Tag Archives: audience

Don’t assume the audience likes you or your fancy new ad unit

An article at Advertising Age looks at five new video ad formats. The piece includes a segment that tries to outline the value proposition of new video ad features. As you’ll see, the line of thought walks along for a bit, but then closes with an unrealistic leap:

There’s a pattern: As ad prices on display ads dip, more publishers turn to video because video ads typically command higher prices. If display ad prices dip more, perhaps publishers will look to offer even more expensive video ad formats to their advertisers. Viewers, the thinking goes, may find these interactive elements more enjoyable.

Let’s take it sentence by sentence:

“There’s a pattern: As ad prices on display ads dip, more publishers turn to video because video ads typically command higher prices.”

Fair enough. Traditional display advertising is a commoditized mess.

“If display ad prices dip more, perhaps publishers will look to offer even more expensive video ad formats to their advertisers.”

Presumably. Yes. Although it’s not quite that simple. Video requires investment in skills and tools and equipment. Creating the ads associated with those videos require investment as well. You can’t put your current ad expenditure up against this new stuff and expect it to match up exactly. But for the sake of argument, I can accept that publishers will embrace video ad formats that bring in higher fees.

“Viewers, the thinking goes, may find these interactive elements more enjoyable.”

Now I’m lost. Assuming viewers will just sort of enjoy advertising is a reach. No, check that. It’s a mistake.

An ad is enjoyable if it serves the viewer/reader/user in some way. The format is secondary to the content. Layering fancy interactive tools over videos doesn’t make anything “enjoyable.”

Here’s why this really bugs me: If you cannot legitimately extend your value proposition to the audience, you don’t have a value proposition. The audience is the most important part of the advertising equation. You have nothing without it.

We — and by “we” I mean anyone who creates content that’s meant to be consumed by other people — cannot make the audience an afterthought. We can’t diminish these folks. We can’t think they’re a blob or a mass that exists to be manipulated.

What we need to do is build the things that help people do something or feel something or learn something. An interactive element that brings in more revenue is good for the publisher. An interactive element that gives the viewer something is good for everyone involved.

De-emphasizing the website (a pile of thoughts)

A number of smart posts have recently focused on a thing called “sub-compact media” or “subcompact publishing” or “artisanal media.” (That last one is ridiculous. Artisanal?)

What we call it is less important than what it is: The much-needed, long-desired, I’m-so-happy-this-is-happening metamorphosis of digital content.

For far too long publishers have crammed digital material into poor representations of newspapers, magazines, and books. These forms work fine in the physical world, but their digital counterparts leave much to be desired.

The humans that read this stuff have adapted to these half-assed mechanisms. But if this was being handled correctly — if we were truly beginning at the beginning — publishers would see that reader adaptation is failure. Readers shouldn’t have to adapt. It’s the forms that need to change.

An essay like this tells me we’re getting closer to how it’s supposed to be. This is an exciting time.

Somewhat related to all this: For a while now I’ve toyed with the idea of publishing a website without placing undue emphasis on the website itself.

So much of the focus is put on the part that falls between the www. and the .com. Yet, the audience doesn’t really gather there. Or, if they do, they don’t only gather there like they once did.

People go where they want and consume what they want. The smart publishers are the ones that diversified their offerings and embraced this shift. These publishers go where people already gather.

But what if we took it a step further? What if we considered all platforms to be equal?

Instead of this:

How it is. Website at the center

What if we did this?

How it should be. Content at the center

This requires a shift in mindset.

If you’re going to build one beautiful chair, you put everything into that single piece of furniture. But if you’re building a beautiful set of chairs, you approach the project differently.

This same shift applies to content. Crafting a single article is different than crafting a set of content. Without this shift, what you get is one good thing (the article) that’s orbited by a bunch of lazy repurposed bits (headlines as tweets, the same excerpt cross-posted on every social media platform you use, crappy metadata, and on and on).

Here’s how this revised model could work:

→ Choose three to four platforms to focus on (RSS, Twitter, Facebook, mobile app, website, Google+, newsletter, LinkedIn, whatever works best for you). Be picky. Have a firm understanding of who uses those platforms and how you can serve them. This understanding will guide the publishing program. You’ll be customizing material for each audience on each platform.

→ A single piece of content is made up of components customized for each platform (this is why you should be picky with your chosen platforms — the more platforms you serve, the work you have to do).

Example: An interview would include the main Q&A posted on the website and formatted lovingly; two or three tweets that showcase notable quotes/points so Twitter followers can get the gist of the interview without diving into the full version (really — give them everything and they’ll come to you for more); a shorter version of the interview for the email newsletter, or perhaps a few portions that only appear in the newsletter; and a special RSS version of some sort (I’m not sure what this would entail, exactly — Do your RSS readers want shorter content or longer? Do they want multimedia or not? These are the questions that need to be answered).

The important thing is that a “piece” isn’t finished until all these components are composed and published (kinda like Voltron).

→ Analytics would need to expand to include activity across platforms (this requires a lot of hand work because cross-platform analytics tools are horrendous, but the work is necessary and you can’t skip this step).

To be clear: You still need a website, and that site should be your canonical source. But your content should not be limited to, nor defined by, the website.

I need to think about this more (clearly), but I wanted to jot down a few introductory thoughts before they evaporate.

Known issues:

  1. This is rough. Very, very rough. Much work needs to be done.
  2. This will not work for sites that depend on impression-driven advertising. But here’s the thing: that model was always going to be an interim step. The sooner you get past it the better you’ll be positioned for the inevitable transition to come. (I’ve been harping on this for a long time.)

