So far, Yahoo has been cautious in its attempts to introduce marketers into these popular communities. Flickr has dabbled in a co-branded site with Nikon, and del.icio.us remains completely devoid of advertising. However, in the past few weeks, Yahoo has quietly rolled out a program to help advertisers participate on Yahoo Answers.
The effort, called Sponsored Questions, spotlights advertisers and their questions. New Line Cinema is one of the first advertisers onboard. It is using the site to market the new Jim Carrey film, "23." (Yahoo clearly labels advertiser questions as paid placements and is guiding marketers on how best to engage users.)
Initial results have been mixed. The community responded positively to the announcement, understanding Yahoo's need to monetize the site. However, once advertisers landed on Planet Yahoo, the response was lackluster.
New Line's first question to the community was, "Why does the recurrence of numbers (e.g., 23) and symbols suggest a hidden deeper meaning?" The question generated 807 responses. Some of the responses with the highest user ratings were quite negative. For example, the user sqshyblujello wrote: "Dude. Will you stop annoying us with all this 23 crap?"
Yahoo is in a delicate position. It's under pressure to monetize its various investments in consumer-generated media. At the same time, it risks alienating the very community that has made these sites so successful in the first place. The key for both Yahoo and its advertisers is to empower users to help achieve them their own goals.
Both Yahoo and its sponsors need to wake up and start using the site not as a place to market products and services but as a way to tap into the wisdom of crowds. In other words, start asking frank questions that help solve real problems rather than creating new ones. Otherwise, the presence of sponsors will generate more questions than answers.
~ ~ ~ Steve Rubel is a marketing strategist and blogger. He is senior VP in Edelman's Me2Revolution practice.