Thursday, December 6, 2007

Restoring the ad equilibrium for bloggers

By Rob Crumpler

Story last modified Thu Dec 06 04:00:02 PST 2007

As the world of "new new media" unfolds, consumers are in the driver's seat, and the content they are creating--via blogs and social networks--is proving to be highly influential.

So how come advertising on blogs is so dirt cheap? Sure, not every blogger's content is designed or even appropriate for hosting ad listings. And certainly, not every blogger with killer content desires to run AdSense. All the same, as more bloggers continue opening their sites up to contextual ads in an effort to monetize traffic, the balance of power will shift.

My hope? That more individuals will be incented to develop and contribute quality content--and that bloggers will command the bigger price points that they deserve.

There has to be a balance between advertisers accessing the social media inventory that will perform and influential bloggers getting paid what they deserve for aggregating quality traffic, but right now that balance is broken. More often than not, independent publishers creating compelling content are getting the short end of the stick. Advertisers haven't found them yet, because they are looking for the wrong things.
Consumers are leaving the major Internet hubs in droves and spreading themselves thinly across the very fragmented online media landscape.

Recent trends speak for themselves. Consumers are leaving the major Internet hubs in droves and spreading themselves thinly across the very fragmented online media landscape. As people increasingly turn to blogs, social-networking sites and other sources of user-generated media, the "big four"--Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and Time Warner's AOL--have spent more than $10 billion this year to acquire companies and technologies to extend their network reach to new and differentiated areas online.

Blogs represent a fairly large chunk of that new or differentiated inventory, often referred to the overly hyped "long tail." Despite the phrase's overuse, it's accurate to say "the tail" encompasses clusters of linking activity centered around influential hotspots--bloggers who command an audience on everything from tax advice and knitting to triathlon training and advice on which high def TV to buy. The Internet, in a sense, has turned into a million "mini" Oprah Winfreys who have a strong pull with consumers. That is advertiser gold.

Despite being picked apart the last several years by marketers hungry to demystify their ad potential, blogs still have not attained real advertiser street cred. True, there have been some interesting industry developments on the blog monetization front--everything from pay per post to birth of blog ad networks--yet, the jury is still out.

Online measurement complicates matters even further: no one can agree on how best to approach a standard of measurement, so marketers' collective comfort levels in dedicating budget to blog advertising is low. Page views got a real beating in the press last quarter, and, though the time spent metric didn't fare much better, the overall take-away is that a popular site isn't necessarily an influential one. In this fragmented environment, the proxy for what a consumer is influenced by in terms of purchasing behavior is not necessarily tied to popularity.

That leaves advertisers still asking big questions--how do we access quality blog ad inventory? How do we measure whether a blog is a good ad buy? How does this approach scale? And of course the biggie--is this safe for my brand?

One key to knowing how to answer these questions is understanding the influence of particular blogs on a particular topic. Isolating influence online is not as hard as it seems. Advertisers just have to know where to look, and what to look for--see beyond who the obvious leaders are, and instead focus on what these people are actually saying, who they go to for information, and who is listening in.

Unlike the offline world, influence online leaves a lasting footprint via links, trackbacks and comments. These influential "conversations" become influential online content. And with more blogs looking to monetize, this influential content becomes quality ad inventory.
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We're at a very interesting tipping point right now, because these influential hidden gems are becoming less hidden every day. Advertisers are ready to spend money on the goods if blogs can deliver. They have the cash, the problem to date has been a lack of places to spend. The quality stuff sells out first, leaving most advertisers to battle it out over the dregs.

This leaves an untapped opportunity for blogs who have amassed expertise and have a dedicated following. To date, it has been those sites with the most eyeballs that win the revenue game. However, this philosophy isn't the way to crack the social media marketing code. What matters is the nature and the quality of relationship a consumer has with you and your content. That's the piece that will drive where ad dollars go.

If you are a blogger who aggregates an audience ripe for a relevant ad, and you're looking to get paid--sit tight. Advertisers are looking for you and influence-targeting is making you easier to find. If you can deliver advertisers what they want, which are clicks and conversions, your premiums will go up. You are not cheap--and I'm confident you won't have to feel like it much longer.

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