reader commentary

Ignoring Reader Commentary Doesn’t Stop Toxic Dialogue

Business schools have long taught the “4 Ps” of marketing: price, product, promotion and place. Each plays a role in the marketing mix, the levers that any marketer can pull to help sell a product.

The “4 Ps” are sometimes used interchangeably with a comparable alliteration, the “4 Cs”: cost, customer, communication and channel. In some ways, the Ps feel more industrial, while the Cs seem more customer-facing.

In a course on “Creating High-Impact Ventures,” Harvard Business School Professor Mukti Khaire has been applying a different set of Cs to look at the management of creative talent in what she calls “culture industries,” including publishing, film and music, as well as fashion, food and art and design. A post written by Sean Silverthorne for the business school’s “Working Knowledge” blog captured it this way:

During the course Khaire puts up a slide of the “4Cs,” showing the intersection of commerce, culture, consumption, and commentary. “Commentary influences culture, which influences what we consume, which is influenced by what is actually out there in the market,” she says. “If you can shift one of these elements you can actually create a new market.”

The notion of commentary as part of an engine that informs culture and drives commerce is one of the themes that underpins “An architecture of collaboration“, a talk I gave earlier this month at the Publishers Forum in Berlin. Although we don’t know the math quite yet, participation is likely a proxy for engagement, especially when it comes to writing and reading.

That’s why I find it curious and lamentable that some content-driven businesses have been shutting down their comment sections. The National Journal announced last week that it would join the ranks of publications that no longer accept reader commentary, claiming that “that a combative, antagonistic comments section had a negative impact on how readers received the information of an article, regardless of their previous stance on the issue.”

There is research that seems to confirm that claim, but the National Journal could have pursued another path and moderated its comments section. If publishers are in the business of connecting content to communities, they owe those communities an investment of time and resources that will nurture healthy discussion and debate.

It is clear why most publishers would walk away from reader commentary: they don’t think it helps sell the publication. Returning to Professor Khaire’s work, it’s easy to see why this is a short-term perspective. Khaire tries to challenge people to think differently: “Don’t just change the way people live, change the way they think. Change culture.”

Shutting down comments lets publishers pretend that toxic exchanges aren’t taking place. That’s different from actually changing the culture. If we’re really worried about how people respond to the content we publish, we should invest and learn how to make comments sections run better.

Brian O'Leary

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.

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