Should PR Pros Be Engaging in Comment Sections Online?

02.12.2014 | Maddie Beck

In today’s digital world, PR pros are offered an array of avenues to help voice their client’s message and shape public opinion. Comment sections are among these channels, but pose an interesting dilemma.  Comment sections have become the playground for “trolls,” or negative commenters. These “trolls” pose a risk of defaming the efforts of PR pros. So the question remains: Should PR pros engage in comment sections?

In a recent article in PRWeek the two sides debated this argument. Both sides seemed to agree that comment sections are necessary in some circumstances, but varied in their opinion of the degree of involvement PR pros should expend on these comment sections.

Jeffrey Zack “disagrees” with engaging people in the comment sections. Zack sees a variety of options to carry out your client’s message. Comment sections are among these, but are riddled with people just looking to rant on a subject. While he believes these sections should be avoided, Zack says that if information is incorrect, comment sections are where you can set the record straight. PR pros should consider other approaches before rebutting in the comment section though, such as requesting a correction if the information is incorrect.

The argument in favor of commenting, written by Paul Rand, pointed out that PR pros should be allowed to clarify or correct wrong information in the comment section. Letting this incorrect information sit on the internet would be a mistake. Rand points out that comments should only be left if it makes strategic sense.

Comment sections are bound to persist, so communicators in PR should use this outlet to leverage their message when appropriate. When commenting on something in relation to a client, it may be a wise call to disclose that you assist with PR for the company.  By being up front about the situation, you alleviate the risk of a commenter’s backfire if you were to not disclose this information and then were discovered.

Forming responses to comments should be done so cautiously. It is vitally important to not get worked up over irrational, negative and sometimes even violent comments.  You cannot stoop to the “troll’s” level, for what you think to be a witty comment back could risk your image and or the image of your client.  Giving these “trolls” more fuel will backfire.

Some companies have tried to remedy this comments backlash by removing comment sections.  This may be a mistake, though, because comment sections show the public that you care about their opinion.  Negative comments are bound to happen, but handling these situations with poise and a clear head will ensure a smooth message and delivery.


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2 Comments

  1. Alex Masica says:

    Great points you bring up, Maddie. For the most part, I agree with you.

    I think the use of the comments section by a PR agency depends on the story, platform, and context. The ability to rectify any incorrect information should be built into the agreement between the agency and the platform/website. If it’s not and something’s wrong and a new post cannot be written to clear up the issue, the comments section is a great place to right the wrong.

    However, I think most people understand that the comments section is a troll’s haven and take what’s written with a grain of salt. A good friend of mine loves to read comments on news stories just for the outlandish comments. When some stories can garner hundreds or thousands of comments, an agency’s comment to correct something can quickly get lost.

  2. Meg McAllister says:

    I think the distinction here should be between interacting and using comment sections as a blatant PR tool. I have and would occasionally make a comment in an online discussion of a client, but I would never use the comment section as a source for gratuitous statements or press release hyperbole. I think it’s fine to politely and calmly use the comment section to correct blatant misinformation, the same way we would pick up the phone or send an email to a traditional media outlet requesting a correction. In fact, via social media has more immediate and valuable impact. But (in my opinion) it would never be worth it to attempt to talk/push someone off a rant ledge via comments. It can end up only adding fuel to the fire and before you know it your lone angry ranter has grown into a full-scale angry online mob…which is the ideal playground of trolls.

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