Social & Influencers

How brands are using the comments sections to drive results

“It takes a lot more time than people realize to source these opportunities and craft language,” Kalie Dobrow, senior supervisor of social strategy at Edelman, said.
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Francis Scialabba

6 min read

In the comments on a TikTok of a dog yelping into a pillow, you’ll find Google making calendar jokes. Below a TikTok about NYC ice-cream trucks, you’ll find fashion brand Kenneth Cole commenting that “Mister Softee must be earned. Never tracked.” And in the comments section of a TikTok of influencer Alix Earle dancing and lip-syncing in her pajamas, you’ll find meal-delivery company HelloFresh encouraging her to drop an album.

Brand social media accounts taking a more casual, conversational tone isn’t new—Wendy’s has been doing it for the better part of a decade. But increasingly, brands are showing up in the comments sections on TikTok and Instagram, whether the post is about them or not.

Kathryn Fernandez, global brand director for Dove at Unilever, told us in an email that 80% of the posts Dove commented on last month were on TikTok. “The creator community there is so strong and vocal around topics that align with our brand mission, so this is a really authentic place for us to engage,” she said.

Brand marketers said that the comments section, particularly on user-generated posts, not only allows brands to engage directly with customers, but also establishes relevancy and encourages positive brand sentiment.

Driving conversation

Behind the scenes, Dove works with a team of five community managers and strategists at Edelman, which is overseen by Kalie Dobrow, a senior supervisor of social strategy who helps manage the brand account. Their whole week, Dobrow told us, is centered around reading and replying to comments on Dove’s posts, as well as finding commenting opportunities on user-uploaded posts.

“It takes a lot more time than people realize to source these opportunities and craft language,” she said. “It’s important for us to be looking for fresh opportunities and fresh ways that people are talking on social so that we can figure out how to insert the brand into current and relevant conversations.”

In early May, Dove (along with other brands like Spanx and Milani Cosmetics) was celebrating in the comments section on a TikTok of Zendaya arriving at a pre-Met Gala dinner. Dove’s comment was met with a response from the original poster saying he loves the brand’s products—an interaction that Fernandez said was organic.

Keeping Dove in the conversation during relevant cultural moments has allowed the brand to develop relationships with creators through commenting, Dobrow said. Dove’s comment on a Bridgerton parody video from TikToker Nate Brown, for example, led to a follow-up video from him that generated more than half a million likes, as well as an additional unboxing video after Dove sent him a gift.

When deciding whether to post a comment, Dobrow said the team evaluates the age of the video, the “volume and velocity” of comments, and whether it’s worth being one of many brands in the conversation (if others have commented already) before it’s too oversaturated.

“We want to be a leading voice in the space, and that’s another reason why we’re so on top of the conversation on a daily basis,” Dobrow said. “So that we can be one of the first.”

When a comment is well-received, Dobrow said it can help the team develop future content ideas for Dove’s owned channels. “Community is a really great spot to learn how your audience might react to something,” she said.

“Lightweight” effort

Other brands are taking a similar tack. At audiobook and podcast company Audible, Rosina Shiliwala, global head of social media marketing, told us her team tries to create “social content to match what the community is talking about.” When comments on posts around the 1984 Audible adaptation release clamored for more content from cast member Andrew Garfield, she said that’s what the team at Audible delivered.

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Liz Cole, chief social officer at agency VML, which works with Audible on its social media accounts, said some advantages of hitting the comments section include a quick turnaround time and a far lower cost of writing 50 comments over, say, making 50 videos.

“It allows us to test things in a very quick and lightweight way that doesn't require a whole big production every single time,” she said. 

When commenting, Cole said Audible tends to “occasionally break the fourth wall” to help connect with audiences. “There’s just enough personality to be able to imagine that there is a real person there understanding these titles, engaging with the lore, and taking part in the community,” she said.

Audible engages with online communities like BookTok and Bookstagram who may already be familiar with the platform, but Cole said comments also allow Audible to engage with people who aren’t yet familiar with its offerings. When a TikTok about someone witnessing a man drinking cold-brew concentrate went viral, Audible’s comment on the video about someone reading at 50x speed racked up more than 64k likes.

“That was a hugely visible comment, and although not directly related to a book or [an Audible] property, it really underscored our allegiance with entertainment lovers and people who voraciously consume content,” Cole said.

The strategy comes down to affinity and growing community, Shiliwala said. “We want as many people following Audible or on our owned and operated social media channels, and we also want to increase brand love across all of these engagements that the team is spending time interacting on,” she said.

No comment

While it may be tempting to comment on every viral video, sometimes it’s best to step back. At Dove, Fernandez and Dobrow said the team has some parameters in place, including making sure the poster is not under 18 or a bot. When considering whether to comment, the team also checks the poster’s other content and the comments section to evaluate if it seems brand-safe.

Rachel Karten, a social media strategist who works with brands like Cava, told us that while comments have been “really important” for the fast-casual chain in establishing a funny brand voice, the best commenting strategy for non-owned content often boils down to quality over quantity.

“My general rule about it is it needs to be tangentially related to your brand in some way,” she said. “Sometimes it can feel a little bit off if it’s just completely random or talking about something within pop culture. That’s a little bit dicey, and where I would probably say, ‘No need to comment there.’”

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