What do you want from me? 7 alternatives to ‘Leave a comment’

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Think back to you last digital engagement project outside Facebook. What did you ask people for?

Chances are, you asked for a ‘comment’. Maybe a ‘reply’. ‘Feedback’, perhaps. A handful of you might have requested a ‘submission’.

That’s not necessarily wrong – all of those are valid forms of input and depending on the goals for the project and the audience you’re talking to, may be entirely appropriate. But it’s worth being aware that they’re the language of the office – a world of track changes, loops and signoff – which may or may not suit the audiences and contexts you’re working in.

For instance, say you want to hear from shoppers about how they’d like their rights to be protected. Or from staff on the front line about how a new procedure is or isn’t enabling them to work more efficiently. Or a rail commuter about how services should be reconfigured.

For a while now, I’ve been banging on about the value of taking a layered approach to digital engagement generally, and consultation specifically – in other words, asking different people to tell you different things. While some people will happily comment on proposals, they’re probably a minority in most cases (there are lots of things I don’t feel qualified to ‘comment’ on but still care about; or where I don’t have the time or ideas to write a paragraph or two in response). And putting it gently, people willing to ‘leave a comment’ are not always the people you’d ideally most like to hear from.

Instead of a ‘comment’, how about asking for:

  • experiences: what stories do you have to tell about how you’ve been treated?
  • advice: what advice would you give us on how we could improve things? How would you advise a colleague to do X?
  • examples: tell us about a time when X happened to you. What did you feel, and do?
  • heroes & villains: in your experience, which organisations are brilliant at X? And which ones are awful? Why?
  • help: what practical help could you offer to enable <positive outcome> to happen? (e.g. help at an event, pass on a message to your contacts, give us an interview/case study, keep a diary of your experiences of X…)
  • priorities: what’s the most important thing about X? Which of A, B, C matters most to you?
  • frustrations: what one thing would you change about how X works? What do you reckon could be fixed easily, and what’s harder to change?

I said ‘outside of Facebook’ in the first sentence of this post, because smart Facebook pages are already a step ahead in some ways – for a start, posts can be commented on or Liked, depending on how much a reader wants to get involved. But perhaps because posts are usually shorter and more conversational, it’s often easier and more natural to ask the kind of questions above rather than falling back on the tyranny of the comment box.

What do you reckon? Angels-on-pinheads stuff, or is there something in it?

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Dick Davies

More feedback is good. Feedback provides depth and width of experience. More feedback of any sort makes our understanding better.

Lindsey Tepe

I particularly like the idea of asking about experiences – it gives a little more structure to what respondents are suppose to be commenting about. Depending on the organization asking for feedback though, it could definitely be made more specific to get better feedback

Dave Hebert

Great post — these are chances to get feedback focused on questions you’re trying to answer and problems you’re trying to solve. We should set ourselves up to get more than a vague and disconnected solicitation might evoke.

Molly Moran

You can’t always do this (depends on context) but with our internal (employee) engagement, we often ask a confident and seasoned contributor to make a comment soon after we post the entry. This usually helps set the tone for other commenters, and makes it a little less scary than a “blank page.” We’ve found that people will “follow the leader” in commenting, whether that’s a race to the top or the bottom. So starting with a leader that we’re pretty sure will post something useful and constructive is a good way to ensure that other posts are likewise useful and constructive.

David Dejewski

Spot on, Steph. Sometimes the way we ask a question makes all the difference. The tone in the question you ask above is engaging. Well said!