Local Interactive Strategies

Exploring ad networks for local news blogs

I’m on a very cool project with the Chicago Community Trust to figure out whether (and if so, how) to create an ad network to support local online news outlets around Chicago.

I’ve been in touch with five local ad networks around the U.S., which have been extremely generous  in sharing their experiences. Each one has its own unique approach, which I find fascinating, since it means they’re each pioneering a model. They are:

One reason I’m posting that list is to find others, if there are any.  But check them out if you’re at all interested in independent news blogs. Each has some very interesting things going on.

And I’m really interested in talking with local news bloggers who are selling (or at least accepting) local advertising, and  how they’d want to work with a network of others in their area.

Shoot me an email at or post a comment here.


January 11, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

From “nobody looks at Facebook ads” to 23 percent share

This is an incredible development: Facebook now has 23 percent share of the total impressions for online display ads. Check out the chart below from comScore. More details here.

What’s incredible is that literally just two years ago, people in the industry were arguing whether it even made sense to put ads on Facebook. Now Facebook is by far the largest single deliverer of display ad impressions online.

I have to admit, speaking from my own experience, I considered Facebook ads a waste of money when mapping out the launch program for Concert Rat earlier this year. Who wants to see ads on Facebook?, I reasoned.

So the initial marketing plan involved Google text ads (search and content) and  some programs to get the Concert Rat brand into people’s hands – such as handing out flyers at concerts. But none of these paid efforts seemed to get results – i.e. people posting stuff on Concert On the other hand, our “free” marketing efforts on the Concert Rat fan page on Facebook seemed to be generating results.

So on June 24, mostly to support the fan-page activity, I finally created and started running Facebook ads. Guess what:  New postings started appearing on Concert Rat immediately. Literally — immediately.

And the pattern continues. Facebook is now Concert Rat’s No. 1 source of traffic. Before the ads, most traffic came from Google. And the traffic seems to convert to people posting stuff.

Why? My theory is twofold, and it wouldn’t work for everyone:

1. Concert Rat is about sharing stuff, and Facebook is about sharing stuff, so if you’re on Facebook, your mindset is about sharing. Thus the connection is more direct.

2. Facebook ads allow extremely fine targeting by interests. All those interests you put on your profile? Those become the targeting  filters for Concert Rat’s Facebook ad delivery. It’s a pretty amazing system. The Concert Rat ads target people who say they like: concerts, live music and “going to concerts.” Also we’ve selected  people 16 years of age and older, who live in the U.S.  If those criteria look like you, then there’s a good chance you’ll see the Concert Rat ads. If that’s not you, you won’t see the ad.

Put those two factors together – the transactional nature of both Concert Rat and Facebook, and the extreme targeting – and it starts explaining our results.

And it might explain the amazing market share of Facebook Ads today.

Top 10 U.S. Online Display Ad* Publishers
Q3 2010
Total U.S. – Home/Work/University Locations
Source: comScore Ad Metrix
Total Display Ad Impressions (MM) Share of Display Ad Impressions
Total Internet 1,284,315 100.0% 297,046 23.1%
Yahoo! Sites 140,949 11.0%
Microsoft Sites 64,009 5.0%
Fox Interactive Media 48,252 3.8%
Google Sites 35,043 2.7%
AOL, Inc. 32,330 2.5%
Turner Network 21,268 1.7%
Glam Media 13,274 1.0%
eBay 8,421 0.7%
ESPN 8,261 0.6%

*Display ads include static and rich media ads; excludes video ads, house ads and
very small ads (< 2,500 pixels in dimension)

November 19, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

10 lessons on hyperlocal, from ONA

Great roundup of “10 lessons” from the ONA  conference last week by  Pekka Pekkala .

Here are a few  snips to give you a taste of the great lessons in this piece:

Mike Orren, publisher, reminded that advertisers don’t care how big you are if they don’t know you. It takes a long time to build a brand in advertising community and it matters, because ad buying decisions are not made rationally.

Read J-Lab report New Voices: What Works and learn how much work it requires to keep the contributors active. Less than 1 in 10 of those you train will stick around to be regular contributors.

