The effectiveness of advertising depends, to some degree, on the content that surrounds it. In other words, content context has a direct impact on the way advertising is received. A new research study, “Why premium editorial content” from Teads, a native video advertising marketplace, analyzes why premium editorial content creates more impactful environments.
Teads partnered with Neuro-Insight, a neurological research firm, to better understand how premium content neurologically changes the way people recall advertising messaging. Four premium publishers, Conde Nast, Forbes, Time Inc. and The Atlantic participated in the research to expose video ads within their premium editorials on mobile. Consumers were also exposed to the same video ads within their personal Facebook feed in order to compare the two experiences.
The research revealed that premium editorial content is 16% more personally relevant and engaging than social news feeds. Interestingly, regardless of the personalization capabilities in a user’s Facebook feed, consumers still felt more personal relevance to the premium content. Users invest more of themselves in the premium editorial consumption experience.
What makes this finding so important? Premium editorial delivers a more powerful memory impact and a more memorable advertising experience. For the detailed-oriented left-side of the brain, premium editorial had a 19% greater impact on memory and for the emotional right-side of the brain, it had an 8% greater impact on memory. Memory encoding drives higher ad effectiveness and is an influencer of consumer purchase behavior.
Interestingly, both premium editorial content and Facebook social feeds create high impacts on long-term memory, however, premium content generates a greater and more even activation in both the left and the right sides of the brain. The triggering of both sides of the brain offers the best opportunity for broad video advertising creative approaches to influence a consumer’s long-term memory. Premium content is unique because of its impact to both the left- and right-side of the brain, meaning, it has an equal and considerable opportunity to influence consumers.
It’s not just that premium publishers offer advertisers a quality audience, their content also creates a higher impact on advertising. Teads’ research concludes that content with a high level of engagement is more likely to impact the memorability of online video advertising. Importantly, premium content raises the level of impact that social platforms cannot duplicate.
While the creation of quality content remains at the fore of premium publishers’ priorities, these days, they also need to double down improving the user experience, streamlining how audiences access and engage with content wherever they opt to consume it. This puts companies under pressure experiment with new formats and technologies in search of new ways to meet consumer demand for snackable and relatable content delivered how, when and where they want it.
According to, Lewis D’Vorkin the company’s Chief Product Officer, Forbes is pursuing a comprehensive strategy to accomplish both. Peggy Anne Salz—mobile analyst and Content Marketing Strategist at MobileGroove—catches up with D’Vorkin to discuss how the company is reinventing the mobile app user experience with the help of new technology that removes friction, increases engagement and opens up additional opportunities for monetization.
You have overseen a wave of change that includes the introduction of a new content-creation engine, the launch of an innovative digital publishing platform, and—most recently—a complete rethink of the mobile app experience. Why choose Progressive Web Apps over ordinary native mobile apps?
I don’t believe traditional apps will be successful in the news space. Moreover, I think most of them are likely to end up as revenue failures—for several reasons. One, you don’t get the scale required to be able to monetize mobile apps, unless, of course, they’re paid apps. Two, there’s a lot of friction tied to the traditional mobile app experience. People have to go to the app store. They have to find your app and they have to download it.
The Progressive Web App is a lot like a traditional native app experience, but without the hassle and the friction. The reader basically bookmarks it on their home screen, and they have it just like that (!) No going to the Apple App Store. No going to Google Play. No downloading it. No searching it. No installing it. And, once the user gives us their permission, we can send alerts, push notifications and re-engage in all the ways you can on native apps do. It’s just faster and simpler to do all this on Progressive Web Apps.
I don’t believe in native apps. In fact, I didn’t believe in news apps from the start. Now, there are countries like the U.K. where news apps have been successful. But, for the most part, when you look at the apps you have on your phone you’ll see you have utility apps—banking, maps, productivity apps. The appeal of the news apps was a dream.
Your web app is in beta and slated to launch by the end of Q1/early Q2. What is the user journey and experience as they explore the content you offer?
