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Sift CEO Ben Heald on B2B online communities

This month, AOP is hosting a forum on how B2B publishers can harness the power of online communities to boost traffic and revenue. The AOP B2B Forum takes place on 29 April at IPC Media.

More info on AOP's Forum on B2B Communities.

Confirmed speakers include:
  • Dominic Feltham, Managing Director, Reed Business Information
  • Tony Hallett, Editorial Director, Technology and Business, CBS Interactive
  • Paul Hartigan, Chief Executive, Pharmiweb Solutions
  • Ben Heald, CEO, Sift

Ben Heald, CEO of Sift
Ahead of the event, we caught up with Ben Heald, CEO of Sift, to discuss some of the issues facing B2B publishers today:

Q. What are the biggest threats to B2B publishers during 2009? And conversely, what are the biggest opportunities?

There are a number of threats: the fall-off in recruitment revenues, the ever-faster shift of advertising dollars to digital, the blizzard of new online sites, all of which mean that B2B publishers need to create new compelling online publishing propositions with reduced resources.

The biggest opportunities are to gain market share by addressing the needs of advertisers, who only want one thing - ROI on their marketing spend. Digital offers a range of new ways of doing this, all more effective than anything offline.

Q. An increasing number of publishers are incorporating social media (e.g. blogs, forums, reader comments, Facebook fan pages, Twitter feeds, etc.). Is it always wise for publications to encourage reader feedback?

Yes, it's always wise to engage with readers - if you don't you won't have any readers! That doesn't mean you have to embrace social media thoughtlessly. Quite the opposite, there are both smart and dumb ways of using social media.

Clearly, whatever you do, you have to know how to handle the range of comments from pithy thought pieces to people who express their ‘ANGER IN CAPS’!

Q. What are the key differences between building online communities for B2B publications compared to B2C titles?

At their best, B2B communities are covering business issues, which match with the products and services that advertisers are keen to promote. It's important to stress that this doesn't mean at all that the debate will be more intelligent, or considered. For example, you'll see some very considered responses to debate on the BBC site about whether Tiger Woods is the best golfer ever, etc...

Q. Can you think of any examples of B2B publishers that run particularly successful online communities?

If by successful you mean communities that are both vibrant and successful commercially, there's not a long list of successes. Sift Media has had some good successes with AccountingWEB.co.uk, but it's only generating revenues of £1.5m per annum. All the major B2B publishers are now making progress though.

More info on AOP's Forum on B2B Communities.

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