Journalism pet peeves [Ongoing]

An ongoing list of journalism habits that get stuck in my craw.

Audience hatred — You are not better than your readers. You are not smarter than your readers. You can hate readers all you want in your off time, but while you’re on the clock you need to serve them with everything you’ve got. Find value. Create value. Seek viewpoints. Respond to comments. Give a shit. Without an audience, you’ve got nothing.

Killing (tech) — Technologies do not kill other technologies. One might supplant another. The market might choose another. But gadgets do not have homicidal urges (yet).

Lists of pet peeves — That’s right. I’m violating my own pet peeve. No one cares! (And yet, I continue …)

Non-linking — Please. Seriously. Please. If you include a URL in a story, and that story is posted on the Web, you must take the three extra seconds required to link it in.

Stand-in opinions — Squeezing a quote out of a source that just happens to dovetail with the exact point you sought to make does not make you objective. At best, you’re being opaque. At worst, lame. Just say it. Put it out there. I’d appreciate the honesty. Maybe all the time you’ve spent researching and talking with folks has given you — hold on, this is gonna hurt — an opinion of your own.

Stealing and/or non-acknowledgement — I realize journalists are supposed to live for the exclusive. That’s fine. Competition is a good thing. But when you get scooped, give credit where it’s due. Cite the original source and link to the story, even if it’s a hated competitor. They won this battle, maybe you’ll get the next one.

Got others? Please share them below.

Social media doesn’t make money directly, but it still has enormous value

Perhaps it’s a function of the intricate tracking the Web provides, but I’m still amazed at media’s inability to grasp the secondary (and often, tertiary) value of community efforts.

So let’s make this as clear as clear can be: Twitter, Facebook, forums and other social media functions rarely make money directly. Their value comes from the attention they gather and the opportunities that attention creates. If you have a mass of people who have willingly opted-in to your messaging, you damn well better put useful, for-pay products in front of them. Otherwise, all you’ve got is a social club.

This recent piece from Forbes does a nice job tearing down the direct-revenue mindset.

Yes, But How Do You Feel? Sentiment Joins the Web Analytics Toolset

The New York Times examines sentiment analysis:

An emerging field known as sentiment analysis is taking shape around one of the computer world’s unexplored frontiers: translating the vagaries of human emotion into hard data.

This is more than just an interesting programming exercise. For many businesses, online opinion has turned into a kind of virtual currency that can make or break a product in the marketplace.

Amy Martin briefly mentioned sentiment during her presentation at Twitter Boot Camp in June (the sentiment stuff is in slide No. 9). The concept caught my attention because it strays from typical number-centric measurements like page views, user-session times or velocity. For someone like me, who believes numbers and non-numerical “soft” analysis must exist in harmony, it injects a much-needed psychological component into the audience dynamic. This commingling of data and feelings is why NBC Local’s mood tool is so interesting.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves with the touchy feely business. Sentiment’s power as a data point is limited because it’s a loaded concept with infinite variations. If my “positive” could be your “neutral,” how can a measurement tool adequately capture sentiment on a broad, numerical level? It can’t. Not reliably, anyway. Wild swings and spikes will appear in graphs, but small percentage shifts between open-ended terms are too ambiguous to rely upon. That’s why sentiment needs to function as a general data point for online engagement. It’s a single tool on a big analytics workbench.

1-800-Flowers.com Facebook Store Good Step Forward for Online Retail

1-800-Flowers.com has opened the first retail store within Facebook, according to the Associated Press (don’t worry AP, I won’t quote you).

This is what the Facebook shopping experience looks like:

1-800-Flowers.com Facebook Store

1-800-Flowers.com Facebook Store

Seems like you’re shopping in a widget, right? You are. And that’s awesome.

Shopping within a widget or ad is nothing new. The 1-800-Flowers.com move is notable because a major retailer offering its products through a massive audience platform is evidence the big companies are starting to get it: They need to sell their goods where audiences already gather.

Creating a retail experience within a popular social networking service is an important acknowledgement that online audiences are empowered to go where they want, when they want. Companies need to work with audience behavior, not bend it to their will.

Hand-Picked Related Links

Content Creators vs. Content Aggregators: Can’t We All Get Along?

ReadWriteWeb looks at the increasing popularity of Breaking News Online, a news aggregator that’s harnessing the power of Twitter and other Web platforms (and it just happens to be run by a 19-year-old). Within the piece, ReadWriteWeb hits on the central issue of aggregators: can they use original content created by other outlets to turn popularity into profit?

All of this is fascinating, but isn’t BNO still just an aggregator? In traditional media outlets “aggregator” is a dirty word (unless they are the ones doing the aggregation). In fact, Breaking News Online does very little original reporting. The company is going to monetize its research flow, editorial judgment, distribution channels…and links to other peoples’ content. If BNO is successful, there is a real risk of original content publishers objecting to the fact that someone else has found a way to make money off of (links sending traffic to) their content.

This aggregator antagonism needs to end. Like it or not, content creators ultimately benefit from the increased exposure and traffic aggregators supply. Creators are generally lousy at Web distribution because they can’t shake the allure of lock in (you need to read my content on my site), but aggregators — unencumbered by oldthink — know the value of broad and diffuse distribution. Compare Breaking News Online’s Twitter presence with that of most mainstream outlets and you can see the stark difference: BNO understands you have to serve the audience through the platforms where it’s already congregating. Repurposing RSS feeds as tweets isn’t enough.

What kills me about all this content creator chest pounding is that these organizations are missing the central point: As long as aggregators point traffic back to source sites, both sides benefit in this relationship.