On top of the Progressive Web App comes a new experience based on cards. We began launching Forbes’ new mobile card-like experience in June, starting off with Forbes’ Self-Made Women list. Forbes has been testing two elements of our new mobile card-based experience— lists and articles—allowing readers to engage with bursts of information. And I say engagement because the consumption or usage of card-based lists is extraordinary. In the case of the Forbes 400 [list] average session duration was 45% longer on the new mobile list compared to the current mobile list and engagement, specifically pageviews per session, almost tripled.
The card-like experience is obviously engaging. What will the impact be on how you create the content to match?
There is much more engagement and much more opportunity to create a different kind of navigational construct. For the user, it’s more mobile-centric, allowing them to swipe and tap, and that also creates opportunities for new advertising revenue formats. We are starting to educate our newsroom around how to create new kinds of mobile content that is shorter and much more visual.
It’s why we’re also embarking on creating a new content management system. Today you go into a system like WordPress where the default position is write a headline and write a story. Well, what if the default position had several defaults, allowing you to choose a story format, a photo format, a graphic format, or pick some other format? We’re building a content management system to allow this freedom and choice so that the default of writing a story is no longer the instant thing to do. Of course, it also means reorienting the staff reporters and contributors and getting them to understand and accept that the 800-word story is not the be all and end all of everything. But, after 40 years in this business, that’s what I find the most exciting.
What about advertising? How you going to align this with your chosen format, Progressive Web Apps, and with your audience?
This format is as exciting as it is engaging because we will be able to develop and deploy new kinds of ad formats and ad strategies around time-based advertising versus just pushing impressions. The user experience will also be very beneficial to our BrandVoice platform, which is our native ad platform. Overall, it gives us new and unique ways to integrate native advertising. Imagine our card-like experience, and then imagine if we flipped some of the cards every 5 or 10 seconds, for example. It would also be a very smooth way to time-based advertising. The point is the card format layered on top of the Progressive Web App technology allows us to experiment with new formats, including advertising that is time-based, learn what works. We really don’t know what works yet. But we do know there are many different ways in which different kinds of ad formats will play in here.
How might that help in the delivery of contextually relevant advertising?
It’s simple and it fits with our model that makes us the only brand that enables native advertisers and brands to publish content in the same CMS as our contributors and journalists. In the new content management system that we’re building it will be much easier for us to make connections between what the user is reading and serve up related content, as well as a BrandVoice piece of content in a card perhaps, that complements the user experience, without interrupting it.
Today we get our content from many sources, and social networks top the list of referral sites for some audiences, such as Millennials. What are you going to do to ensure your Progressive Web Apps and card-like content don’t lose steam?
Within the content management system, it’s not just about presenting our contributors and journalists with different options on how to create content, such as a graphic or a photo. It’s about understanding that a particular format may be far more suitable not just to publish on Forbes, but to publish on Instagram or somewhere else. In other words, it’s about creating content once for publication across Forbes.com and whatever social network is appropriate. We’re finding ways to be part of those ecosystems. I believe that what wins at the end of the day are new models, new content creation models, new ad models and new distribution models.
Peggy Anne Salz is the Content Marketing Strategist and Chief Analyst of Mobile Groove, a top 50 influential technology site providing custom research to the global mobile industry and consulting to tech startups. Full disclosure: She is a frequent contributor to Forbes on the topic of mobile marketing, engagement and apps. Her work also regularly appears in a range of publications from Venture Beat to Harvard Business Review. Peggy is a top 30 Mobile Marketing influencer and a nine-time author based in Europe. Follow her @peggyanne.
In this year’s Reuters Institute Digital News Project report, “Journalism, Media and Technology Predictions 2016,” Author Nic Newman said that this will be the year of audience engagement—with more than half of all respondents in his study acknowledging that improving audience engagement would be the highest of their priorities in 2016.
And true to this prediction, online media has seen a rise in the title of Audience Engagement Editor. Sites want to know how long readers have engaged with their articles. And above all else, the question remains how to harness this engagement and turn it into results: action, loyalty, monetization.
