comment-iconIn his oft-cited 2005 report on the history of the social web (“Web 2.0”), Tim O’Reilly, founder of O’Reilly Media, noted that one of the early competitive advantages Amazon had against Barnes & Noble was the user-generated review section underneath each product.

“Amazon has made a science of user engagement,” O’Reilly wrote. Visitors wanted to see what those who had bought the product thought of it, and commenters would often return to the site to see how their reviews were being received.

Amazon launched in 1995, well ahead of the social media era of the Internet they influenced. Today nearly all news sites and blogs allow readers to weigh in on articles they post. And you, as a small business owner, can use this to your advantage to drive awareness for your products and services and demonstrate your professional expertise.

Is this really worth your time?

I know, I know, you’re thinking, “That’s great but I’m really busy. Is this worth the time?” The answer is yes.

If you pick the right types of articles to comment on, comments can drive great exposure to a relevant and interested audience. Let’s take, for example, an article on the 10 essential drum albums at an influential music news site. An owner of a musical instrument shop would be well-suited to give his or her opinion. When others read the article, most of whom will be musically inclined, the musical instrument shop owner gets visibility on the same page.

Additionally, commenting on a news article can also open up more PR opportunities. Journalists and reporters often check back on their articles to scroll through reader comments. If a comment is insightful enough, the reporter may be interested in reaching out to you for an upcoming story on a similar topic.

Ready to jump in? Take a read through these five tips first:

  1. Be thoughtful and relevant: Directly address the topic at hand, and take the time to think of a point of view that truly adds to the conversation—don’t just promote your own business. We’ve all seen those comments where it’s clear that the commenter is simply copying and pasting a link back to their site. These comments are routinely ignored.
  2. Mention the reporter by name: The simple act of directly addressing the reporter can grab their attention if they are looking for experts for an upcoming piece.
  3. Be polite: One of the least-liked characters in nearly every comment thread is the “troll,” he who needs to draw attention to himself by being needlessly confrontational or rude. Remember that when commenting, you are portraying your company, and act accordingly.
  4. Link to a relevant blog of your own: Do you have a blog? Have you recently written about something that readers of the article may find interesting? Let them know about it. This will drive additional views to your website, and if you keep a join my mailing list form on your blog, you could get some new subscribers.
  5. Give other readers a way to contact you or your business: While an email address is not advised, feel free to leave your company’s Twitter handle or a link to your Facebook Page so that readers can find ways of learning more about you and your company.

Above everything else, have fun!

The social web is just that—social. By participating in article comment threads you’ll not only be conducting good PR and marketing for your small business, you’ll get to see what others think on topics that are important to you!

Is leaving comments part of your online marketing strategy? Tell us in the comments below.