining the relationship
Once spotted, the helpful contributor should be coddled. Whether he’s a scholar, a baker or unemployed, this reader can become an extremely relevant expert. If you stay in touch with him regularly, via chat or thread discussions, you’ll gain his loyalty. Hence he will do his best to answer you when you ask him to contribute.
This is called developing your own blogosphere, the same way that journalists maintain IRL (in real life) a network of sources. Sometimes, after a while, you’ll be able to turn those web users into bloggers. This is not about replacing journalists with citizens. Besides, those often only have one requirement: that journalists do their job correctly, something that asks for time, means and a real savoir-faire.
By helping those users find their way in the news scrubland, and by teaching some of them how to write for the web, you’ll be able to turn them into true online newsbringers, a developing species.