Marketers and communicators all share a similar goal: to become part of the conversation. Comments in reaction to blogs and news stories are a fantastic place to discover the topics that are driving conversation. To dig deeper, we recently looked at public comments from Disqus, the world’s largest discussion platform, to see what was getting online chatter at the end 2012. With 70,000 comments published on Disqus every hour, you can find insights and conversations that can’t be found elsewhere.
What we found is that communicators often use a language set that the audience does not share. In discussion, most common denominator language dominates. Let’s look at a couple of examples.
The Fiscal Cliff
At the end of 2012, one topic that dominated mainstream publications and political blogs was the Fiscal Cliff, when a series of tax cuts for the United States were expected to expire at the end of the year. Since this was a topic of contention between the Democrats and Republicans, you would have expected this to be a passionate point of conversation during the Elections. As it turns out, this wasn’t exactly the case. When did the Fiscal Cliff talk start? The day after the Election. And the discussion was couched in broader terms than just the acute “Fiscal Cliff” crisis. So while Washington operates and speaks in continual crisis mode, the public thinks of these challenges in broader, more systemic terms.
While the Fiscal Cliff wasn’t a hot topic until after the election, taxes and medicare saw consistent conversations before and after the election.
Timing is everything when it comes to starting conversations. While the Election focused on what happened in the past four years and what would happen in the next four years, the day after the Election honed in on what was immediately down the road — the Fiscal Cliff.
Skyfall vs Breaking Dawn vs Twilight
Moving from politics to pop culture, we were curious what would generate more conversation — a bunch of sparkly vampires driving Volvos (the movie Breaking Dawn, the fourth installment in the Twilight series) or the eponymous spy from England (Skyfall). We were initially surprised to see that Skyfall generated more chatter around its premiere on Nov. 9 than Breaking Dawn saw for its premiere on Nov. 18. However, when we took a closer look by adding the term Twilight into the mix, we found that Twilight created more chatter than Skyfall.
Comments are an excellent barometer of buzz around upcoming events and launches. Even more than that, comments can help companies understand what terms people use about an event. In this example, if you were the studio marketer using content marketing to promote the release of Breaking Dawn, your odds would improve by using Twilight in your headline.
Movie Vs. Libya vs. Benghazi
While searching for popular movies on Disqus, we found an interesting spike for the term “movie” in mid-September, but couldn’t attribute it to a popular movie. After some digging, we realized that this was related to the movie “Innocence of Muslims,” the controversial spoof movie on the religion. While the movie was originally uploaded to YouTube in July, it aired on an Egyptian network on Sept. 9, which immediately created protests that quickly spread to Libya. On Sept. 11, four Americans including the Ambassador were killed in Benghazi, Libya. While the terms Libya and movie spiked immediately, Benghazi built up momentum more slowly over time spiking right before the election as it became part of the political debate between the two parties.
Buzz around current events doesn’t immediately spike right after the event. As new facts and information are disseminated, the current of conversation can change. In this scenario, a new and more specific term “Benghazi” did dominate the conversation, as it slowly became shorthand for the overall issue. What carries conversation is language that accelerates understanding and lowers the barrier for participation.
Ultimately, comments are windows into not only what people are talking about but also when topics tip over into public conscious and what the driving forces are behind when conversations peak. In the same way that communicators deploy search engine optimization to target searchers, they need to also incorporate conversation optimization strategies to become part of the conversation.