NewsGator and AFP Olympics Widgets, Guaranteed CPM

NewsGator and AFP have teamed up to offer a collection of widgets featuring their premium content covering the upcoming Beijing Olympics. These widgets are squarely targeted at media sites and popular blogs, and as part of this program we are guaranteeing a CPM to any approved site that runs the widgets on their site. Here’s a link to the press release we put out this am.

Why is this important? For us it’s significant because it shifts our business model from being purely a hosted service provider to a syndication network. Widgets have many use cases, a vehicle for brands to reach consumers is just one while what we predominately do, enable content owners and distributors to syndicate their content is another. This Olympics feature program is a perfect adaptation of several trends in widgets, including premium content syndication, display ad monetization, and mid-tier distribution site targeting.

We are making it drop dead easy for a premium service like AFP to expand their reach beyond their current clients and top tier media sites to the long tail. Blogs and small/medium traffic websites offer a terrific syndication opportunity for AFP but the cost of reaching these sites with their traditional mechanisms is punitive. What NewsGator’s widget services offers AFP is the ability to quickly and easily reach this long tail with a self service model and a monetization scheme that correlates to the channel.

Speaking of monetization, our ad network partner is Advertising.com, a premium online ad network by any definition. This is one reason why we have a qualification program around this, because advertisers really care about where their ads are showing up so we have to have a process to ensure that these widgets are being placed on sites that are topic and audience appropriate. What this means is that we have some qualification guidelines to be met in order to participate in the guaranteed revenue part of the program, there is nothing here that restricts anyone or any site from picking up these widgets and running them.

If your site is part of the revenue side of the program we are offering a co-branding opportunity. We have designed the creative for these widgets with a replacement logo placeholder that we can use to co-brand these widgets with your branding. This is appropriate for the kind of sites we envision running them and it’s a great way for small/mid tier sites to extend their own brands.

Lastly, I want to emphasize a couple of final thoughts. First and foremost, we are not changing our business at all, we are expanding it on top of the hosted widget service we have been successfully selling to publishers. Widgets are becoming a more complex business as they grow up, we intend to lead that by innovating the service offerings we are making available and bringing traditional media companies with us as their partner. AFP is a world class news agency who deserve a lot of credit for trying something new as a means of reaching new audience and satisfying the demands of online new media.

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Privacy Getting in the Way

“You have zero privacy anyway, get over it.”
– Scott McNealy, Jan. 1999

Once again we have “privacy concerns” being used to squash efforts to make advertising more effective by targeting it at people likely to want it.

Cable and phone companies say their growth increasingly depends on being able to deliver targeted advertising to their Internet and TV customers, but criticism from privacy advocates is threatening that strategy.

[From Free Preview – WSJ.com]

I admit to having mixed feelings about this. On one hand I simply don’t trust cable companies but on the other I have to wonder what the worst that could come of this is. The risk for privacy advocates is that they are the boy who cried wolf… what damages have actually been incurred because online behavioral data was made available to advertisers. Indeed one of the most successful online advertising networks of all time is Google Adsense and it is predicated on having context to online content that you are viewing or searching.

I’ve written about this many times before, advertising should have some utility and the first step in providing that enabling a better understanding of what I do in order to predict what I want. Online advertising should not be as it is today, which either relies on tricking someone into clicking on it, or as is the case with interstitials, forcing it in front of someone.

What is more troubling about this debate is the effort by some to undermine the rights of businesses offering services by demanding they attach privacy rights where there are none, public online spaces, and at any rate it is well established that it can be voluntarily sacrificed in exchange for some service or product benefit. This is exactly what happens every time you do a search on Google, login to Facebook/Myspace, and watch cable television, as well as a hundred other things we do on a daily basis.

We are currently running a pilot that takes advantage of Myspace’s hypertargeting for distributing widgets. The USA Today Pop Candy widget features content from the very popular column written by Whitney Matheson, featuring celebrity and entertainment news. What we are doing is taking advantage of the profile tags generated by Myspace for every user profile, then “suggesting” the widget based on alignment of those tags to the Pop Candy widget.

Why is this important? Well for USA Today they can drive distribution of their widget, which really just means extend their brand deeper into prospective audiences, in a more efficient manner than slamming an IAB compliant widget through an ad network and hoping people pick it up. For Myspace users they get the promise of more relevant content based on what is inferred by analyzing the content that is already on their pages.