But what do we mean when we talk about audience engagement? And possibly more important: Do we all mean the same thing?
Digital publishers’ current approach to measuring engagement Parse.ly surveyed thousands of digital media professionals, asking them to share their definitions of “audience engagement.”
From the 130 plus responses, we learned a majority of digital publishers are measuring audience engagement. Nearly 77% of survey respondents considered the ways their organizations measure engagement to be average or better.
Perhaps one reason that digital publishers are so confident in how they are measuring audience engagement is that they have more access than ever to analytics that can help them to better understand their audience. While some publications have a clear sense of how to use this data to help meet their goals, other media outlets are struggling because they don’t have a universal sense of what goals they are trying to reach.
That’s one reason that there’s no common definition for “audience engagement” among publishers—or even within organizations. Over half of the survey respondents said that their organizations don’t have an agreed upon definition.
These two findings seem to be at odds. How can publishers be active and confident in their measurement methods but unsure of what exactly they’re measuring?
Do we need a common definition for audience engagement? One explanation could be that many publishers have access to analytics tools but aren’t necessarily setting a common goal for which metrics to measure.
The survey results showed that many publishers considered shares and engaged time to be the best representations of engagement. Rather than settling on one “golden” metric for defining audience engagement though, many publishers combined multiple metrics, such as “page views per visitor” or “shares plus comments.”
Furthermore, while only 28% of digital publishers considered “offline impact” a representation of engagement, many respondents (when asked to share anecdotes that represented particularly good examples of audience engagement) talked about audience engagement as a personal relationship or interaction with readers.
Take a look:
“Personal replies that make me smile or think.”
“A two-way relationship with the people in our community.”
“To interact in any way with the content or the author — write a comment, answer a poll, follow the author, share, etc.”
“When our audience responds with a question, especially.”
Getting on the Same Page About Audience Engagement A recent audience engagement webinar with panelists from Hearken, MediaShift, and Parse.ly touched on the importance of settling on a common definition within an organization, whether that definition involves one metric or many.
Parse.ly CEO Sachin Kamdar explained, “It’s probably important that you talk with everyone at your organization around how you want to define engagement. But tied into that…is you’ve got to be able to measure it, too.”
He continued, “So, picking the right metrics—and again, that might be a multitude of metrics that are important to you—can help you align your goals of engagement with how you can measure and that can lead towards success.”
Clare Vice President of Marketing at Parse.ly, which partners with digital publishers to provide clear audience insights through an intuitive analytics platform. She writes and speaks about all the ways companies can use digital analytics to improve their operations and reach their audience goals. Prior to joining Parse.ly, Clare spent five years on the publishing side as the Director of Marketing and Online Operations at Greentech Media. Previous to that, she did digital marketing and business development at ThePoint.com, the precursor to Groupon, and Venus Zine. Originally from Ohio, she graduated from the University of Virginia with a degree in Environmental Sciences.
“What if we stopped focusing so much on traffic, and started focusing on experience?” I’m asked this question frequently. It’s a complex, divisive challenge for newsrooms, one I eagerly indulge.
I work directly with media companies of all shapes and sizes. I offer consultation on everything from using data to support editorial intuition, experimenting with audience development projects and honing tagging strategies. The best newsroom strategies start with someone saying to me: “It would be so interesting if we could…” and “What would happen if we tried…”. Data can provide the foundation for sussing out those new ideas while mitigating risk.
When I start to talk to clients about using engaged time, or any metric for that matter, the key is to set goals. What does success look like? But this prompts new questions: How do we stack up? Is this kind of engagement normal? Is it good? For us? For anyone?
There is no reliable comScore or Alexa rating for attention, thanks in no small part to various ways of measuring “time on site.” So if a publisher is eager to change the way they think about their audience, and their success, where could they start? I tried to find out.
How does Parse.ly measure engaged time?
First, let’s clarify exactly what we’re talking about, because Parse.ly measures engaged time differently than other analytics platforms. On your site, a visitor is considered “engaged” if they 1.) Have a browser tab open, and 2.) take an action (scroll, click, mouse-over) at least once every ten seconds.
