Brands are flocking to services like Klout, PeerIndex and UberVU to find, reward and recruit their most-influential consumers. These tools are new and their overall merits are up for debate, but the push to measure influence shows no signs of stopping. So what happens when advertisers start using those same influence metrics to rank online publishers? Get ready for the next digital-media bloodbath.
Established publishers -- let's call them "blue-chip" sites -- like The New York Times, Vogue and Gourmet are facing well-known headwinds online: Lower CPMs than they're traditionally accustomed to with print, competition from content farms (after all, Demand Media's IPO made its valuation worth more than the Times') and deciding whether and how to deliver their content across multiple platforms.
Being held to influence-measurement standards set by services such as Klout is the next blow that's coming around the corner. Here's why:
Influence-measurement tools will give brands a quick read on the publications that are delivering the most social bang for their buck.
Page views, ComScore uniques and click-through rates (CTRs) only tell part of the story when it comes to online ad effectiveness. Vogue might attract nearly 600,000 monthly uniques but how many of them were actually influenced by the Hermes roadblock that ran for two days? And post-campaign surveys are great, but is there a way to determine how a sponsored blog post affected reader sentiments in real time?
The new social currency of comments, "likes" and re-tweets is helping to answer those kinds of questions. Brands can use these social metrics to put a more accurate price tag on the content-based engagement that different publishers can deliver. Third-party influence measurement tools will give them the details without bias.
Influence metrics will show that most big, blue-chip sites don't have the same social influence that smaller, more authentic sites do.
Let's get a quick comparison out of the way. Blue-chip sites are big, and for the most part, they can offer audience segmentation. That means a media buyer can get targeting, reach and custom creative, and the brand "equity" or safety advertisers want, to boot. But all that still doesn't make the majority of such sites influential. Need proof?
On Oct. 25, 2010, an article about Marc Jacobs' new handbag launch attracted just three comments on Vogue.com. The same article on Fashionista.com, a site with roughly half the users, attracted 125 comments.
For a more recent example, take independent news and investment analysis site Zerohedge's coverage of the rallies in Egypt on Feb 1. The article garnered more than 485 comments. The Economist's same-day coverage of the same rallies received just over 110.
So what? So that means both Fashionista and Zerohedge's curation influenced their respective readers enough to get them talking about the articles with others in their social circle. Keep digging and you'll find examples like this all across the web.
These smaller sites are proving to be more influential than the blue-chip sites because they're authentic. The authors write and link to stories because they're passionate about them, not because they've been assigned to do so. That passion is palpable. It gets readers engaged, and it's the kind of engagement and influence that advertisers are desperate to tap into. Influence-measurement tools will help brands identify the sites that are delivering that engagement.
As social metrics continue to gain legitimacy, sites that don't move the needle will fall by the wayside (or sell their inventory at ever-decreasing CPMs). Tools like Klout and others are helping to legitimize these social metrics; they're giving brands a real way to add them to GRPs, impressions and clicks. Increased acceptance and monitoring of these metrics will not be a good thing for publishers that can't demonstrate their influence.
Though in its infancy, this shift to influence measurement will ultimately benefit publishers that cultivate and curate influence. I'd go so far as to call this "authentic media" or the "authentic web," defined by the quality, passion and influence of their editorial and their audiences. Smart advertisers will be able to leverage that influence and engagement. For them, the authentic web will be where their brands' stories are shaped and shared, not the old-school, blue-chip sites.
To justify being part of the media plan, publishers of all sizes will need to deliver more than just impressions. The ad dollars will go to sites than can demonstrate their influence, and prove that their audience is engaged. There's no consensus on whether that influence will be defined by Klout or some other startup, and this shift isn't happening tomorrow. But for publishers that want to thrive, the goal is to start creating more influence and engagement with readers now.
Smaller, more-authentic sites with engaged readers will see their brand-equity go up, particularly if their inventory is aggregated and easy to access. Blue-chip publishers with minimal proof of influence won't be able to rely on brand equity they accrued in the past to charge higher CPMs. And publishers of all sizes that can't demonstrate influence also won't be able to inspire media buyers to create those high-priced, custom-content integration deals.
|ABOUT THE AUTHOR|
Greg Shove is the founder and CEO of Halogen Network and a venture partner at Kohlberg Ventures.