The New Facebook Comments System. Good? Or Evil?
Earlier this week, Facebook rolled out a really interesting commenting system. Basically, any website can embed a little bit of code (just one line) and have on-site commenting fully integrated with Facebook. And it looks and behaves just like the commenting system on Facebook itself, so there is no learning curve for most people. For certain kinds of businesses, this is HUGE.
Like many other embedded commenting systems (including Disqus, the system we use on this blog), when you comment using the new Facebook comment plugin, your comments can also show up in your Facebook news feed for all of your friends to see. The biggest difference is that with the Facebook comments plugin, if one of your friends then responds on Facebook to your comment, their response will also show up on your blog. This has potentially major viral implications.
Consider there are 600 million people on Facebook. So that’s probably just about all of your customers. Pretty close anyway.
On the flip side, the system currently requires all users to have either a Facebook or Yahoo account. It’s impossible to leave an anonymous comment, which can be good or bad, depending on your point of view. Anonymity tends to increase noise and “trolls”, but in some circumstances can make a commenter feel safe enough to leave a comment. Plus, the lack of anonymity and the two-way integration with Facebook means that you, as the website owner, can get a lot more detailed information about who is seeing your content on Facebook.
So who is this most useful for? And who should avoid it? And why?
For certain kinds of companies, this system is terrific.
Broad-based media companies - They consistently produce content that is easily shareable, invites engagement, and is widely of interest. If a magazine website has a popular article with the comment widget right on the page, those who initially engage will leave comments that will also appear on their Facebook pages, exposing the article to potentially thousands more. Some of those people will comment on Facebook in response, and those comments will appear back on the article, fostering a single, ongoing conversation. For media sites with thousands of pagest, the effects could be extraordinary.
Companies invested in content marketing – An increasing number of companies today are beginning to view themselves as publishers, creating content that educates, engages and entertains their customers. Content marketing, the basis of inbound marketing, is a fantastic way to prove expertise, enhance credibility, raise awareness, and generate leads. These kinds of companies have needs similar to media companies in that they’re trying to maximize the reach of their content, but instead of trying to increase ad and subscription revenue, they’re trying to develop more and deeper relationships with customers. If their customers are on Facebook (and who’s aren’t?), the Facebook comment system could be a great match.
Sites that invoke passion – For example, consider any site centered on politics, sports, or religion — areas where emotions and passions can run high. The lack of anonymity in the system helps such sites protect against a drop in respectful discourse. Commenting on the Facebook comment system is like putting up a semi-public billboard with your words, name, pictures, and tons of other personal information.
Causes – There are many causes that are not necessarily controversial but could benefit greatly by increased awareness. If a not-for-profit is trying to raise funds to support autism or breast cancer research, anonymity is not necessarily a big concern. Reach is a much bigger issue.
Companies where engagement is mostly happening on Facebook – Some companies find that few people comment directly on their websites, and that much of the engagement happens on Facebook. In that case, it makes perfect sense to use the Facebook Comment widget to increase engagement in both directions.
Sites that value anonymity - Certain kinds of blogs like Slashdot explicitly value anonymous commenting (Slashdot even has a type of commenter called “Anonymous Coward.”) Facebook commenting doesn’t allow anonymity, period.
Sites that value privacy - Even if you don’t care much about anonymity, Facebook doesn’t exactly have the best privacy record in history. If you are trying to build an online community on a sensitive or highly regulated topic (victims of abuse, an alcoholics support group, pharmaceuticals, etc.,) Facebook’s system is not for you. Remember, every Facebook comment added to your blog is additional data that Facebook can mine for its own potentially nefarious purposes.
Sites fostering deeper conversations – In order to create an online community of depth, commenters need incentive to spend the time to be thoughtful. Facebook commenting leads to a general casualness that a site may not otherwise get. Also, it can be difficult to build a very large community that maintains depth and deep insight. For example, we’re currently working on a community-based website for the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative where scientists can have in-depth discussions about the latest autism research. We have a very specific audience in mind and so we are not looking for volume. Rather, the quality of the conversation is of primary importance.
Good or Evil?
The initial reaction in the blogosphere is decidedly mixed. Additional issues have been brought up asking about the implications for search engine optimization, the inability to style Facebook comments the way you might want, the fact that some companies block all things Facebook, and whether or not comments can be migrated in or out of the system. None of the answers seems initially favorable.
However, remember that Facebook changes are always met with skepticism before they’re embraced (unthinkingly) by users after all. Perhaps the most important part of all of this is that Facebook has again found a new way to own even more of the world’s online conversation real estate.
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