Analysis 1: How do we find an average engaged time for all content?
I first set up an exploratory analysis across our network, to see if I could identify any clear patterns. Over time, I started to see the same sites consistently outperform other outlets in average engaged time per visitor. What initially struck me though was actually the lack of pattern: each site seemed so diverse in voice and size.
To identify what made them competitive, I needed to understand the bigger picture of engaged time across Parse.ly’s network. To do this, I sampled user experiences at random for content published within one month from 300 anonymized domains to first understand, “how many seconds can you expect a typical reader to remain engaged with a story?”
Here we see how attentiveness is distributed across Parse.ly’s network. This graph shows what we can expect for “normal” attention time from any given reader, to any given article for each of the sampled domains. You can see a majority of our publishers attract an audience willing to invest roughly 40-60 seconds of their time on an article, though plenty of publishers can expect a more invested audience.
This provided a starting point for benchmarking engaged time, especially for my clients. Any Parse.ly user can easily find in their dashboard where their site, section or article falls on this curve. Teams can check to see if their stories and authors fall above or below the norm for their audience.
Understanding the context here is crucial though; not every article needs to outperform the average of the Entire Internet. There are better questions to ask. Where does your article fit in relation to what is expected for its section? How does that section perform in relation to the site as a whole?
Of course, there’s one more comparison that everyone wants to make: how does my site stack to the competition?
Analysis 2: How do we find the averaged engaged time for similar content?
This question helps you contextualize whether your work gets more attention than pieces that are similar to it and potentially predict how other topics, outside of your core competencies, might perform. For example, if you don’t normally write technology feature, it could help to understand the engaged time benchmark for tech publishing leaders. Here, we break down the analysis above further to understand how long a reader could be engaged on similar content.
Broken out by publisher type, it’s easy to see how nuanced attentiveness is across different types of content. I found it noteworthy that local news sites command more engagement than major news outlets, even with undoubtedly fewer resources.
I mentioned earlier when I began investigating engagement, I was struck by how, month after month, the same set of publishers kept leading the pack, albeit with no discernible pattern among them. Broadening the analysis to the network, broken down by these categories, most of these names resurfaced at the top of their respective categories. A pattern finally became clear: the most engaging sites within each type of publisher were highly recognizable brand names.
Also, now that we’ve broken out engaged time averages across Parse.ly’s network, it’s easy to see how using homogenized data from a heterogenous group of sites to set benchmarks could do more harm than good. Certainly, the same concept applies within the newsroom; measuring the average engaged time on an article against what is expected for that vertical or topic will provide better context.
What do we know about engaged readers?
We’ll continue to explore other patterns within the most engaging experiences. In the meantime, here’s a reminder of what we do know:
Facebook vs Twitter. We already know from a recent study with Pew Research that, in an increasingly mobile ecosystem, referral sources on mobile were an important factor in determining engaged time. Their research found that Tumblr and Twitter generate highly engaged audiences, while Facebook audiences were less engaged.
Readers can be highly engaged on mobile, though infrequently. In another section of the same report, we distinguished between long-form articles with 1000+ words and short-form articles. Long-form consistently outperformed short-form, though visitors to either do not frequently go on to other articles.
In the analysis conducted for this post, we found no correlation between page views and engaged time. A large audience is not necessarily an attentive one.
How to navigate this brave new world
We’ve found ourselves in somewhat uncharted territory in an effort to shift away from primary traffic metrics like page views and unique visitors. How do we define what makes something “good” anymore? Why should we care about engaged time at all?
As I found in this analysis, the engaged time metric provides us an interesting exploration in how we can set a more relevant benchmark. In clinging to familiar traffic indicators like page views, perhaps we have systematically neglected not only the experience of our readers, but the nuance of our reporting. But coupling traffic metrics with engaged time helps us understand which articles create the most impact.
