Widgets, Buzz And Digital Engagement

NEW YORK — You may know all about the trends, lingo and buzzwords in the digital media sector, but do you know how to turn them into revenue?

Think engagement as you leverage what’s best for your audience, according to media and advertising executives who gathered at the Min Day conference this week.

“Buyers want engagement,” said Scott Schiller, executive vice president for sales at Glam Media, a network of lifestyle Web sites for women. Schiller spoke at a panel discussion called “Emerging Ad & Revenue Formats.”

“Technology enforces engagement, but really engagement is putting an ad in an environment where the engagement is made,” he added. “What we do is leverage our audience and exchange content to place it in the most applicable places for engagement.”

In another era, that might have been called grabbing the audience’s attention. But in the digital media sphere, engaging is what it’s about.

“Marketers are only paying if users are engaging,” agreed Fred McIntyre, senior vice president, AOL Video, a unit of Time Warner (NYSE: TWX).

For Captivate Network, engagement is about the how. The advertising network’s strategy involves geotargeting, such as sending regionally specific ads depending on where the user is. But that’s not the only way it takes ads to where the audience is. If they’re in taxis and office building elevators, noted Hugh Flanigan, creative director, that’s where the ads go as well.

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Online ads must be targeted, Schiller continued. “Media buyers want targeted reach, and technology has forced the democratization of the medium,” he said. “Pre-Web 2.0, we saw the opportunity for a lot of lost audiences because marketers were involved with passion groups.”

Another problem with online advertising is a shortage of inventory right now, asserted Matt Sanchez, CEO of video advertising company VideoEgg. User-generated and short-form videos help address this problem, he said. “Get that technology embedded, so you can address that inventory.”

Another ad technology on the rise is the use of widgets , which often take the form of buttons, dialog boxes, pop-up windows, pull-down menus, icons or scroll bars on sites and enable users to interact with them. “The challenge is how can they monetize widgets,” Sanchez said. “Just because it is on the page doesn’t mean you have monetization for that content feed.”

Tapan Bhat, vice president of Front Doors at Yahoo (NASDAQ: YHOO), echoed the sentiment during an earlier panel discussion, noting that widgets need “context. A lot of widgets have no context. Great widgets with context become a very useful experience.”

Next page: making it all work

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Before The Buzz

Advertisers are also increasingly using Bluetooth text-messaging and RFID tags, according to Captivate Network’s Flanigan.

One strategy unpopular with panelists was the use of popups. AOL’s McIntyre cited a lack of value exchanged between marketer and user.

“Popups are not good for AOL,” he said. “If you lose that sense of fair dialogue in that transition, you may have some success, but in the long run, you’re going to fail.”

VideoEgg’s Sanchez agreed that this “disruptive advertising” doesn’t work. “You want to invite the user into the experience” rather than turn them away.

Captivate omits audio from video advertising in elevators as a way to combat possible user frustration with distracting ads. “People don’t want the audio,” Flanigan said. Similarly, many video ads online have buttons to click to turn audio on or off.


Spreading the buzz

In the panel “Getting Buzzed: Smart Moves for Your Content and Brand in the Digital Eco-System,” panelists stressed the need for online media sites to use social networking to get the word out about their content.

Richard Glosser, executive director for emerging media at CondeNet, recommended that media sites make heavy use of social networking buttons on their sites and to aggressively use link-sharing sites such as Digg and Yahoo Buzz to get the word out about content. “It’s not gaming the system to put content there yourself,” he said. “That’s all fair game for this world we live in.”

In another session called “It Takes an Online Village: Building and Maintaining Magazine Communities,” Matt Mitovich, managing editor at TVGuide.com, said all editors on staff are required to have an account on Facebook.com to promote what they’re covering. “Facebook and MySpace represent a gigantic opportunity,” he said.

Once media sites get the buzz and experience an increase in traffic as the result of a major story — say the Spitzer scandal — sites sometimes struggle to take advantage of the spike in traffic.

Don Marzetta, marketing vice president for business brands at CNET Networks (NASDAQ: CNET), commented that though sites may not see immediate monetization from a spike in traffic, advertisers will notice.

Meanwhile, Adriana Bourgoin, chief Internet officer at Modern Luxury Media, warned that sites need to have the infrastructure to handle a sudden spike in traffic.

“A site failure is a terrible experience for your brand,” Yahoo’s Bhat said.

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