Founder Susan Mernit from Oakland Local said that they thought people would read normal feature-like news stories. It turned out that the really simple stories about a new coffee shop or the heavy, investigative pieces were the most read. So they stopped doing features.

Bottom line: Run it like a business from Day 1. If you’re running a hyperlocal site or just thinking about it, print out The top 10 key lessons for hyperlocal journalism startups from ONA10
and stick it on your refrigerator.

November 10, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Losing an excellent hyperlocal resource

One of the web’s strongest resources on hyperlocal news is shutting down.

Hyperlocal Blogger had been a  self-described “hobby” of Matt McGee since August 2008. Like many blogs, it was pretty frequently updated at the beginning,  with less frequency as time went on. Unline many blogs, the content was always relevant and useful.

Even now, the archived stuff is worth browsing if you’re new to hyperlocal blogging.

When you consider what else Matt has on his plate, what he accomplished is pretty amazing. From his farewell post:

My work at Search Engine Land and Sphinn is taking more time than ever, and likely to expand more in the not-too-distant future. My blogging at Small Business Search Marketing helps put food on the table and has to be a higher priority than Hyperlocal Blogger, which has always been a hobby. Just last week, I signed an agreement with Omnibus Press to publish an update of my book, U2 – A Diary, which was originally published in 2008. That work will take up most of my free time over the next several months.

Thank you, Matt, and best of luck with those other hobbies 😉

November 9, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

“Social-media optimization” makes sense

Ben Elowitz of WetPaint makes a strong case for a coming wave of “social-media optimization” in a column on

He argues that the era of search engine optimization (SEO) has peaked, as Google has made it easy to answer pretty much any question, and people have figured out how to game SEO with keywords, targeted content etc.:

“… It’s moved publishers’ eye off their most important job of creating great content, and onto the false goals of keywords, hacks, paid links, and technical engineering that their audience doesn’t know or care about.”

Elowitz believes (and I agree) that users are coming to expect seeing content they’re interested in –  even if they’re not looking for it. While SEO is great when you know what you’re looking for,  social media is how you discover interesting stuff  that you’re not looking for:

“The sort algorithm that works best for that is more correlated to who’s doing the asking, than how they would phrase the ask.  For that level of personalized results, no abject algorithm can keep up without deep knowledge of its users. Advantage: Facebook.”

Moral for publishers: embrace social media, figure out how to get your users sharing with their friends, and optimize for that.

October 29, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Prince: Internet’s dead. And here’s a free CD in your newspaper

Hard to tell if the irony is intentional or not, but the Artist Currently Known as Prince has declared the Internet fad pretty much over. For good measure, he’s providing copies of his new CD in several British newspapers (the paper version, naturally). One of the papers not invited to the party, the Globe and Mail, provides  an appropriately snarky report.

Reminds me of a mini-trend maybe 10 years ago, when some newspapers decided the best strategy for meeting the challenge of the Internet was to provide each day’s paper on a shiny new CD-ROM. Maybe get newspaper readers to just pop in a disk and ignore that Internet thing.

Prince (and newspapers) are certainly free to dictate how and when people can consume their output. But as they say: it’s wiser to fish where the fish are.

People interested in news and music are online. Certainly fans of a particular newspaper, or a particular musical artist, will go out of their way to feed their passion…. But what about all the other fish?

July 8, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Teens as future channel-surfers? I don’t think so

Nielsen has a new report on teen TV watching, and I’m not sure I agree with one of the findings.

Nielsen finds teens are watching a lot more video on laptops and phones, than regular TV (aka the “first screen”).

“12-24 year olds are more connected, more tech savvy, and more likely to use personal devices such as smartphones, laptops and other gadgets for video viewing. They are also less likely to watch traditional television.”

OK, that  makes sense. (Maybe even: Well, duh!) But check out the next sentence:

“But much of this is driven by economic necessity and lifestyle choices, and is likely to change as the younger becomes the older generation.”

