Valuing Users by Allowing Comments

Casey Bisson said this during his Internet Librarian 2007 presentation: “sites that allow comments value their users.” When he said that, my mind started making connections… what a great way to illustrate why the ability to comment is such an amazing thing to include on a website! So riffing off that quote, here are some thoughts (and I encourage you to continue riffing and see what more you come up with – if it rocks, I’ll add it to my list).

When you allow comments by users/customers/patrons, you are valuing them:

  • You are validating their voices: By offering a way to let customers comment, the library becomes an enabler for conversation. You are saying the library cares about customers, and the library wants to hear from customers. And any voice or thought is valid – praise and criticism, complaints and suggestions.
  • You are saying you want to listen: no cold shoulders! How many companies actually want to hear you? Have you ever hunted for hours for a 1-800 number for eBay or gone through their complaint/get-your-money-back process? I have – and I came away with the feeling that eBay, cool business that it is, didn’t really want to listen, and was more interested in getting my money than in helping me have a successful selling/buying experience.
  • You are asking them to participate: opening up the possibility to comment is a form of invitation to participate. It allows actual interaction with real, live people. it also sets up a type of digital town hall meeting where someone’s expressed opinion can be heard, discussed, debated, and distilled by others within earshot (ie., other readers)
  • Users can add value to website content: Libraries hire smart people. Your customers are ALSO smart people, and libraries are just starting to use those amazing customer brains to add to the value of library content. Some libraries do this by allowing customers to create book reviews. Others allow customers to comment on blog posts or on wiki pages. A few libraries allow customers to add relevant content and notes to local history projects (ie., seeing an old photo and telling others who is in the photo, etc).
  • You are valuing their time: In my eBay example above, I wasted a lot of time trying to find that 1-800 number. By allowing comments on most pages of a website, you are saving the time of your users. They no longer have to hunt for a single online comment box or find the “contact us” page to find the phone number. Instead, they can leave their comment or question right there, right then – in a place that makes sense (the page where the question or comment came up)
  • You are adding value to their words: By not hiding a customer’s words, thoughts, questions, or comments, you are getting more bang for the buck – you are adding value to the content on that page. Value is added by giving the customer a digital megaphone – since the comment fits contextually on the same page as the comment, and might even visually use the same colors and font sizes, you have just given the customer’s comment the same weight as the website content. Words that before the web might have been said in a private phone conversation or in a private letter now have been given the added benefit of reaching a much larger audience (potentially a global audience).
  • You are adding value to their experience: You improve the customer’s experience by allowing comments in as many places as possible. Steve Krug’s book says “don’t make me think” many times. When the customer has easy-to-reach comment boxes on every page of a blog or a website, they don’t have to think about website functionality or about how to find a way to contact the organization – that part is done. Instead, it frees the customer up to think about what’s REALLY on his/her mind. And that creates a positive experience for the user.

Again, some thoughts. Do you have any to add?