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The Huffington Post is hoping to augment its impressive traffic numbers with some sponsored posts on the site. But rather than direct advertorial, HuffPo is betting that brands will be willing to pay to enter the fray of Twitter commentary underneath HuffPo articles.
According to AdAge:
"The Huffington Post has started offering marketers the ability to inject their own paid comments among reader comments and place paid Tweets among the live Twitter feeds the site assembles around news subjects and events."
As with much of advertising, the success of this endeavor depends mostly on tone. And advertiser interest.
This is one part of a larger push by Huffington Post to generate more revenue for the site. Traffic was expected to plummet on the liberal leaning political site after the 2008 presidential election, but since then visitors to the site have far surpassed the high mark of 5 million seen in October 2008 in at least nine months this year, according to ComScore.
Greg Coleman, the site's chief revenue officer since last September, has started making HuffPo use third-party research to better target users. He's also putting four new sales execs in place over the next few weeks and thinks his changes will double revenue by next year and expand it more than six times over the next three years.
Ian Schafer, CEO of Deep Focus, is bullish on the Twitter ad idea. He tells AdAge:
"It's interruptive, potentially, but it also presents an opportunity for the advertiser to say something worthwhile. In theory, there's more upside in doing it that way than in buying a banner ad. With those the default behavior is to ignore them. With this the default behavior may be to pay attention."
Because HuffPo only has room for a limited number of tweets under articles, this feature could help focus readers in a way that creating sponsored Tweets in a bigger forum would not.
But in order to work, these sponsored feeds would have to be extremely well tailored to the topics being discussed. And currently, that is not a priority for HuffPo. The Twitter feeds that appear at the bottom of HuffPo posts are not related to specific HuffPo stories, but to their general content.
For example, the Twitter feed following a recent story on a squabble between between The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal over a David Carr column does not refer to the HuffPo article or the controversy, but instead follows all tweets that mention "Murdoch WSJ" (snapshot above).
Reading general Twitter feeds on a topic can be of interest to readers, but paid-for posts that do not directly correlate to the content could get abrasive. Or rather, encourage people to avoid all the content beneath HuffPo stories. As it stands, all of the content between articles on the site and commenting faculties is rather distracting. An average article on HuffPo is followed by a "related news" section, a related Twitter feed, a box asking for reactions, more content from HuffPo in a related subject, a Digg box with popular HuffPo stories and maybe an ad. That's what commenters have to scroll through before getting to the comment section.
It will be up to both the brands and HuffPo's ad sales force to make sure that advertisers get the tone right. But considering that the HuffPo's Twitter feeds are not specifically tailored to the conversation at hand right now, it's hard to imagine that marketing messages will be more clearly delineated. That said, HuffPo readers may not be terribly sensitive when it comes to reading ad sponsored content.
If they're currently willing to wade through all of the clutter on the site to get their voice heard in comments, they may be just as willing to read (or ignore) marketing content in the site's Twitter feed. The bigger question is whether marketers will sign on for the opportunity to be ignored.
AdAge writes that paid comments on HuffPo will be clearly identifiable as such, but so far no marketers have bitten on the idea.
Coleman clarifies to Paid Content that he's in talks with many advertisers, but so far none have taken him up on the new format.:
"I could see fashion advertisers sponsoring a thread on the red carpet for the Oscars. A beer advertiser could sponsor a theme around a sports event. These are topics that people will be talking about and they’ll be engaged. And that’s where advertisers ultimately want to be.”
But it still remains to be seen if advertisers will want to be in the Twitter feed of HuffPo doing those things.
Image: Huffington Post