Social Advertising – Banner Ads Beware

One of my main goals for the Ford Hyperlocal sites is to experiment with various revenue models. I come from the philosophy that news organizations won’t find any NEW revenue streams but that the traditional models are ripe for experimentation. The main streams of money are advertising, direct sales and services.

I’ve had a myriad of thoughts and feelings about online advertising. Bottom line – they need to evolve. The traditional online banner ad is about as engaging as traditional print newspapers. That’s not to say it’s bad content, but it’s not suited or taking advantage of the interactivity of the web.

One of the first experiments I wanted to try was NowSpots. NowSpots is a system that takes an advertisers Facebook/Twitter feeds and converts it into an ad spot. Instead of selling the advertiser a static image that links somewhere, we sell space to promote their message, which they can update in real time, it links where they want AND they can gain Facebook/Twitter followers who will stay for them beyond their advertising campaign.

Still having trouble picturing it. Check the images below.

Some more background on NowSpots and then we’ll get into the meaty part “what we’ve learned.”

NowSpots is a Knight News Challenge winner which has gone on to get more outside funding. It’s run by Brad Flora and my hat is off to him and his team for creating a product which is incredibly simple to use. If you’ve ever embedded a YouTube video then you can run a NowSpot ad. They also have a great ethic towards customer service which includes providing you with some basic sales material.

The social advertising above has been our first test. We just wanted to get it up and running and show it to potential advertisers. Which is to say – we haven’t “sold” the a “Now Spot” yet. But we hope one of the advertisers we’ve given free spots to might be interested in trying it again soon when the time is right.

Observations

A few things are immediately obvious with NowSpots.

1. Advertisers get it.

This isn’t a difficult thing to explain. In fact, while the NowSpots have been up all I have to do is tell people to check out the top banner ad of our sites to understand what a NowSpot is. It’s relatively intuitive.

2. Advertisers get flexibility.

Got an event on Friday and a sale on Monday. One banner ad won’t do. But you can easily change the message in your NowSpot just by updating your Twitter/Facebook account they way you normally would. Advertisers understand that interface.

3. Sales are still hard

Where NowSpots may truly shine is with large metro/regional/national publications getting blue chip advertisers that want to prove they have an authentic voice. At the local level sales are tough. Small businesses only have so much ad money to spend and you have to prove your worth.

4. Ads are content and this is better content

Advertisements are not journalism but they are content. And good content is good for your site. The content of NowSpots looks great, updates and serves the community more than a traditional banner ad.

5. The return on investment is better

It’s still early to tell if our audience at the hyperlocals is “following” our advertisers. Our test cases haven’t even been up a week yet. But the potential ROI for an advertiser is huge. Instead of just communicating with our audience for a brief period of time, they can create an ongoing relationship. That puts the pressure on our news sites to continue to grow our audience – but that would be the case regardless.

NowSpots is just one way we can re-think the classic banner ad. This is a space that I believe is ripe for experimentation so we can begin to figure out how to turn “digital dimes” into quarters.

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