The business case for engagement


Here’s a piece you might want to push towards the C Suite from the MITSloan Management Review.

Its findings after five years of research: “[A]s users become increasingly engaged with a website, they become more willing to pay for its services… [but] the website must take an active approach to engage and interact with its users.”

What other pieces/studies do you use to persuade your boss to invest in community?


Here is an article I wrote for Harvard Business Review on the ROI of Customer Engagement and also has the model we use to represent the engagement ladder.


More here:

“Last year, the [New York] Times investigated the business case for online commenting. The core conclusion of that research was simple: high on-site engagement is critical for a subscription business.”

On the FT, commenters are seven times more engaged than non-commenters; comment readers are six times more engaged

De Correspondent sells its comments space (aka contributions space) as part of its subscriber offering

The Information uses its comments as a selling point for its subscribers

We’ve also heard from WaPo that a significantly larger proportion of subscribers read comments than non-subscribers.

What else?


The fundamental issue is this: there is a business model that works for publishers, but it requires a dramatic shift in mindset and the long hard slog of building a business. That means understanding what customers want, building a product that appeals to them, reaching them, moving them down a sales funnel, and retaining them. What it does not mean is the suffocating sense of entitlement and delusion that underlies not just this proposal but the majority of commentary from newspapers themselves that expects someone — anyone! — to give journalists money simply because they are important.


Who’d a thought it?


Millennials will pay for news if you give them engaging journalism


This study was commissioned around the tool Hearken, but its findings are relevant for engagement more generally:

Member conversion rate for newsletter subscribers: 1.35%
Member conversion rate for newsletter subscribers who then engaged on site: 7.17%


Great thread. Thanks for starting this @andrew_coral


Excellent piece @rhappe! Thanks for writing & sharing. We’re putting a lot of these learnings and insights to work at


That’s great to hear and apologies for the slow response… it got lost in the black hole that is my inbox!


I’ve been off helping a friend and studying other tech. Rust C, good language. Did you miss me? My cat didn’t.

So we all know the existence of news publishers rests on engagement with their customers on some level. The business case is a given. So this topic must dealing with specifics based on general observations.

So, respectfully, I find the view and understanding of the comments issue by most industry stakeholders (ie. Atlantic, TI, Coral, etc, etc) to be myopic. The reasons seem to vary (old-school thinking, intellectualism, distinguishing UI weakness from commenter problems, leveraging monetization foolishly, poorly thought out great new features and strategies, positions based on development schedules.) The list of these weaknesses is long.

On the flip side, there also exists some deep insight, great studies, a good (needs features, early version) of software, lots of talent, lots of enthusiasm, lots of smart people. But there seems to be a disconnect between deep insight on any one focused subject and how that should translate into a business plan. You actually come off as not being completely mercenary and corporatist, although I’ll reserve judgement on that one. In balance I think your efforts here might succeed using your own metrics and there will be some wider benefits that include the commenters. The cost of failure being continued growing irrelevance.

In the mean time, TI is losing commenters. You would expect this, it is part of the business plan. But they are losing the best commenters. The issues being simple things. No automatic scrolling, no search, your position on search features, short edit times, comments closed too quickly, confusing nesting[, replacing a crude comment system with simplistic comment system having bugs].

New versions of Talk are being quickly developed. The agile methodology is working smoothly. This is how you develop software and you won’t improve on it much. Users will tolerate a lack of features in a product if you communicate how and when you will respond to their complaints [and involve them in the process], which you don’t. [If I am an exception to that it is because I doggedly chased you down.] However, note how many of the above complaints are features TI already has control of. What I view as misguided policy is always going to be the main problem in MSM and lesser players[, your plan does not reflect the market place].

While they are (and TI is) addressing theses issues their comments section is changing. Reduced numbers and variety seems to be occurring lately. I don’t have access to their stats so I really can’t confirm (cite) this. This is a problem they can address though. They can start by directly contacting these people, in the comments section if they like or privately. Prove you don’t want to lose them. Easy. Why am I mediating this issue on TI’s site?

As a counter example: I am seeing a similar drop for completely different reasons on RT. This resulting [from the] deliberate biasing in US search result ranking. They are limited in strategies that address this effectively. Similar results but a much more difficult problem.

That’s a long rant so I will get to the point:

My (premature, it’s pressing) recommendation should be one sentence: It’s all about the view of the data, as in you want every and all commenters regardless of their nature because the view only shows the best commenters with clickable side (nested) threads where the (labelled) banter, dialogue, off-topic, toxic, irrelevant, (define a category) less prefered comments are alway available. (Incidentally) plugins and moderators manage this nested best view dynamically and users also vote.

You want money right? You want a big community? You want to show the best comments representative of your organization and objectives right? Well that does mean you want a big community, and not a bunch of intellectually snobbery. Dear goodness, The Atlantic wants us to write letters to the editor that they just might post because their current commenter community doesn’t suit their tastes. Lunacy…

Regards, David G. Horsman

Community engagement ok, but what's next?