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“Social media is beyond the hype cycle”

On 11 December, AOP hosted a forum looking at developing communities in the digital age. We caught up with one of the speakers, Steve Semelsberger, SVP of Global Sales and Business Development, Pluck.

Speakers from Guardian Media Group, FT.com, Current TV and Reed Business Information also featured - access speaker presentations.

Q. In what ways can publishers use social media to drive traffic and increase loyalty? What publishers do you think have made the best use of social media on their websites?

Publishers can use social media in three primary ways: User Enhanced Content (e.g. comments on stories), User Generated Content (e.g. photo submissions) and Social Networking (e.g. user to user messaging).

These three concepts can be used on singular publisher properties, across commonly owned and managed websites, and as connective links to long tail sites and ‘pure-play’ social networking destinations.

Publishers like the Guardian, Hearst's All About You, USA Today and the Economist are doing a great job with integrated social media, from creative, customer-value and revenue perspectives.

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

Historically, editorial teams have been cautious about embracing social media, legal organizations have been concerned about liability, and commercial groups have been skeptical about monetisation potential.

As scores of sites have succeeded from both a content and revenue perspective, while avoiding arbitration, these barriers have rapidly eroded.

Q. What are the common pitfalls to avoid when integrating social media into web properties?

Pitfalls to avoid include:

1. Building it and thinking they will come (it's not just about the tools, community needs to be fostered)

2. Over planning pre-launch (best to put things up and tweak rapidly)

3. Fearing revenue (advertisers are proving to be especially comfortable with placements around user enhanced content).

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?

By several measurements, social media will be the second largest area of spend increase by advertisers and publishers, behind only search, as we transition into 2009.

From Pluck's perspective as a provider of social media tools to 300+ enterprise class websites, social media is beyond the hype cycle.

While sponsorships work great in a social media environment, user enhancements (comments, recommendations, ratings, reviews, etc.) are wonderful drivers of primary content page views, often increasing revenue by 5-15%+ within 6 months of launch.

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?

The dark sides of social media are wildly exaggerated. At Pluck, we see massive websites (e.g. USAToday.com at 500M+ page views per month and tens of thousands of comments per day) managing abusive behavior with very, very small teams.

The technology and best practices associated with managing disruptive efforts has really come a long way. At this point, fear of negative impact shouldn't be a hold back and frankly, we see very few publishers allowing the potential for disruption to prevent them from tackling exciting new social media opportunities.

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

Members can access speaker presentations here.