If your post gets hundreds of thousands of viral views, but no one sticks around to read it, did you really manage to convey anything meaningful? Increasing your newsroom’s dedication to understanding the relevancy of engagement in all its forms will lead to a deeper, better audience strategy.
Kelsey Arendt is a Customer Success Manager at Parse.ly. Previously, she worked with The Guardian’s commercial team where she managed a variety of projects for marketing and sales, including developing analytic support for sponsored campaigns and partner hubs. Kelsey is a Midwestern transplant to New York City, and is a passionate hiker, musician, and homebrewer.
Given its moniker—that P does stand for public—it seems particularly significant that NPR has opted to cut comments from its site and instead focus its resources on social media as its means of engagement. As the company’s announcement points out, “NPR introduced public comments to its website eight years ago, when many of today’s most popular venues for digital interaction didn’t yet exist or were in their infancy.”
Another factor in the decision is the fact that only about 1% of its audience is currently commenting on its site. Bloomberg’s former digital editor Joshua Topolsky also cited low reader participation as a reason for Bloomberg’s recent decision to drop comments. Topolsky’s team felt that they’re more likely to reach a more representative cross-section of their audience via external social platforms.
NPR plans to focus on maintaining its presence across Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram and Tumblr—as well as support journalists’ efforts to interact on their own accounts. Yet, undoubtedly, maintaining that presence across numerous (and ever-proliferating) social media sites takes a toll on any organization that must prioritize its resources.
Recode is another site that opted to focus on conversations in social media and to eliminate comments. According to founder Kara Swisher, social media provides a more optimal setting to “engage a smart audience that’s not trolling.” This sentiment was in large part shared by The Week’s Editor-in-Chief Ben Frumin who, upon announcing that the site would no longer include comments, specifically called out the problematic nature of pseudonymous commentators. Though it should be acknowledged that social media is not without its share of trolling and other bad behavior, something platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are struggling to combat.
Other sites that have opted out of comments sections cite research that connects unruly and unpleasant comments with a lowered estimation of the content and brand with which it is associated.
Organizations such as CBS, The New York Times and The Guardian remain committed to their comments sections (for now). To confront the issue head on, CBS decided to require all of its online commenters to use real names and The Guardian went so far as to undertake a study of its own comments section as part of a larger series on online harassment. The picture painted by the study was not pretty, with particularly bold lines underscoring the high level of vitriol aimed at female writers as well as those from ethnic and religious minority groups, and LGBT people.
While The Guardian does not plan to close down comments across the site, it has opted to reduce the number of places where comments are open, particularly around contentious subjects. The New York Times also limits the number of articles on which comments are permitted, though it plans to increase the number.
NPR’s Managing Editor for Digital News, Scott Montgomery, emphasizes the organization’s continued commitment to experimenting with opportunities for community engagement, such as the Hearken audience engagement platform, which is already used by dozens of NPR member stations. Yet as Elizabeth Jensen, NPR’s Ombudsman/Public Editor pointed out in her post examining the decision to eliminate comments, sites that are managing to keep comments civil are those that make a significant investment in moderation resources; resources that many media organizations need to apply to creating quality content and to continuously evolving distribution—and engagement—strategies.
News organization everywhere are competing for attention. In a continuously changing media environment, journalism is challenged more than ever before to connect to its audience. In its report, the Digital News Project 2016, Reuters Institute examined how news organizations, across Europe and the United States, analyze their audience’s behavior in order to inform and develop their editorial voices.
The Guardian and The Financial Times, both subscription-based business models, developed proprietary metric tools. The Guardian’s real-time analytics tool called Orphan offers minute-by-minute data on individual articles like pageviews, social shares, and attention-time for each article published in the last two weeks. Orphan can also show whether the article has been pushed via the Guardian’s social media channels and/or if it was promoted on the homepage. The data can also be broken down by different segments, such as time, section, device, browser, country, referrer, loyalty, and attention time. The editors can use this data to inform decisions on headlines, pictures, placement, and how to promote across social media channels.
