Do all comments require a direct response?

No. But every comment should be heard. Just because a response does not come on the comment form, does not mean that a company is not listening to feedback from its customers. I am speaking about corporate blogs and discussion hubs here.

GM’s FastLane blog, and when they entered the scene, Dell’s One-to-One blog, and Southwest’s Nuts blog all received a lot of flak for not being responsive to comments. To this date, despite its clear policy, GM’s FastLane continues to hear this gripe about not being responsive to all comments. Like the early Web, where commerce and making money on content was taboo, in the blogosphere there seems to be a similar ethos, this time around having to reply to all comments and avoiding promotional content/language. Unfortunately these leading corporate bloggers have all been accused of not listening, when it in fact appears that they are doing their best to do so right now.

Our team at Kalivo surfaced this excellent blog post , which makes a case as to why the “long tail” does not apply to blog responses, that seems to capture the essence of why companies will be selective about which comments they reply to as well as which blog posts they will comment on. The conclusion of that blog post is consistent with feedback we are receiving from our market research initiative as well as conversations we are having with prospective customers of Kalivo.

Companies will need to determine whether a conversation in the blogosphere (or the broad consumer-generated content areas of the Web) is relevant, and if their response will have an appropriate impact before responding. The same goes for comments on their own blogs or customer hubs. With the volume of comments and customers that a company has, it will be extremely difficult to respond to every single comment or conversation.

Should a customer even bother to comment if that comment will receive no response, or to run a blog if a company does not pay direct attention? How will they know in advance if they’re relevant enough to be worthy of a response? I’ll answer the first question first – yes. The company is still listening (or had better be), even if they do not need to respond directly. Each and every comment needs to be taken into account and analyzed so that the company can best aggregate its set of issues, concerns and opportunities. From this aggregated feedback, it can effect useful responses …. much more useful than individual comment replies (e.g. a new customer loyalty program, a new boarding process, a product quality evaluation, etc.). With that in mind, it does not matter whether your comment or conversation will receive an individual response or a response as part of a broader initiative. The company is listening either way, so it’s moot whether it will receive an individual reply, as the response should be appropriate either way.

So, how will the company be held to account if every comment and conversation does not receive a reply? Leading edge companies in the area of customer engagement will be tracking the success of their responses. As a company implements successful responses, the volume of issues related to that topic will decline, and customer loyalty scores will increase (as will profits). The recourse the customer has if the comapny is not effectively responding to these requests is to continue to raise the issue in the comapny’s discussion hub (blog or other), the general blogosphere and other user-generated-content areas of the Web. If this concern continues to gain traction, the company will have no other choice than to respond. Or better yet, the customer can defect to a competitor and notify everyone else that is listening on the Web of the fact they did so. The company’s loyalty scores will decrease (as will their profits).

To summarize, all comments and conversations about a company are valuable. Not all need a direct or immediate response. The highly relevant and pressing ones will receive immediate reponses directly, support requests will be routed to the appropriate channel for a direct response (and key findings republished to the customer discussion hub for everyones’ benefit), the remaining will be parsed into issue and opportunity areas and the most relevant groups will be receive compelling, but not direct, responses.

— brian