Gini Dietrich

Sponsored Comments: Is the Web About to Get Uglier?

By: Gini Dietrich | February 3, 2015 | 

Sponsored CommentsBy Gini Dietrich

I remember working with a client several years ago on building their presence through what we called the “response campaign.”

The idea was to generate a little awareness and build relationships with journalists and bloggers by commenting on articles where the client had an expertise.

Though the idea has evolved to look more like DIY media relations, it still is pretty viable…if you know how to comment well.

Back then, we did things such as leave the comment and then all of our contact information at the end: Gini Dietrich, CEO, Arment Dietrich,

Of course, commenting systems such as Livefyre and Disqus and a Gravatar rendered that unnecessary as that information is automatically collected and people can find you fairly easy with a few clicks of a button.

We evolved as comments became the next big thing.

And then they weren’t.

The Loss of Comments

We all know the joke is not to read the comments, unless you want to spend the day completely disenchanted with the human race.

And, for news sites and other hugely popular blogs, I would agree.

It makes sense for those places to either shut off comments or hand their commenting keys to Facebook or Google+.

Managing the comments and moderating the level of civilness would likely take the time of several full-time people and the return-on-investment would probably not make sense.

But for those of us building a brand and using blogging for business development, shutting off comments—and not spending the time moderating—is akin to biting off your nose to spite your face.

Last spring, Copyblogger announced they were no longer going to allow comments on their blog.

Their reasoning?

The spam was too much to manage.

And then lots of other big-time bloggers followed suit. (I came out firmly on the side of “never, ever, ever gonna do it.”)

Now the pendulum is swinging back toward allowing comments, but things continue to evolve.

Sponsored Comments?

Disqus recently announced they are launching sponsored comments, in an effort to get publishers to open up their commenting section and make some money.

Sponsored comments allow advertisers to target specific comment threads on specific articles with an ad that looks like a comment, and is placed at the top of the comment section. When clicked, it reveals an ad placement not unlike what Twitter offers with its embedded ads and images. Publishers can choose whether to enable the feature or not, and share in the revenue.

Matthew Ingram, a senior writer for Gigaom, tweeted the co-founder of Disqus to get more information.

Matthew Ingram Tweets Disqus

What he discovered is, yes, they also are wondering what it will do for the overall experience for readers, but their argument is publishers can make some extra dough to pay people to moderate the comments.

You are missing the point! If you have to hire people to moderate comments, you’re doing it wrong!

If you run a blog and you want to build community, which inevitably leads to more referrals, more leads, and more customers, you must allow comments.

And not sponsored comments so you can make money to hire more people to manage the comments.

And Manage Them

Tools such as Livefyre and Akismet allow you to manage the spam.

Every once in a while, a random spammer will make it through and you have to ban those users and delete their comments (I probably do four or five a week), but it certainly doesn’t take a full-time person.

I get wanting to make money from your blog. I get wanting to get more comments.

I don’t think sponsored comments is the way to go.

Use some elbow grease. Comment on other blogs. Link to influencers in your content. And invite open conversation in the comments.

You’ll spend your time building community, not moderating comments.

Evolve your thinking. Spend time with comments, but do it in a way that builds your business.

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • Closing the comments definitely seems short-sighted to me. I love Akismet personally. And I’m more than a little bit appreciative of the SS comment section.  🙂

  • While I’m not a fan of the idea of sponsored comments, I would love to see how it would be implemented, especially for large companies.  I would love to see generic comments that try to make some tangental affiliation.  

    “Breakups are hard, Amy.  But luckily Clorox can help you clean up life’s messes!”

  • Agreed. I can’t wait to train my eyes to skip over these sponsored comments like I trained myself to not look at banner ads.  🙂

  • I’m with Heather. I’d like to see it in use. Side note: Are companies now going to be paying more to have someone on their team leaving those sponsored comments…? And if not, where’s the ROI? If they are just automated using an algorithm that picks up on key words or phrases, and then dumps a robotic comment in….I can’t see people/communities being very receptive to that. Also: It appears that you can monetize *anything* these days. My hair! Would someone like to monetize my hair…???

  • Disqus has essentially been doing sponsored comments for a while, now, with their Suggested Posts option that allows you to make money from related post links around the web (you can use your own content instead, but the option to make some money from clicks is there too).
    I’m not sure if it’ll be a bad thing, if implemented properly. It would just be another advertorial, and people will either click, or not click. And, as Disqus mentions, it’s at the discretion of the publisher, who should have a pretty good handle on whether their audience will be receptive to it or not.