Similarly, the Financial Times’s is developing a dashboard for its analytics called, Lantern. The Financial Times see editorial analytics as a step to its newsroom and its reporters being audience-first journalists, integrating engagement objectives into the editorial process. The tool will focus mostly on engagement-related metrics such as time spent, recirculation, volume of articles read per visit, and number of comments.
The report identified a few third party analytic tools available to news organization:
Chartbeat known for real-time analytics that focus on audience attention. Its dashboard advices on homepage structure and helps to refine headlines and formats. Editors can modify content in real-time.
Ly tracks in real-time as well and helps to identify topics audiences have responded well to in the past as well as where readers are coming from, where they’re headed next and on what devices.
NewsWhip is also a real-time tool that offers social media tracking like tweets, shares, and comments. It also allows newsrooms to monitor what stories are trending and breaking news.
In addition to Chartbeat, Parse.Ly and NewsWhip, the more standardized report of pageviews and visits are available in analytics tools like Omniture, google Analytics, Facebook Insights, and twitter Analytic.
Usage of multiple data sources is also common among news organizations. The Huffington Post, an advertising based business model, uses an Omniture dashboard, which includes traditional metrics like visits, pageviews, and unique visitors as well as referrals from specific sources and video data. They also use a customized version of Chartbeat tracking real-time split testing where different versions of an article (copy, headline and/or pictures) are tested to see which performs best.
Importantly, even in the most data-driven analysis, decisions often involve qualitative assessment. It’s a mix of art and science. It’s also important to ensure personal assessment is included especially in terms of how the data is leveraged for both short-term and long-term operations.
Crowdsourcing is an important way to personalize and engage your audience. The use of crowdsourcing can result in the creation of unique user-generated content or collaborative and social journalism. To provide a deeper understanding of crowdsourcing practices, the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University conducted detailed interviews, survey-work and case studies to produce its Guide to Crowdsourcing.
The two most recognized practices of crowdsourcing are news organizations asking for audience input and social media users offering non-solicited feedback. The Tow Center identified crowdsourcing in journalism as the act of inviting a group of people to participate in a reporting assignment. In other words, it’s an open call for your audience to personally contribute.
Thinking of the Center’s definition, crowdsourcing usually comes in two forms, as an unstructured open-invitation to provide feedback by way of a vote, email or call or as a targeted request to a particular segment of people. Crowdsourcing is especially popular among digital startups who are developing a unique style of journalism with a new audience.
Many news organizations include crowdsourcing in the entire process from story assigning, to pre-data collection, research and analytics to reporting and post-story discussions. Some important practices to incorporate when crowdsourcing:
Clearly define your journalistic goals.
Communicate what will be done with participant’s contribution.
Be specific about the type of response you want.
Announce your call-out more than once.
Use the proper terms like “share” versus “submit.”
Leave a short time gap between call-out and publication.
Communicate with community often.
Respond to and reward your contributors.
Make it easy for people to participate.
Effective crowdsourcing provides robust content and a valuable path for connecting and giving back to your audience.
It is essential for digital publishers to understand what key factors connect user satisfaction and brand trust and monitor to ensure growth of user engagement. In a Neustar sponsored study, conducted by The Ponemon Institute, a leader in cyber security research, three key components were identified to be influencers of online trust.
The first factor connected to digital brand trust is accuracy. According to more than 9 in ten respondents (91%) inaccurate content causes users to lose trust in a website. Further, inaccurate content goes beyond just getting the information wrong, it also includes misspellings, broken links to content or outdated offerings. In addition, advertising that interferes with content (55%) and ads that redirects users to sites they don’t want to see (52%) also has negative effects on a website’s brand.
A second component involved in a site’s brand trust is stability. Eighty-eight percent of the respondents identified a site’s downtime as a trust eroding practice. Also a site’s general usability and its capacity to work with different browsers, plug-ins and flash are important to the perception of a site’s stability.
