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Is social media living up to the hype?

Richard Cole
Developing communities around content was the focus of AOP 's forum on 11 December. Ahead of the event, we caught up with one of the speakers, Richard Cole, Head of Communities at Current TV. Operating across web and TV, Current offers an "innovative platform on which users can participate in shaping an ongoing stream of news and information."

Speakers from Guardian Media Group, FT.com, Pluck and Reed Business Information also featured at the event - download speaker presentations.

Q. In what ways can publishers use social media to drive traffic and increase loyalty?

Driving traffic and increasing loyalty is all about providing your audience with the tools and the reasons to spread your word far and wide. The audience needs multiple ways to find your site and if they choose to, an equal number of tools to distribute it on your behalf. The more you give the audience what they want, the easier it is to foster loyalty.

In terms of Current.com we provide the tools for our audience to set their agenda about what they find important in their world and share that with like-minded young adults.

Q. What do you think are the barriers to adoption that deter publishers from venturing into social media?

The first for traditional publishers tends to be control (or lack of). Many traditional editorial terms are nervous about losing control over their editorial standards, exposure to legal liability, relevance of content and hostility to the brand and its users.

Add to that a lack of understanding of the benefits, cloudy definitions on any costs that may be incurred and return of investment are all contributing factors to not getting involved.

Q. What are the common pitfalls to avoid when integrating social media into web properties? Can you think of any examples?

I can think of four main pitfalls:

  1. Failure to add any value to your target audience. Some publishers fail to understand why they want social media in the first place
  2. Reporting should not be an afterthought and should be a critical part of the design process. Integrated reporting is required for revenue generation and audience growth
  3. Simplicity is also something that is often overlooked. Just because an engineer thinks something is cool does not mean the average user will agree. Generally if your audience doesn’t understand it, engagement is lower
  4. Not recruiting a Community Manager early in the process

Q. Is social media ‘living up to the hype’ in terms of generating revenue? What revenue models do you think work best with this type of format?


It’s ironic - social media wasn’t created to generate revenue, it started with the needs of the user rather than those of the marketplace. Now of course [the social networks] are struggling to incorporate advertising in a way that is meaningful to the advertiser and acceptable to the audience.

The size of the audiences involved is always attractive but advertisers need to be able to integrate and weave into the very fabric of a community and to make it difficult to be ignored.

Current.com has created a unique community-driven commercial model with Viewer Created Advertising Messages or VCAMs as we call them, and they’ve become a proven revenue generator. VCAMs involve Current’s audience and advertisers collaborating to create adverts. These peer-to-peer adverts are preferred nine times more than traditional advertising when displayed to our audience.

Q. What about the ‘dark sides’ of social media (eg. comment spam and brand sabotage). Is this holding back social campaigns and what can be done about it?

Social media is something that shouldn’t be manipulated, contained or controlled and for some companies this is too much of a risk. How do you combat this? Start early, start small and be completely transparent about any ‘management’ that exists.

With regard to social campaigns, most company structures are not inherently set up to be public facing, sociable and transparent. As a result smaller, more nimble companies are often best placed to benefit from this by providing the audience with what they want. Ultimately social campaigns need to add value to the user, the more value added, the more loyal they become.

Richard Cole spoke at the AOP Forum: Developing Communities around Content on Thursday 11th December 2008 at IPC’s offices in London.

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