Although they’ve had a few years to get used to it, advertisers are still wary of social media sites because of the uncertain nature of user comments. But as the ad recession has dragged on and standard display units are regarded tepidly, publishers and marketers are desperate to find ways to connect with audiences. Huffington Post has started offering placements to advertisers directly within articles’ comments sections and will include paid messages among the live Twitter feeds it features on its site.
So far, no advertisers have taken HuffPo up on the ad placements, says AdAge. The plan is part of set of aggressive moves by Greg Coleman (pictured, left), who was brought in last September as president and chief revenue officer, to match the site’s large traffic — traffic was just under 5 million monthly uniques in November, according to comScore (NSDQ: SCOR) — to advertisers. In the past few weeks, Coleman has started to use third-party research — a first for HuffPo — to better target users. Secondly, Coleman is putting four new sales execs in place over the next few weeks.
Coleman envisions advertisers diving into story comments and the site’s Twitter feeds by starting a dialogue with users. For example, on HuffPo’s Twitter sports Twitter feed, a marketer could post some relevant sports stats. Or on a health care topic page, a pharmaceutical company or insurer might want to weigh in. While that prospect alone would probably be enough to scare marketers, Coleman promises to guide them through it in a way that’s designed to reduce alienating readers and causing a backlash against the site and marketers. In addition, he promises the paid comments will be clearly identifiable.
But it’s sure to be a tricky proposition. While many sites, like the Forbes-backed True/Slant, are exploring the use of advertorials alongside posts, including advertisers in the comments is a much bigger step. Still, to reach Coleman’s goal of doubling HuffPo’s revenue over the next year — with a six-fold gain promised in the next three years — the site will have to drive ad revenue anyway it can.
Update:: In a conversation with paidContent, Coleman said that he’s been in talks with a number of advertisers for weeks, but he’s not ready to announce any names yet. “This kind of program could be used by any advertiser across the board,” he said. “If you think think of advertisers that want to sponsor the Super Bowl or the Academy Awards or even a discussion of Obama’s State of the Union speech, the opportunities are there. I could see fashion advertisers sponsoring a thread on the red carpet for the Oscars. A beer advertiser could sponsor a theme around a sports event. These are topics that people will be talking about and they’ll be engaged. And that’s where advertisers ultimately want to be.”
In addition to focusing on drawing revenue from its comments and Twitter feeds, HuffPo has also been steadily building up its local sites for the past year, culminating in its most recent launch for LA. No other local HuffPo’s are planned for the moment. The company wants to concentrate on building the current local network, which also includes Chicago, New York and Denver sites. “There’s nothing to discuss right now regarding the ad monetization plans for local,” Coleman said. “We’re working on it, but that’s more of a phase-2 project. I’m focusing on phase-1 right now, which includes growing the general sales operation and getting out and talking to the advertising community. I’m finding a lot of enthusiasm, and we’ve just got to go out there and tell our story. That’s been done before, but only to a small degree.”