Lastly, website security is an important feature connected to a site’s brand trust. Both the speed of overall site performance and page downloads are related to security concerns. More than three-quarters of respondents (78%) reported that security concerns them when a site performs slowly. Further, 67% of users lose trust in a website when its pages take a long time to download. In addition, close to two-thirds of respondents (63%) report distrusting brands whose data was breached.
As consumers spend more time online, monitoring accuracy, stability and security is key to delivering an exceptional brand experience.
Car shopping website Edmunds.com has over 800,000 pages of content. Almost all of them are intended to be useful to in-market shoppers. Most of the remainder are geared toward drivers and owners who want to keep their vehicles well maintained and safe on the road. A sliver, however, have no practical purpose per se. In fact, we think they’re pretty fun… like the 100 Greatest Movie and TV Cars of all Time, Top 10 Road Trip Games and now, a playful take on a unique addition to our long-term test fleet.
Edmunds typically buys ten cars each year for the fleet. The introduction to the long-term test blog explains why: “Within the space of one year, we aim to put 20,000 miles on each of the road test vehicles, and we’ll be taking pictures of the cars along the way. We want to know what it’s like to actually live with and maintain each vehicle for a year.”
The vast majority of these fleet purchases are intended to provide deep insight into mainstream popular vehicles that shoppers are interested in learning more about as they think about what to buy. But this year, as editorial staffer Mark Takahashi put it, “We bought an icon. A Nassau Blue, 300-horsepower V8-powered wedge of classic American desire. We bought a 1966 Chevrolet Corvette.”
Though he tests cars and writes about them for a living now, Takahashi has an art background and isn’t afraid to use it. The purchase inspired him to suggest a period photo shoot, somewhat of a recreation of an actual ad campaign for the car but with a modern twist to its storyline. Given the popularity of Mad Men, it was a timely idea, and a clever one. A team was assembled and quickly gathered tastes of 1966 to build the settings for the shoot.
A Memorable Ride
Edmunds’ photography has long been a draw for both car shoppers and enthusiasts. The site earns more than a million page views per month for its photography alone. Edmunds videos also perform well, with over 46,000 subscribers to its YouTube channel. So while this content project might not drive the most direct path to purchase, a compelling viral photo shoot combined with an engaging behind-the-scenes video have the potential to draw in a significant new audience for Edmunds, many of whom stick around to explore other content. And, when the time comes to buy a car, these positive brand impressions resurface.
While we do focus the majority of our content on meeting the needs of car shoppers and enthusiasts, we believe that content can—and should—pave a path to sales that starts with engagement. Frankly, a quick review of Twitter postings by some unsophisticated businesses makes it obvious that an overt sales strategy often backfires on brands. Liken it to the stereotypical life insurance salesman who brings business cards to weddings, always on the make looking for another customer. Wouldn’t you rather engage with a dynamic personality who knows how to have fun and then, yes, is there for you if and when you want to talk business? People react no differently to a brand. The brands we love exude personality, and that personality can be built through creative content related to the brand and yet entertaining on its own.
The Spirit of ‘66 Takahashi and team selected Edmunds employees as the models and interviewed lead photographer Scott Jacobs and other colleagues on camera for the behind-the-scenes video. These are real people who make the magic happen at Edmunds. By adding in a glimpse at the team members behind the operation, we were able to go beyond the car and deliver a human interest story that people can connect with and will remember long after they’ve left the site.
There is one more angle to this story that delivers marketing gains back to Edmunds. It was no coincidence that the chosen Corvette is a 1966 model. Edmunds was founded in 1966, and regularly and proudly refers back to that year when telling its history. The year is prominently painted on a wall in the company’s lobby. The online introduction to the car includes this background: “Forty-nine years later we’ve decided to travel back in time and experience an automotive icon from Edmunds’ very first year. We, of course, wanted a car that not only defined that era, but is still in production today. It had to be a nameplate that has navigated, evolved and thrived over the same five decades as our company, through nine presidencies, three wars, two oil embargos and of course the transition from an analog to a digital world.”
