Monday, January 28, 2008

Advertsing in a UGC World

Dime con quién andas y te diré quién eres
Spanish Proverb

“Tell me who your friends are and I will tell you who you are”

The social slide of publisher content has had a major impact on the audiences that are being drawn in to well established media properties. Big media brands are no longer attracting the same audiences they used to. While media fragmentation in general has long been discovered and analyzed, publishers need to start concerning themselves with their shifting audiences.

For many years reader loyalty to the publishers was a relationship held between the publication and its subscribers. With limited knowledge of how users interacted with the traditional versions of their publications, publishers were to some degree relegated to hypothesizing their audiences’ opinions and overall relationship with their product.

It’s true that once the publisher migrated to digital formats they were in a much better position to understand their audience. Early web analytics provided much needed data on user frequency, geographic and in some cases demographic information. Publishers could suddenly identify which stories got the most traffic and which ones had viral halos.

It took years for publishers to realize product innovation from the data they had access to. Eventually newspapers started to beef up their technology and automotive sections and classifieds took off according to the statistics that had become available. Most of the advancements were based purely on quantitative data.

Puzzling (often alarmingly low) traffic numbers have alarmed the publishers to the reality that the Internet has leveled their world. In the past, readerships were based on some of the following factors:
  • Circulation areas – geo-specific publications were limited to their territories
  • Affinity – Entertainment, Economic, News, Politics etc.
  • Visual Appeal & Brand – Cover shots, headlines & teasers
  • Tone – audience education level and socio-economic background
  • Cost per edition
Today, search, RSS feeds and social networking has changed access to content. Users are no longer interested in the source of the content but rather, how relevant the content is to quench their thirst for knowledge.

The result of this shift has caused a disruption in audiences that can be clearly seen from the user generated content that is quickly accumulating across publisher sites. When it comes to attracting fortune 500 advertisers, it’s no longer about the number of readers attracted to a particular publication. It’s about individual pieces of content and the quality of its audience.

This theory applies to all media properties online. Even a local directory with user generated reviews can lose credibility quickly when readers and potential advertisers discover poorly written user content filled with typos or clearly biased opinions (regardless of how trusted the sources might be). User generated content provides a unique insight into the viewers and readers of publications online.

Here are just a few of the many implications and preliminary solutions:
  • Advertisers
    • Will look for premium content vs. premium publisher brands.
    • Planning will have to become more fluid as opposed to static annual allocation
    • Media agencies will require savvy, proactive planning tactics and solutions to help align their clients' budgets with appropriate content.
    • Automated contextual advertising engines will be scrutinized for inappropriate alignment of sentiments, opinions and general content appeal.
  • Publishers
    • User generated content requires monitoring and mining for intelligence. While it’s easy to give this job to an entry-level employee, publishers need to put marketers in these roles. Individuals that are focused on preserving the overall spirit of the brand are better candidates than clerks simply scanning for obscenities and spam.
    • Focus on areas that are driving the most desirable user generated content vs. concentrating on high volume traffic. Scoring matrices will have to be developed.
    • Move from using UGC as a listening tool to a talking tool. It’s true that users feel slighted when their comments are not posted. One possible solution would be to create a communicative tool to justify moderations or to dig deeper at the source.
While user generated content will sometimes provide an unexpected and in some cases, unpalatable glimpse of readership, it’s important to understand that in this day and age, it’s not necessarily a reflection on the publication’s brand but rather that of a fragmented audience.


David Reich said...

Sonia, thanks for a good synopsis of what's happening in media and how user-generated content is having an impact -- from both the publisher and advertiser perspective. Challenging -- but interesting -- times ahead, that's for sure.

Sonia Carreno said...

Thanks for checking in David... In light of today's Target debacle, I hope that advertisers start take UGC more seriously and embrace it as an important part of their communications strategy.

David Reich said...

Someone in Target's p.r. department needs a basic lesson in p.r. It was a stupid comment to make and they desrve to be "outed." I had seen it discussed online for a few days, and then it hit The NY Times. Hopefully they, and other companies, have learned a lesson.

Sonia Carreno said...

Interestingly, I had a chat with a blogger skeptic today who pointed out that all the attention shifted from the original point (the creative in question), to the communication with bloggers. I wonder if they found a silver lining somewhere?

David Reich said...

Well, whatever the original communication may have been, their response to that blogger certainly has caused them some embarrassment.