Facebook recently launched a new service that enables any site to plug in Facebook’s commenting functionality, and connect comments to a user’s profile.
I wonder if this could be a breakthrough for local media sites — especially newspapers — that have struggled with nasty comments. And as two additional bonuses, this new tool provides sophisticated technology for free, and could expose a whole new population to a site’s content.
First, on the comments struggle. It’s not just about the unpleasant comments that invariably show up; it’s about the time and energy it takes to deal with them. Every questionable comment becomes the trigger for second-guessing. The internal and external debates are nothing but time-sucks.
Because Facebook is mostly made up of actual profiles of people, their comments tend to be friendly. If you’re on Facebook at all, you’ve probably noticed: Hey, no flames!
Here’s a posting from the Facebook Developers blog that explains how it’s done.
With the Comments Box, Facebook users on your site can comment on your content, post those comments to their profiles, and share them with their friends on Facebook. The Comments Box allows non-Facebook users to make comments on your site as well. And via our APIs, you can access related comments made on Facebook as well to bring the conversation together.
Do read the rest of that blog, which includes a video. Setting this up is pretty simple.
Now, clearly there are tradeoffs.
Not everyone is on Facebook, or wants to be. Some people will never comment under their real names. You’re handing over your commenting to the Facebook system, with all that implies in terms of controlling what appears on your site. (I haven’t dug deeply enough into this to see how easily you could delete a comment or ban a commenter from appearing under your stories.)
On the plus side, you’d see what happens when people do use their real names. You’d be tapping a huge base of users who already are comfortable posting comments using the FB system. You don’t have to handle registration or admin or customer service. You don’t need to maintain the system.
But the biggest plus could be this: user bases on local media sites have flattened in recent years. Using FB comments would automatically turn each of your commenters into a viral marketing machine. Any comment made on your site by a FB user would show up on their FB page, exposing the comment — and your content — to all their FB friends.
Getting new users to try an existing site — after they’ve chosen repeatedly to pass it by — is a tremendous challenge. You can spend a whole lot of time and money trying to make it happen, and the odds are, even if you can being some new people in, most won’t stick. FB comments have the potential to create new loyal users. For free.
I think FB comments are worth a try. Consider adding them to one section of your site as a live test. Make sure to let people know it’s an experiment and you want feedback. Ripe areas could be high school sports, local entertainment, business. Be sure to assign one staff person to implement and monitor the experiment, and to communicate results.
If it doesn’t work, no harm. If it does, expand it.
Please let me know if you try FB comments, and what your experiences are. Post comments here or email me privately: joe [AT} joemichaud.com