This approach allows Edmunds’ to show off Edmunds depth of history and well-established reputation that has been built over its nearly 50 years of innovation on behalf of car shoppers. Coverage of the 1966 car on the popular long-term blog re-introduces and helps to cement that point, which serves as a differentiator in the competitive marketplace. We want to emphasize our differentiators at every appropriate opportunity, and this one is subtle but memorable.
With confidence in this content strategy, Edmunds is moving forward on another interesting acquisition to its long term fleet: a 1989 Yugo. Admit it: You’d click on a story about that, just for entertainment’s sake.
There was a time when online comments below stories enhanced and strengthened the stories with added commentary, smart insights and timely corrections from readers. Unfortunately, that only lasted until the first ad hominem attacks came. Then spammers. Then outright harassment.
So publishers are torn between wanting to keep readers engaged (and on the site) or streamlining operations and content so they don’t get pulled down into the swamp of trolls. Lately, publishers such as Re/code, Chicago Sun-Times, Bloomberg and Reuters have eliminated some or all comments. But others, like the New York Times, value reader comments but limit them to certain stories and close them after specified time periods.
The bottom line is that each community is different, with a site like Popular Science wanting to ward off climate-change deniers and a place like Reddit trying to keep things as open as possible. And what fits one business doesn’t fit another. Local news sites typically want more engagement with readers who live in their community, while a wire service like Reuters doesn’t really “live” in any community.
There are many reasons to cut comments entirely. A recent study led by University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Dominique Brossard found that comments can change readers’ perception of the article. “Uncivil comments not only polarized readers, but they often changed a participant’s interpretation of the news story itself,” she and her co-author Dietram Scheufele wrote in a New York Times Op-Ed.
Another important reason to kill them is that comments and conversation have moved on to social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, where articles are being shared. Thus, publishers begin to question the resources required to moderate comments (The New York Times has 13 moderators) if they don’t pay enough of a dividend.
Dan Colarusso, executive editor for digital at Reuters told me in our recent PBS MediaShift Mediatwits podcast that they hadn’t seen a drop-off in engagement on Reuters after removing comments from news stories. “The normal organic users to our site weren’t engaging,” he said. “It was a fraction of 1% increase in engagement on our site from comments… So we decided to cull them out of there. And our wire service reporters don’t have the time to interact.”
It makes more sense for Reuters.com to keep comments on blog posts and opinion pieces, Colarusso said, because those stories, and their writers, are already associated with providing opinions and personal views. Reuters, as a brand, is not.
There are middle grounds, too. The Huffington Post, for example, banned anonymous comments in 2013 and has since instituted a system where readers must log in using their Facebook accounts. Though this has earned mixed reviews from its readers, some of whom don’t like giving personal information to Facebook, it’s proved useful for HuffPost in terms of accountability. “We’ve seen a marked [decrease] in the number of fake accounts in our system. It’s also helped with getting more quality comments and positive conversation as opposed to criticisms or insults,” Huffington Post community director Tim McDonald told Digiday last year.
The Engaging News Project released a study recently that showed that there are ways to increase civility in online comments. If journalists interact with commenters, the tone usually improves. Plus, some publishers such as Gawker do a better job of designing comments to highlight the best ones. And algorithmic systems that automatically flag cursing or spam in comments can help.
In the end, news outlets have to analyze the purpose of their comments to make the business decision that’s right for them. Is the purpose of commenting to encourage a community that fits in with the news organization’s brand? If so, then perhaps keeping a commenting system in-house is a must, so the organization can maintain control of that brand and identity. But if the purpose of comments is to drive engagement back to a news website, then referrals from social media — and therefore, commentary that takes place on social media — might be the best fit.
Or if the point of commenting is to encourage high-level discussions, then perhaps you have to make the process of commenting attractive only to those who really care — like Tablet Magazine’s announcement that it plans to charge would-be commenters.
We’ve seen social media take on so much heat and discussion, but publishers will have to weigh whether they want to improve commenting and discussion on-site or cede another territory to the social giants.
Listen to the whole Mediatwits podcast discussion on online comments here: