YouTube creators who have been on the end of negative, or even downright vicious comments can be forgiven for thinking some YouTube commenters are on another planet. While that point of view may be a little extreme, the results of a recent study would suggest that people do act differently when it comes to YouTube as opposed to other websites. PLOS One published a study about how the comments published on TED's YouTube channel vary from those on the TED Talks website. The result is a fascinating case study in the commenting behavior of the YouTube community, and as you may have guessed, the YouTube community is often caught behaving badly!
Sometimes sexist, defamatory and occasionally down right rude about the presenters would be one way to characterize the YouTube comments, compared to more interest in commenting on the content of the talks on the TED website. Let's take a look at an overview of the report:
The study shows that 72% of the comments on the TED website videos were related to the actual content of the talk, with only 57% of comments on the YouTube version relevant to the content. 5.7% of the comments on YouTube were personal insults, compared to less than 1% on TED.com.
PLOS stated that they ran the study so that "the results can inform future efforts to popularize science amongst the public, as well as to provide insights for those looking to disseminate information via Internet videos". In other words – if you want to be a serious publisher on YouTube then you'd better be ready for the level and type of comments you can expect from that community. This is not new information for anyone who's seen YouTube comments, but to have it scientifically documented is useful material for planning if you intend to build a YouTube community around your content – you can't afford to ignore this study.
The study goes into some fascinating detail, giving a comparison of the broad types of comments between the TED website and the TED YouTube channel. The results suggest statistically significant differences in the utility of the two platforms and the way in which they facilitate or hinder certain types of communication.
Differences in Comments Based on Gender of Presenter
The study found that YouTube commenters were more likely to discuss the presenter if she was female. Furthermore, there were significant differences in the sentiment of the comments when the speaker was discussed: comments tended to be more emotional when discussing a female presenter (significantly more positive and negative). Conversely, comments about the speaker tended to be more neutral when the presenter was male, although this was not on the level of statistical significance.
The positive note is that the YouTube community will interact with each other more extensively than the commenters on your website, but be prepared for some poking at the presenter. I think this study's findings apply well beyond the popular science vertical and if you can build a YouTube community that gets actively engaged with your content, 'warts 'n all', then you should be grateful. Its a lot better than simply being ignored!