Stat of the Day: 63% of Readers Don't Care About Your Comments

But Here's the Stat That Publishers Should Care About Instead

By Published on .

Recently Anil Dash called out news publishers. The gist was: If the comments areas on your site are over-run by jerks, you have no one to blame but yourself. I've often wondered about the value of website comments, which all-too-often are an ill-informed, venomous echo chamber populated by the same handful of trolls. I'm generalizing here. Slightly. And I'm especially calling out anonymous comment sites. I'm certainly not talking about you, dear readers. I think the @adagestat comments are a lot of fun -- even and perhaps especially when they take this blog to task. But I digress.

Publishers, meanwhile, can't stop harping on engagement with the audience as the future of news. It's not just websites, either. CNN has its iReporters. Fox has "News Remixed" which peppers somewhat fluffy news segments with clips from YouTube. (Feel free to debate the merits of segments like this one in the comments below ...) But is it really what readers/viewers/surfers are looking for?

If a news site lets you post comments, photos and videos about stories, how likely would you be to visit?

This month's Ad Age /Ipsos Observer American Consumer Survey dove into the issue. Fully half of the 1,003 households that took part in our online survey said that adding more tools for engagement would have zero impact on the likelihood that they would visit a news site. Add in the 13% who said they would be less likely to visit and you get nearly two thirds of site visitors seemingly uninterested in having comments, photos and videos from their peers mixed in with the news content from the staff reporters and editors.

How often do you comment on articles or stories?

Only 15% said that they "often" or "always" comment on stories -- and this from an audience of people who are willing to take online surveys who likely would over-index for such behaviors. More people read the comments, and six in 10 find them to be offensive sometimes. To Anil's point, roughly the same number feel that publishers should do more to monitor the comments on the site. Adding fuel to his argument, a lack of civility in the comments is a turn off for readers. Nearly a quarter said they would stop reading the comments if they found them offensive and 9% said they'd visit the site less frequently. Only 6% said they would dive into the debate.

Given those figures is engagement with the citizenry and reporting by citizen journalists really the future of news?

Maybe we need to dig a little deeper. If you look at the future news consumers -- mMillennials and Gen-Xers -- you start to see a very different picture. Younger millennials (18- to 24-year olds) are three times as likely as those 55 and older to say that engagement tools will make them more likely to visit a site.

Almost 80% of the 55-plus crowd said they rarely or never comment on stories compared to only 24% of the 18- to 24-year-olds and 27% of the 25- to 34-year-olds.

So we're left with a conundrum for publishers. It's a similar one facing brands and marketers. How much of what we're seeing in millennials is related to their, um, millennial-ness, and how much is life-stage related. Will they be able to keep up their pace of over-sharing as they get older? Will they want to? As they marry and have kids, and get more and better jobs, will they have time to be touching all media at all times of day or will their responses start to look like those of older age groups?

If a news site lets you post comments, photos and videos about stories, how likely would you be to visit?

To an extent divining that answer is very important. But to an extent, it doesn't matter at all.

How often do you comment on articles or stories?

This generation, and the iGen behind them, aren't building the same news habits as previous generations who are keeping print afloat -- be it in a vinyl-esque way or not. If media want to attract the readers who will be reading them in some media or another in five, 10 and 15 years, they'd better be investing in the tools to engage them the way they want to be engaged now. And then they'd better be ready to re-invent as needed.

Oh, and as long as I'm soap-boxing, they need to figure out fast how to encourage these folks to pay for it, too…

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