Indigo Online: Keeping the conversation on track

Conversations are almost the holy grail of social media engagement.

There’s an unwritten rule online that suggests the more users have to do, the less likely they are to do it. For website developers this means making navigation smooth and simple, and on social media it’s the reason you’re much more likely to see likes and retweets than comments and replies.

If you manage to encourage followers to comment and reply to your posts it means your audience is engaged and interested enough to want to discuss your content, encouraging more people to strike up a conversation, and significantly expanding the reach of the content.

But conversation isn’t always a smooth ride to exposure heaven; just because you want to highlight or promote a subject or theme it doesn’t mean your followers will necessarily engage with it as you’d hoped. Some may raise genuine grievances while there’s always a chance that trolls will come out of the woodwork to cause trouble maliciously. While a few controversial comments can sometimes help a post go viral, often people will cross the line and cause a distraction or worse.

Next week Twitter will be joining Facebook in allowing users to self-moderate the comment sections of their own posts by testing out a feature that allows users to hide specific replies to tweets.

Once rolled out, the feature will allow users to keep conversations polite and on topic, while preventing their audience from being exposed to anything offensive that might be posted as comments. The net result is that, in theory at least, organisations will have an enhanced degree of control when it comes to tackling the trolls.

However self-regulation is not entirely without perils, particularly for businesses. Hiding posts is not an airtight solution, and it’s relatively easy for determined users to work out if a post has been hidden, which can attract controversy on its own.

Whether the reasons for hiding a reply are a genuine attempt to keep conversations on track or simply an attempt to deflect unwarranted criticism, there may be some people that will see it as censorship – hiding critical content so as not to harm your reputation.

Ultimately, it will be up to individual users to decide how the tool works in practice. Use it right, and you’ll be able to keep discussions healthy and interesting for your audience. Use it carelessly and you could end up shining the spotlight on an issue that would otherwise have gone more or less unnoticed if you hadn’t intervened.

Sometimes, just ignoring troublesome comments is the best solution, but for the times that it is not, Twitter users will soon have a new tool at their disposal.

Erith McKean
Social Media Executive