Readers’ comments are an “early warning system” for companies and media, and need to be taken very seriously. This was one of the findings by global PR network, ECCO, in which reputation management specialists asked journalists (over 750 of them) in seven countries – including South Africa – what they thought of comments by readers. They also asked if comments influence what journalists write.
“We are very pleased to have been able to include South African journalists in this international study,” says Regine le Roux, managing director of Reputation Matters, a member of the ECCO PR international network. “Our results were very closely aligned to the responses received globally. The research shows that an early warning system analysing readers’ comments is a must for every company, as this potentially has a big impact on an organisation’s reputation. Clearly the opinions and facts voiced in this forum by readers are on the express lane to editors.”
The research confirmed that journalists pay attention to readers’ comments and that such commentators have the “potential” to become an influential minority.
The survey established that journalists are aware of this. The large sector of the respondents (74.1%) don’t believe they represent the majority of their readers. The same percentage agreed with the statement: “There is only a small group of regular commentators who are usually writing for the benefit of each other”.
Only 12.3% of the respondents agreed that the comments received are deemed offensive. Very few respondents (17.4%) indicated that comments get deleted because of inappropriate or offensive content and 18.8% have never experienced the need to delete comments. More than three quarters (77.8%) agreed that readers’ comments often provide useful improvements and corrections to an article in question.
The findings also show that public relations professionals take heed of comment streams as they impact directly on their clients and brands, and that managing responses, and acting on criticism, is a key part of strategic communications.
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