A professional comment on the Manchester Evening News' Facebook-only comments


Chris Jones is Creative Director, and Ballon Pilot, at Blueleaf– a multi award-winning digital agency. The company designs and builds websites, mobile sites and social experiences that engage with huge audiences, turn over millions, and build brands. Clients include Red Bull, Samsung, Laura Ashley, Next and Co-operative Energy
MEN’s recent announcement of a new website was met with a plethora of comment, good and bad, which at least shows people care; something positive in what is a difficult period for the local press.
Regarding the most contentious issue – the fact that you can now only comment on articles if you’re a Facebook user – let’s look at what the positives and negatives might be.
I can only assume the MEN feel that it will give them more control over comments, that it’s an easy way of implementing the facility and are perhaps hoping that it takes the pressure off them with moderation. What strikes me about this is that they are all positives for the MEN, not their users.

 

The web is at its best when it’s open, easy to use and serves the needs of its visitors. The negatives of restricting comments to Facebook members are obvious. You’re ruling out millions of people. Despite the astounding statistics we regularly hear about the number of Facebook users (currently thought to be just over half the UK population), that’s just under half the population you’re preventing from getting actively involved with the MEN.
And it’s not just the people who don’t actively use the web anyway. Even within the digital agency industry, I know plenty who don’t use Facebook simply because they don’t like it, don’t see the point or disagree with its privacy policies. Being forced to sign up to a Facebook account just to comment on an article is asking way too much. Fair enough to offer comment through Facebook, but other options should be available.
Another negative is that the MEN risk diluting things by adopting Facebook. Do they really want the MEN so closely associated with another brand over which they have no control? Do they want to confuse what could be a simple registration by doing it through a third party?
The local press is struggling to find its place in this brave new digital world and at a time when the public are questioning the need for their services, I can’t help but think that the worst thing the MEN could do is restrict opportunities to interact with the public.