Monthly Archives: January 2010

Two observations about online advertising

First thing: I check Facebook twice a day: probably I spend half an hour a day on the site. Every day I see at least one advert that makes me think – oh, I want/need/like the look of one of those.

But I’ve NEVER clicked one. Why? I don’t trust their integrity. They run alongside the ubiquitous take this pill to be thin and 1 tip of a flat belly adverts, and I have no confidence that the link I’m about to click will take me somewhere sound. I wouldn’t trust these advertisers with my money.

Second thing: Here’s an advertising policy from an American blog, describing how they choose (yes, choose) their advertisers and sponsors.

First, they need to have been recommended by a reader, client or industry professional. We don’t simply look for a referral but rather for a passionate reason as to why a particular vendor deserves to be in the book. Whatever the connection, it must be strong and based on a real knowledge of the vendor’s work.

Second, we dive head first into the vendor’s business. Their portfolio, their experience, their time in the industry. We look at press that they’ve received, we chat with their industry neighbors, we get to know who they are and why they are good at what they do.

We spend time…. getting to know them, figuring out if they are honest, have a high level of integrity and are truly devoted to their craft. For highly competitive industries, like photography, we also have vetting teams. An unbiased group of vendors who can fairly, objectively, and accurately evaluate other’s work.

If you have had a negative experience with any of the vendors listed, please let us know as soon as possible. Your name will remain anonymous and we will take your issues very seriously. If we find that indeed the vendor has violated what we believe to be good, honest work ethics, they will be removed from the site immediately and any advertising dollars will be refunded.

That’s a pretty firm commitment – but one that I’d say increases the chances of readers clicking those ads dramatically.

People talk a lot about curating in journalism, a new attitude to news gathering and distributing, being a place readers trusts to sift through the web and find them the solid gold good stuff.

So what if you applied that logic to advertising?

What if your food pages had a similar list of producers that your knowledgeable food writers had checked out? Or even restaurants or coffee shops? What if your leisure pages had a similar list of hotels? What if your online readers knew that they wouldn’t see fat-busting ads but instead the logos of reputable local trainers?

Just a thought….

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Why don’t we value our online communities?

Other people, not least Jeff Jarvis and Alan Rusbridger, have said what I’m about to say better than me.

 But as a person who “community manages” I’ve been thinking about this for a while.

Here’s a quote from a local councillor’s blog.
Why do local papers go to the trouble of producing a newspaper, then providing most of it for free in a way that for many people is also more convenient?
Perhaps to drive people to the website? but to what end? We are not going there and buying something (we are going there and NOT buying!) I am certainly not clicking on any money making links.

I cannot see any point in providing content for free on the site. Nor can other local newspapers, The Whitby Gazzette charges £5 for 3 months access to premium content. Thats not bad – I would pay that!

Some commentators say that it would alienate readers, but they are not paying readers!

That last sentence bothers me. It’s this growing tendency to punish online readers because we can’t figure out a way to make money from them.

People like me spend a lot of time trying to build and nourish online communities. And it’s pretty successful. All the online year-on-year figures I’ve seen suggest rises of between 40 and 70 per cent

And these aren’t like paper readers. They’re readers plus.

They talk to us. They correct our mistakes and they suggest questions for us to ask. They respond to our questions. They distribute our work for us, when they like and when they hate it. They tell their friends.

They’re our newsagents, our delivery drivers and our billboards. They create content for us, they help us answer complicated questions or sort through complicated data. They chat with us, they help us out when we don’t know what’s happening in a weather crisis or a police incident.

They make us part of their lives. They trust us to be fair, and if we haven’t been fair, they expect us to be honest about our mistakes. They don’t let us get away with being sloppy. They force us to be better at our jobs, to close the gap between them and us.

And no, they don’t pay. But since when did the cover price ever pay for newspapers’ journalism? In most places the cover price doesn’t even pay for the cost of printing, let alone the salaries of the people who write the news.

So to me, the concept that readers are to blame for the fact that online doesn’t make money is nonsense. And yet despite the months and years they’ve put in, and we’ve put in, creating an interesting and engaging online community, newspapers all over the country are choosing to punish them by installing paywalls for frequent visitors or holding content off the web.

But it’s not their fault our advertising strategies failed. It’s not their fault they don’t click the flash-heavy, irrelevant-to-them monstrosity for a dodgy sounding loan company or car dealer. It’s ours.

If you don’t sell advertising in the paper, you don’t blame the readers who borrowed their copy from a friend, or read it in the library, and you certainly don’t put the cover price up to compensate.

So why are we blaming our readers for our failure to recognise that print advertising strategies don’t work online?

If you can’t do it right…. then what?

One of our local councillors (@lisanova) has just posted this on her blog.

It’s about commenters on our site and what responsibility we have to moderate them.

On the one hand, she’s entirely correct. Comments on this story started badly and got worse.

On the other hand, none of the points she suggests are we in a position to implement. Our moderation policy (in that we don’t moderate) is dictated by group-wide legal advice. We can’t require people to register with their real names as we have absolutely no means of checking whether they’re telling us the truth.

Point four we do of course stick to, with the proviso that we don’t moderate, so we can only act when something is drawn to our attention.

Point one, the community manager, is in many ways what I do, although it’s not my job description and not a position that would be recognised by anyone else in our newsroom. I also don’t work 24 hours a day.

Point two – have reporters respond to comments – is a brilliant idea in theory but in practice is hard to implement (willingness, experience, confidence all being factors here, in management as well as reporters).

In an ideal world, you see, I’d post a response to her blog. But I’m not sure what I’d say. Is she right? Probably. Is there anything I can do about it? Not at all.