John Battelle has hit the nail on the head, again: I’ve been grappling with it for a while, with my comments on behavioral targeting and contextual advertising, and how something’s missing in the rush towards these technologies/formats. I was trying to look at big publisher sites installing these technologies, trying to find the answer…instead, I should have just looked inwards…what I am trying to create…a community, not necessarily traditionally defined, but a loose network of professional people who read my site and look out for news and analysis on it.
I think the advertisers on my site add real value to the digital media community I am trying to foster, and that, more than anything else, drives my revenues. As Battelle says (John, I’m quoting your post extensively, so I apologize in advance): “What’s inherent in this interaction is the intention of all parties to be in relationship with each other. This creates and fosters a sense of community – the best publications always have what are called ‘endemic’ advertisers – those that “belong” to the publication’s community, that ‘fit’ with the publication’s voice and point of view.”
Again, “It’s this relationship which I find entirely missing in all these contextual, behavioral, paid search networks…As far as I know, none are driven by an understanding of the give-and-take that occurs between all three parties in a consensual relationship mediated by the publication.”
To further drive the point, Battelle points out that about helping advertisers help find such blog and hybrid news sites…this is something I’ve tried with my advertisers. Most of the time, I advice them on their creatives…I keep chiding them about being relevant to my readers, to keep them involved with relevant creatives like white papers, keep changing creative etc. Most of my advertisers are relatively smaller software startups, and hence it is easier to handhold them through the process. I wish I didn’t have to do so much hand holding, but I think that benefits all the parties involved. (Of course, till now, I haven’t yet had to deal with media planning agencies, and as any publisher who has dealt with the agencies will vouch, that just introduces a whole new level of dis-involvement to the game…as an aside, Google was interested in advertising on my site, and the head of its media planning agency e-mailed me about a month back, asking me to fill up this multi-page excel sheet, and most of the data point she asked would never apply to a site like mine…it just goes to show you how difficult it is for bigger companies to get involve with advertising on smaller sites and blogs. Besides, she kept addressing my site as “you guys”, which was a dead giveaway…)
To sum up, my site has to act as the facilitator, the central repository of ideas in digital media sector…advertisers have to fit into that repository.
To add to this post, Pamela Parker of ClickZ has a counterpoint, of sorts: “The whole size and scale issue lies behind this problem. Just as a practical matter, advertisers don’t have the bandwidth to participate in the micro-communities that build up around blogs, for example. Once you begin to aggregate, you start depending on technology to pick appropriate pages for participation — and sometimes, there’s just nothing like the human touch.”