  • belllindsay I’m surprised Pantene Extra Strength Grey Remover hasn’t signed you up yet…

  • So the rationale is business-focused (monetize!) and may amount to a more interrupted experience for the reader. I am currently frowning on this development, but we will see. I like and agree with what everyone is saying about proper implementation. In theory, one day a sponsored comment might tip me off to something I wish I had known about sooner. But I feel like sponsored messages are often sponsored because people don’t want to hear them and avoid them otherwise. Like ads for that beard-beanie thing that plagued me for months and months. I think I finally blocked ads for the Beard Beanie. But look! I just accidentally promoted Beard Beanies! UGH!

  • Danny Brown I know, RIGHT?? I just dyed it again *yesterday*!! LOL

  • DwayneAlicie It’s not just down to avoidance, though – often it’s the only way to get a message across.
    Let’s say a charity has tried newspapers, TV, radio, etc, to try and raise awareness of their cause, to little effect. Then they decide to sponsor content on the blog of a mom whose son suffers from the illness their charity is looking to help. That sponsorship raises the bar on awareness and support.
    We get so sucked up into the “making money is bad” mindset (or, in the charity’s case, putting ourselves out there more proactively) that we run the risk of turning the web into a boring, sanctioned-only-by-my-approval closed sandpit.

  • HeatherTweedy LOL. Good point Heather!

  • Oh, goodie. More places for obnoxious ads to get a foothold! It was only a matter of time. I mean, if we have ads in bathroom stalls, internet comments couldn’t possibly have been far behind. Can’t believe I didn’t think of it first …

  • Eleanor Pierce I’m not so quick to bash bathroom ads.  Charmin sponsored the San Diego County Fair bathrooms when I was a kid and those things were amazing! Marble countertops inside of fairgrounds is worth watching those weird bears stare at each other’s linty bottoms any day.  🙂

  • HeatherTweedy Eleanor Pierce I actually think a lot of Charmin’s marketing is pretty good. Their sit or squat app? Hilarious. (I’ve never actually used it, but I like the concept).

  • scribblinghappy

    I’m just imagining a world where those spammy “work from home and make 4k in your pjs!” posts are sponsored. It isn’t a pretty picture.

  • Danny Brown I like your example, Danny! That makes perfect sense and would add value for the reader. I think that’s the litmus test, but you bring up another good point — who is the tester and who decides what adds value? I can also imagine for-profit ventures using it nicely as well. Say, promoting artists or products that are related to the subjects of music review posts or product reviews. 
    I should also be pretty clear and say I like making money! I got into marketing because little makes me sadder than great causes or widgets that are fantastic but unknown. At the same time, I don’t like people who try to make money by absolving themselves of responsibility for the audience’s experience or trust. I think they contribute to the culture of “marketing is evil.” Like people who make you watch an ad for Swiffer before watching a pro wrestling clip or something. I love this tweet about that situation:

  • HeatherTweedy HA! I love it. Great (and funny!) point.

  • SpinSucks

    elissapr Right? Ugh! ^lp

  • Very interesting. I am not a Disqus fan. I feel it is very inferior to Livefyre. I also know that Fred Wilson is an investor in DIsqus and I had a discussion with him back in 2010 or so. At that time Facebook was going with the Ad Model. They had 400 mil users. I ran the numbers and I figured out that if Facebook just had 200 million users pay $3 a month they would be in the fortune 500 and they could forget brands and ads and reinvest in making the user experience the best ever. At that time I was willing to pay $3 a month! Fred said no. Only an Ad model will ever work for social media. And that explains the need to increase revenues. But I hate advertorial content and not a big fan of native. 

    That said on sites that use Disqus I will comment but I rarely ever go back to follow a discussion like I do for Livefyre. Though I am thinking I should see the response to my dis I posted on social media examiners social conference that ginidietrich is speaking at 8) They use Disqus. I just don’t know how much value there is doing this tactic. Vs a subscription model.

    There are a few models that blow up this ad model. Cell phones. My bill with data is almost $100 a month! My calls and texts are not interrupted by paid ads. My internet connection is $50 a month and that surely isn’t interrupted with paid ads.

    If you provide a solid product ad model is not the way to go.

    Here is my 2010 post. It still holds true! If Just half of Facebook users paid $3 a month for a kick ass comm platform. In 2010 with 200 million subscribers they would of had $7.2 b in revenue. It took them 3 years longer to pass that. Not sure what last years was it isnt posted yet. But 600 million users at $3 a month = $21 bil in revenue. They blew it because today no one would ever pay $3 a month for Facebook.

  • Hey ginidietrich I just outsourced your comment moderation of Edelman because they are PR experts like you and can handle this and make you extra money.
    I just blew this whole thing up. Who wants anyone qualified to steal your business moderating for you? This is like Yelp which allows competitors to advertise on your page.

