Reflections One Year After PopSci Closed Comments
It has been more than a year since Popular Science shut down their comments. For those not aware, the main argument was noted here:
As the news arm of a 141-year-old science and technology magazine, we are as committed to fostering lively, intellectual debate as we are to spreading the word of science far and wide. The problem is when trolls and spambots overwhelm the former, diminishing our ability to do the latter.
Online Director Suzanne LaBarre added that "Even a fractious minority wields enough power to skew a reader's perception of a story." It was then suggested users could reach out in other ways:
There are plenty of other ways to talk back to us, and to each other: through Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, livechats, email, and more.
Moving the comments off their platform, to be splintered and scattered to the wind, seems like a real shame.
PopSci is Not Alone.
This is not to pick on PopSci. There are examples of other companies closing discussion and pushing users off their platform. For example, ESPN closed their community forums last July, pushing users to Facebook comments. In June, Microsoft closed their forums: "We’re taking down our Bing Webmaster Community Forum, allowing us time and resources to focus energies in other directions." They then directed users to other forums they participate in. A final example is Wufoo, which just last month closed their forum:
[Our customer support team has grown]. So much so that we can now help customers without them having to post/search their questions/answers in the forums and hope that someone can help them out. Now, we’re able to answer our customer’s questions and inquiries directly and in a blink of an eye (well, maybe not a blink, but pretty darn fast). We really pride ourselves on our customer support and would only shut down the forums if we knew our customer support quality was top notch, and it is.
Like others who close their communities, Wufoo is pushing their members to use Social Media networks to connect.
Here is why they are wrong
Companies and online publications have a lot to gain by engaging their readers or customers in a meaningful way. Giving up because of a few trolls is depriving yourself of many benefits of community including social engagement, feedback, transparency and SEO. A community is available 24/7 and can help support your company and make customer experience easier (even if your support is great like Wufoo). Before shutting down your community, consider how modern forum software and some community management best practices might help:
1- Reputation system to reward member who make good contributions.
One of the main issues noted in most closures seem to be trolls and spam. Anti-spam plugins don't always catch everything and there's no algorithm to detect a troll. Good forum software has a reputation system that captures member reactions to people and content and can automatically suppress bad content or reward positive participation through badge awards or increased access to functionality. You can learn more about Vanilla's reputation system in this video playlist.
2- Using Warnings and Notes, to keep tabs on troublemakers.
When members behave badly, you need a way to communicate with others of the moderation team. Rather then use spreadsheets or email, consider a platform that has some kind of built in system for sharing information and warning users. In Vanilla, we created a Warnings and Notes add-on to make it easy to keep tabs on those who are mischievous. Moderators can add notes to any user profile, which can be read by anyone in the moderation team (but not the user). With Warnings, admins and moderators have a granular way to warn and ultimately ban users for poor behaviour. You can see this in action below:
3- Connect to Social Media Networks, while still having your own platform.
Social Networks can be an important avenue for recruiting new members and sharing content. At the same time, you want to have your community, on your domain and under your terms. This is why you will also want to seek out a solution with social media log-in capability, to reduce friction for your potential members.
Before you give up the valuable data and traffic, consider that with your own platform you own your data. You also control how you engage with the fans and customers in your community, without paying to get your content in front of them.
4- Creating a Q & A Community will give you a crowd sourced knowledge-base.
There are many avenues your customers can get support, but moving people to other channels and deleting all the knowledge you have is counter intuitive to bringing traffic to your site. When a potential customer searches in Google or Bing with a question, you want them to find you community. You should also want them to ask questions on your platform so you have some control over the discussion, and also potentially attract other customers.
Before you close your support community, consider if maybe the issue is that it's a one way street. A properly functioning community will help you reduce support costs. Also consider a solution that engages and rewards members for answering questions, so it's not only your staff that has to come up with answers. Vanilla can easily be configured as a Questions and Answers community. Members can ask questions, indicate the best responses and earn reputation points for answering questions
5- The value of community is magnified when it's integrated to other customer engagement systems.
See your community as integral part of your offering and do not segregate it. If you close you community you are pushing away opportunities, when you can bring them in even closer. For example, you can replace your commenting system on your blog (or CMS) to something that integrates both comments and community.
With Vanilla Comments, a conversation can start on an article, but also be simultaneously in your community. It also brings all the benefits of crowd-sourced moderation and reputation we noted previously. It's really to easy to integrate with your current solution, and even easier if you use WordPress with our free plugin.
There are also some integrations you maybe haven't even considered. For example, if you are using Vanilla, and your company or brand uses Zendesk ticketing or Salesforce, you can connect these seamlessly to make your community have a total solution. Not only can it to aid your support, building a better product, but it can help create more leads and sales prospects right into your CRM.
There will always be reasons a community needs to close: Lack of proper planning, too expensive, lack of staff, wrong niche, or total neglect. Sometimes, though, the issue could be you are using the wrong software solution. If you are currently using another platform, and you are considering closing your community, we'd love to chat first. There might be a solution or two that we can offer.