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How to Improve the Quality of Engagement on Video Sites

Updated on January 14, 2018
tamarawilhite profile image

Tamara Wilhite is a technical writer, an industrial engineer, a mother of two, and a published sci-fi and horror author.


One of the biggest problems with online engagement is how often people incite (gaslight) reactions for their own entertainment. These are called trolls. However, it isn’t the only problem in the comments section. Other problems with online engagement include the number of people who comment without ever viewing the content, angry personal battles that clog up the feed and spammy comments. Let's discuss how you can contain these problems and improve engagement with your video content.

A snippet from video when my husband appeared on television.
A snippet from video when my husband appeared on television. | Source

Dealing with Trolls

A longstanding internet rule is “don’t feed the trolls”. When someone is clearly saying something to incite outrage and anger, don’t respond. Your angry response back and a dozen rants in response are fuel for their fun. In short, your angry or bitter reaction is their Netflix drama, and it is free. Depending on the site and their following, it may also earn them kudos with their friends.

Another solution is moderating your comments. If you have a small channel or site, you might be able to do this yourself. The time commitments grow along with the size and engagement with your audience. John Bain recommends against volunteer moderators, since their views may not be in alignment with your own, you have less control over what they do or permit, and some moderators let that little bit of power go to their heads. This problem isn’t unique to YouTube; it is an ongoing issue on Reddit threads, too.

One possible solution is turning off comments on your website, though video sites that double as social media platforms don’t like this. YouTube ranks videos with engagement, with comments, higher than those without. Note that both comments and thumbs up or down count as engagement. YouTube doesn’t want you to shut down comments, because they value the engagement in and of itself over the quality. Do not create content optimized for search terms YouTube severely censors, because they won’t just turn off comments but voting, referrals and social media sharing, too.

Yet turning off comments has its attractions – namely simplicity and freeing up the content creator’s team to do actual work. If you turn off comments, you cannot get bad comments. You also can’t get the good feedback. So what is the solution?

A work-around is sending commenters to a forum you control or site like Reddit that has moderators, along with the ability to set up new threads easily if one subreddit turns into a nightmare. If you were already trying to cultivate customer engagement by setting up your own forum, this is a natural solution to controlling negative comments. You own the site, you set the rules. Subscriber only sites see far less negative commenting because few people are willing to pay for a site only to be kicked off for trolling. Ever fewer are willing to pay for an account again to get back on the site in order to offend others again. If you put a site behind a paywall, you also give people freedom to speak in ways that might get them flamed by social justice digital lynch mobs, if that’s the source of your trolling.

Dealing with Know-Nothing Commenters

John Bain suggested video sites put in requirement that someone watch a video for a certain amount of time before they can comment or vote to limit know-nothing commenters. If someone has to watch half the video before they can comment, you’ll have fewer drive-by commenters throwing in a baseless criticism based on a friend’s statement. Fewer people will engage in negative comments when they know nothing about the content, and it interferes with down voting campaigns because most internet warriors won’t want to wait three minutes to vote per video.

Furthermore, this is a way to limit the ability of people to say things that were not said in the video, because they had to watch much of the video before commenting. This system also deters the people who just drop a hateful remark to watch the reaction due to the delay for commenting, while everyone else’s freedom of speech is unaffected. If a timer starts up after someone’s comment, making them wait before responding to others, you could see fewer angry arguments and more people abandoning the discussion thread after they drop an incendiary bomb.

You can encourage the opposite by asking direct questions to the audience to start the commenting in an intelligent discussion. Reward those who engage constructively, whether with direct communications thanking them or pinning their comments at the top beneath your video. You could also, depending on the rules of the video site, share the good comments with attribution on social media. Consider responding to good questions or bad ones with follow up questions that add information and build up the conversation. This is more work than deleting trolls’ comments, but it shows the audience that you are listening/reading and care about what they have to say.

Spammy Comments

While link spam is severely punished by Google, it still gets the links out in front of an audience and results in a few clicks. Combine this with the low cost of automated tools to generate link spam in the comments sections of video sites and social media platforms, and you still see a lot of link spam.

Moderation is one way to control it. Moving commenting to a platform you own – where few spam generators will go – is another. Reporting it rarely makes a difference.

© 2017 Tamara Wilhite


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