  • This feels like the commenting version of political robocalls. Both attempt to replace hard work and actual (gasp) human interaction in an attempt to grow a community. While instead of doing that, both add frustration, mistrust, and overall ridiculousness into the very community they were intended to help build.

  • Oh comments. They’re important to all of us bloggers and I could easily devote hours to reading and leaving good comments on other folks sites. And while I may not have the traffic of some, I have never gotten more than a handful of spam in my entire 11 years of blogging. And sponsored comments? Wouldn’t that be as fleeting as sponsoring a contest? People are only there for a brief moment? I mean.. Jennifer Aniston doesn’t really use that shampoo, people…

  • KristenDaukas You take that back about Jennifer right now!!!! 😉

  • KristenDaukas WHAT?!?! But, but! Aveeno!

  • LauraPetrolino Robocalls. LOL!

  • Howie Goldfarb And yet…their “algorithm” allows for that.

  • scribblinghappy Wait. I can work from home and make 4K in my PJs?!?!

  • HeatherTweedy Eleanor Pierce Um…I’ve had a few dates from my bathroom stall advertising.

  • HeatherTweedy I feel like you have a job in writing sponsored comments!

  • biggreenpen LOL! I’ve spent time cultivating it. But it’s not a full-time job. Heck, it’s not even a PT job.

  • JRHalloran Or the paid search results.

  • ginidietrich DwayneAlicie Corina Manea  Finally, a real career path!

  • belllindsay Let’s shave your head and put the Spin Sucks logo on it.

  • Danny Brown OK. Let’s think of sites where this could work. Big media? Publishing companies? Will you try it?

  • DwayneAlicie Dang. I should have done the daily beard beanie text instead of the daily cat text.

  • ginidietrich If I used Disqus, and was someone who made money directly on their blog, sure (as long as I could curate what type of sponsored content appeared).
    Sites like The Bleacher Report would be perfect for this – NFL content for Super Bowl stories, FIFA 15 for Xbox on stories about the English Premier League, etc.
    Then think social causes – read a story about breast cancer, Komen sponsored content appears (OK, not Komen after all their controversy, but you get the picture). 
    Or think educational sites (colleges, for example) and you see sponsored content from stores and businesses near the college, who offer savings for students, etc.
    If  implemented properly, and with context, I can actually see this being really successful.

  • danielschiller

    One could well argue both sides of this issue. I think the question is where — really — does your blog fall in the owned, earned, or paid spectrum. Purely exposure? Kill the comments, and set it free. Lead-gen? Go for comments, apply lots of elbow grease. Here’s an interesting read from last month-

  • ginidietrich So mean! There was also an ad for Bonobos with a very distracting image of a tightly chino-ed derriere that haunted me for a very long time. It would have been okay if the campaign landing environment offered a blowup of the picture, but it didn’t. Yes, I tried. And of course that extended the haunting.

  • CPRFCanada

    ginidietrich totally agree with you.

  • ginidietrich KristenDaukas everyone knows Jennifer uses Pantene

  • ginidietrich scribblinghappy I  thought you passed that benchmark years ago, Gini…

  • danielschiller Why do you say if it’s purely exposure that you should kill the comments?

  • danielschiller From that piece:
    Second, speaking personally, I long ago decided that blog posts needed to be standalone pieces, so I’m not sure we can really blame that on new forms of social media. It was probably as early as 2005 or 2006 that I concluded two things. Not only do blog posts need to be standalone, but they can’t even ramble very much. You need to make one clear point and avoid lots of distractions and “on the other hands.” This is because blog readers are casual readers, and if you start making lots of little side points, that’s what they’re going to respond to. Your main point often simply falls by the wayside. So keep it short and focused. If you have a second point to make, just wait a bit and write it up separately not as a quick aside open to lots of interpretation, but with the attention it deserves.
    For me, this is the blogger’s mistake – content is content, whether it’s standalone, a series, or episodic. Fall into the tunnel vision mindset that it can only be one thing, and of course your blogging is going to suffer.

  • danielschiller

    ginidietrich danielschiller Not necessarily so. I’m loathe to commit to an all-or-nothing approach. There are always benefits to the walled garden approach. Personally, I’m more enamored of the approach you have here. You see, I can’t resist commenting. It’s just another chapter in the evolution of what we consider a blog, and how it’s run up against the need for scale/reach.

  • danielschiller

    Danny Brown danielschiller I see what you are saying. I really viewed that article in its context. The trend — really — is for publisher/media blogs to curtain comments and optimize for sharing. It’s more lucrative for them to have commenting on social. Certainly enabling site commenting provides a more intimate conversation, although at times the signal to noise ratio is high. In terms of creating a narrative, I concur with your points.