Nielsen makes this prediction based on data showing that teens in the past turned into heavier TV watchers as they aged, as shown in this table:

While the research about the past seems solid, I have to wonder about the prediction for the future. As people’s attention spans grow shorter, and as they get more habitual in their usage of portable tablets, laptops and  phones — doesn’t it seem  like a whole lot more is changing than just age?

It seems to me we’re seeing a fundamental shift in media consumption, one that defies comparisons to behaviors of only a few years ago.

In the chart above, the starting year is 2001. 2001! Facebook didn’t exist. Google was just one of several popular search engines. There was no YouTube.

What’s startling  isn’t just the huge leaps in technology, but the dramatic changes in how people spend their time: YouTubing, Googling, Facebooking.

If you spend any time at all with teens and 20-somethings, try picturing them in 10 years vegging on the couch with the remote. I can’t.

June 17, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

What to cut? Or where to focus?

Robert Niles posted  a provocative piece today called What to cut when ad revenue doesn’t cover your expenses?

His main point is that some editors are looking at user-generated content as a way to substitute for, in his example, a movie reviewer. And of course, Niles is correct that the “community” by itself is a poor substitute for a trained beat writer.  Too often, the “community” isn’t self-policing, or even self-correcting, and it needs some professional guidance and moderation.

But the larger, and harder,  question is: in times of reduced revenue, where should newspapers focus their  skilled, trained staff?

Pick up any local newspaper and you’ll see example after example of mystifying choices in coverage by local staff: pro sports in a distant city, columnizing about national issues, press conferences covered just because, press releases spun into  bylined stories.

Editors’ hardest questions come after the relatively easy ones of movie reviews and CD reviews.

  • Are we covering the community  in ways that meet readers’ interests?
  • What criteria drive daily coverage decisions?
  • And who’s making those decisions?
  • Why is this event being covered?
  • Why do we assign a reporter to this beat?
  • Do we even have the right beats?
  • Is every reporter contributing high-impact coverage to page 1 and section fronts? If not, what’s standing in the way?

Point is: when you can’t sustain business as usual, everything must justify itself, from the movie reviewer to the courthouse beat. Editors need to shape a vision of the new newspaper, encourage  information-gathering to make decisions, and then support decisions that move toward the vision.

June 2, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

What Netflix tells us about internal culture

Q: What’s a  tougher challenge for newspapers than their business model?

A: A culture that can’t change fast enough.

A  friend recently shared this slideshow from Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix. It’s not that hard to find, actually. It’s posted on the Netflix jobs page.

Nothing remarkable about a presentation by the CEO on a company’s jobs page, right? Except this one says things like: “Adequate performance gets a generous severance package.”

And this:

  • As we grow, minimize rules
  • Inhibit chaos with ever more high performance people
  • Flexibility is more important than efficiency in the long term

Click through the presentation (it’s 128 slides but it goes quickly). One grim observation: almost all the elements Netflix rejects are  standard within newspaper cultures: valuing rules and structure, rewarding longevity, encouraging employees to move up the ladder, you name it. Check out slides 49 and 50 for Hastings’ prediction of the outcome of a culture like that.

So:  Is Netflix able to behave this way because it’s still a startup? Or can it behave this way because it chooses to?

Hastings clearly believes the latter: that Netflix can maintain its culture even as it grows and matures.  Which leads to the obvious question: What would a newspaper operation look like if it hired and managed people like Netflix does?

April 28, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Concert Rat lives

Still in an officially pre-launch stage, but it’s live:

The idea is that you can create a diary of concerts you’ve attended, and display your  notes, reviews, photos, images of tickets, setlists. It’s connected to Facebook, so you’ll see who else was there among your friends.

The Bigger Idea is that as people add their material, Concert Rat can become a wiki-like compilation of all concerts, present and past. Upcoming is, well,  upcoming.

What we need right now is people to use it, and give feedback. The system is rock solid, thanks to ace programmer Paul Caiazzo, but we want to continually improve usability. And ideas for further development and features are very welcome. (What would you want in the iPhone app?)

So try it out and hit the big blue Feedback button.

March 17, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment