Kick-starting conversations with readers builds needed digital communities

By Jesse Moeinifar


Toronto, Ontario, Canada


For any reader revenue-driven media company, there’s nothing more important than winning over audience attention.

That’s why so many publishers are now turning to conversation tools to help capture audience interest and keep visitors on their digital properties for extended periods of time.

According to a survey of more than 1,000 Americans by the Center for Media Engagement, 78% of people claim to read comments on news content. And yet, not all of those people are participating in conversations.

Keeping people engaged and interested in evolving conversation is a compelling reason for them to return.
Keeping people engaged and interested in evolving conversation is a compelling reason for them to return.

The reality is that social tools are engagement engines, but they’re most powerful and lucrative when media companies take action to encourage people to use them.

I’ve broken down how you can build interest around your social spaces and convince digital visitors to participate in discussions.

Directing visitors to conversations

Often, all it takes to hook people on a social tool is a gentle push in the right direction.

You can send personalised e-mails and alerts that point users to trending discussions and outline the features of your on-site social spaces. Ninety percent of media companies already send out regular e-mail newsletters, so why not use a system your company already has in place to reinforce your engagement strategy?

It’s also important to leverage on-site widgets to highlight content that’s buzzing with conversation. That way, you can show audience members on and off your site exactly where the most exciting parts of your Web site or app are — and where your digital community is the most active.

By directing people to active and relevant conversations, companies subtly encourage visitors to develop meaningful relationships with other members around their brands.

Initiating conversation

While some people naturally want to comment on controversial topics and exciting events, others need to be persuaded to join these discussions. After all, not everyone will know what to post about without being given a prompt.

To get the discussion started and inspire visitors to participate, media organisations can pose questions at the end of their articles or even pin conversation prompts to the top of their commenting sections.

Businesses that invest some energy into initiating discussions can fast track their journey to growing an active, loyal community.

Will Media, for instance, saw its digital community grow rapidly by asking questions to audience members and interacting with commenters.

“Every day we ask our community what they care about and if there’s something they want to know more about the stories we bring to their attention,” said Francesco Zaffarano, Will Media’s editor-in-chief. “We always reply to comments and private messages, sometimes using those very messages as the starting point of a new piece of content.”

Rewarding participation

You can amplify the appeal of your company’s conversation tools — and entice visitors to build daily habits on your digital properties — by incentivising users to join the discussion.

Media organisations that offer rewards to community members for positive, active behaviour experience significant benefits.

Just look at Zetland, a Danish media company, which earned 1,500 brand ambassadors in a single month through a rewards programme. Zetland provided its ambassadors with small gifts to recognise their support. The Lenfest Institute outlines how these rewards acted as “ways of signaling to [Zetland’s] ambassadors how much they appreciated their help.”

Media organisations are able to reward their most active, loyal audience members with participation badges and can even invite top participants to get involved in the content production process. Rewards like these show audience members that your organisation values their involvement, persuading people to continue commenting on your site.

Building a “sticky” experience with conversations

Businesses that invest time and energy into kicking off conversations across their digital properties are essentially activating their communities. Not to mention that, as visitors talk with one another, they begin to form strong connections around the host brand.

These meaningful relationships and engaging conversations stick with visitors, giving them compelling reasons to return to a Web site or app on a daily basis. Plus, media organisations that facilitate engaging experiences and strong audience connections are well-positioned to earn audience trust and loyalty.

Anna Nirmala, vice president of the American Journalism Project, stresses how “having a relevant and trusted brand is linked to building relationships and engaging with the community.”

At the end of the day, an active community translates into a wide range of benefits, including more time spent on site, audience data, user feedback, and revenue.

About Jesse Moeinifar

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