NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Hearst Magazines wants visitors to its websites to post questions and get responses -- and occasionally let advertisers offer advice as well.
Using technology from Answerology, which Hearst Magazines Digital Media bought in March 2008, the website for Seventeen magazine has recently added an area called "Get Advice!" and the CosmoGirl site has introduced "Ask It."
There are already plenty of questions, along with answers from other visitors and people Hearst considers experts.
One visitor to Seventeen's site, for example, posed the question "What age do most have their first kiss?" Twenty-four answers from other users follow (consensus response: it depends).
"Hearst, like everyone else, realizes that users are doing more than just reading content online," said Matt Milner, Answerology's founder and VP-social media at Hearst Magazines Digital Media. "They're social, and they need social media to stay relevant. The call Hearst made a couple years ago was to say, 'We're not in the business of creating new websites like Facebook or MySpace. What we're in the business of doing is socializing our existing assets.'"
A standard ad unit for Cusp by Neiman Marcus appears between the first-kiss question's second and third answers, but Hearst has more interesting ad sales in mind as well. Advertisers, it hopes, will buy their way into the actual stream of answers.
"The whole concept is they're joining the conversation," Mr. Milner said. "It's an opportunity for the advertiser to come in and say, 'We are the Seventeen guest expert.'"
The marketer's paid inclusion will have to be clearly marked as such, Mr. Milner said. "It's got to be fully transparent." But the details haven't been finalized yet. Hearst is out looking for its first advertiser now.
In an effort to keep the questions and answers safe for visitors and advertisers, Hearst is monitoring them for filter words it considers sensitive. If one of the watchwords appears, a community moderator checks in on the situation.
The platform echoes one of Yahoo's more successful products, Yahoo Answers, which it introduced in December 2005.
Intuit's TurboTax brand has created its own Yahoo Answers-like service, called Live Community, in which users ask and answer tax-related questions. It initially launched Live Community as part of its TurboTax online tax-prep service, integrated into the online software so filers saw questions and answers related to the items at hand. But the marketing team has repurposed the content as a customer-acquisition tool, syndicating it across the web. The tax-help information on Military.com, for example, contains military-related tax questions and answers from TurboTax.
"You'll see Live Community all over the internet in relevant places," said Seth Greenberg, director of marketing at Intuit.
The question-and-answer sections also extend Hearst's effort to fill its sites with content and activities that go beyond anything print can do. The company has also built out gaming areas on sites for magazines including Good Housekeeping and Redbook.
Some 779,000 people visited Seventeen.com in February, down 14% from February 2008, according to ComScore. CosmoGirl.com, which has outlasted CosmoGirl's print edition, attracted 483,000 people in February, ComScore said, down 38% from February 2008. Yahoo Answers, which enjoys the benefits of a choice link near the top of Yahoo.com, attracted 34.1 million people in February, up 34% from February 2008.