What Gets People Talking - A Case Study

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We're all pretty bizarre. Some of us are just better at hiding it, that's all. - Breakfast Club

Some 15 years ago digital made the world two-way and media and advertising companies have wrestled with the implications ever since. We are watching the fundamental restructuring of the editorial model from a top-down write / read to a social publishing model we characterize as inspire / connect. It has been exciting watching this model take shape on xoJane, an editorially-driven women's community that is seeing some 50 comments average per post (and often hundreds), 6 minute average session times and over 30% socially sourced traffic. User submitted contributions (the stellar It Happened to Me) compliment professional content as some of the site's most popular content.

We decided to share some of what we are learning by asking Daisy Barringer, sports editor for xoJane to tell us what makes readers – especially women – engage with her content. Here's what Daisy told us:

Imagine you're at a dinner party. You tell a story, one you're certain will have the entire table in hysterics. But when you finish, ending with your knockout punch line ... everyone is silent. Not even a small chuckle from your best friend. Ouch. Finally, someone breaks the silence by asking for more wine, someone else takes the spotlight, and you're left wondering what went wrong.

That silence at the dinner party? That's how a writer feels when she publishes something on the Internet and no one leaves a comment. Sure, the new faces (uniques) and old friends (page views) listening to the story (time spent on site) are great, but for a writer none of that really matters if she doesn't get a reaction (comments).

As the Sports Editor for xoJane, I'm basically the redheaded stepchild of the site. I mean, it's awesome that Jane Pratt includes sports, a topic rarely seen on women's lifestyle websites, but let's not pretend that most readers want to hear about football when they could be discussing eyeliner. And yes, they love to talk about eyeliner.

Since I don't write about a topic that's as important as eyeliner, it's my job to find a way to make sports significant to the readers. And the best way to do that? Make it about them. Just like when you're sitting around the dinner table telling a story and someone tries to one-up you? xoJane readers want to talk about themselves and their experiences. I say this lovingly as it takes a special kind of narcissist (ME!) to write for a site like xoJane.

But in order to write for the commenters, first I have to understand them. These are the three commenter personalities I see often on xoJane:

The Encourager. This commenter says something short and sweet, usually in praise of the writer or the story. "Loved this post!" or "You're my favorite writer on this site!" Not gonna lie: these are my favorite! (See above statement about being a huge narcissist.)

The Story Teller. These people use the comments to share their story as it relates (hopefully) to the post. It's actually shocking to me the length and honesty of some of the comments on xoJane. People open up about everything from their history of depression to their unhappiness at a job. These comments often take on a life of their own and inspire new posts.

The Hater. It's the Internet. Haters gonna hate. I try not to let it bother me, but ohmygod, who am I kidding? Mean comments TOTALLY make me sad. Someone once accused me of trolling for comments because of a topic I picked, but ugh, are you kidding? I HATE WHEN PEOPLE ARE MEAN TO ME.

But commenting takes time. And effort. So as a writer, how can you ensure your reader will bother? The tried and true method: Ask a question.

Ask them about their beauty habits, or what horrible things men have said to them on the Internet. Ask them when they last cried or what they want to name their baby. Just ask them about themselves and they're sure to start talking.

And when you've run out of questions, inspire them with brutal honesty. xoJane's Managing Editor, Emily McCombs wrote about her back fat inspiring comments like, "I love this, I love you, and I love your back fat." In fact, posts about weight and body acceptance seem to inspire the most comments. Turns out almost everyone's been bullied about their weight by a doctor and wearing a size 14 bikini comes highly recommended.

Women need to share. They want to connect. They love to empathize. It's why marketers love us and fear us. We have a voice and we're not afraid to use it. It's why I feel lucky to contribute to a site like xoJane and honored to be a part of such an active and vibrant community. Even if they always manage to "one up" me at the dinner party.