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NewsGator Editor’s Desk Beta

We are beta testing a new version of our popular Editor’s Desk widget management application.

Managing the content of a widget has always been a strong point of our hosted service, with not only post level control over RSS feeds but also the ability to create search feeds that scour a broad range of sources and pre-bundled content feeds.

One of the more powerful aspects of the content management tool is the ability to aggregate a large number of feeds and control the display. The Enterprise Irregulars widget that runs in my sidebar pulls together 40 different feeds from the EI member sites, and then throws in Summize feeds for “Enterprise Irregulars” and “enterprise software” for good measure.

The widget displays all of these content sources in an orderly fashion, cycling 1 post item per feed per 8 slots, to ensure that high frequency blogs don’t dominate the presentation. This is the kind of control you get using our widget service, as well as the ability to pull out post items or make them “sticky” to stay in view up at the top of the widget.

The ability to syndicate content is a powerful capability that widgets provide. The Enterprise Irregulars widget gets about 22k impressions a month here but across the 30+ sites that have picked up this widget there is another 80k impressions per month that roll up. What that means is that I’m generating 100,000 widget impressions (analogous to a pageview) per month, extending the EI brand, and achieve a consistent 2-3% clickthrough rate on the content.

There is much more in this updated service, sign up and give it a try.

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Community Managers and Managing Communities

I wonder how most organizations are handling the role of community manager. I’m curious where a community manager reports. Marketing? HR? Customer service? I wonder how organizations are justifying the cost, and what they believe the role entails for level of effort. How are companies using the role in either direction?

[From On Managing A Community | chrisbrogan.com]

NewsGator has a new community manager. I hired Josh Larson a few weeks ago to take on this newly formed role. The truth is that we were all doing some measure of community management before Josh came on board, we just were not focused on it and a lot of stuff fell through the cracks.

As you can imagine given my background in corporate blogging, this is an area that interests me greatly, but it’s not just about blogging on behalf of a company. I think that is where a lot of companies go wrong on this front, they think that just getting someone to “go blog it out” is enough when in fact community management is like marketing like customer support is to engineering. All are critical functions but community management is about advocacy more than promotion, just like customer support.

This is also why Josh reports to me instead of to our marketing group. I want this role to represent marketplace advocacy and I thought that ultimately I am responsible for that so it makes sense for the role to report to me. I also happen to care alot about the tactics by which we manage community, an outgrowth of my now many years of experience in corporate social media.

Our community manager has several distinct but interconnected roles. The first is easy, establish and grow a meaningful blog presence through which we expose and highlight our activities AND connect directly with influencers, power users, early adopters, customers, and many other groups of individuals who are relevant to our market space.

A blog is just a tool, which means that we will use many tools at our disposal to reach out and with an authentic voice talk about what we are doing and listen about what we could be doing. What we are doing with Twitter is another example of how we are taking advantage of social media tools to connect to our marketplace.

Communities are about networks and as such the community manager is responsible for building out and maintaining networks related to the above groups, and like a pilot who’s hands are on many levers apply leverage to various constituencies as determined by what our objectives are. The important aspect of this is that for a network to remain vibrant and active, we have to give back as much as we take.

There are probably a dozen other responsibilities that fallen within the scope of community manager but in the final equation it comes down to the commitment of the company to support that person in his/her role. I think we have a well earned track record at working with our community and not just talking to it, which hopefully means we are prepared to amp up those efforts with a person who is dedicated to the task.

Like all things that are on the forward edge there is an element of learning as we go, but this type of role is not so new as to suggest it’s all experimentation. We, as an industry, know from recent experience that the marketplace is demanding a richer interaction with companies so I think we’re on the forward edge of mainstream as opposed to on the bleeding edge.

NewsGator Twittering

I took note of Evernote the other day when they followed me on twitter... thinking “hey that’s actually a good idea”.

NewsGator Widgets is now on Twitter. Like a lot of people we are in the experimentation phase on this, so I think we’ll target a couple of tactics that help us in our outreach efforts.

  1. Follow people who reference NewsGator and any of our products.
  2. Follow people we consider to be influencers in our space.
  3. Tweet out meaningful updates about our activities, try to stay away from simply rebroadcasting PR.
  4. Tweet out events we will be participating in or attending.
  5. Re-tweet what we consider insightful and interesting stuff from other people.

Thanks to Andrew for the inspiration.