AOL continues its strategy of segmenting its audience with a recent upgrade to Black Focus, its African-American content area.
Belinda Hankins, executive director and general manager of Black Focus, told this publication that an expanded Afro-American service allows the company to better cater to member needs.
AOL is adding new content and community to the four-month-old section, leveraging both Time Warner content providers and outside partnerships. Black Focus uses material from Time Warner sister properties including Entertainment Weekly, Africana.com, and HBO; in addition there are content partnerships with BlackVoices.com, NiaOnline, and Black Enterprise.
Launched in late May, Black Focus now boasts more content in it's original sections devoted to news, spirituality and relationships. On offer is information on issues of interest to African-American audiences, such as the dearth of black fashion models; Rush Limbaugh's comments regarding Donovan McNabb; and a profile of gospel singer CeCeWinans.
The addition of deeper resources comes at a time when AOL is attempting to make its audience more targeted for advertisers. This week, AOL launched a separate Latino service, following up on a kid's service, KOL. The company also plans a service for teens.
Its strategy for serving blacks, however, involves further developing Black Focus within the main AOL keyword system. (AOL's ad chief, Lisa Brown, had previously told this publication the company would launch a separate service for African Americans; the company said it does not have those plans.)
"We are looking as a company how we can better serve our audience," Hankins said, adding Time Warner CEO Richard Parsons has made diversity a priority.
AOL does not have data on the ethnic or racial demographics of its audience. Jupiter Research (which is owned by the parent company of this site) estimated a year ago that blacks comprise about 8 percent of the online population.
By offering content in areas like beauty, spirituality and news that resonates with black members, AOL hopes to take the top spot among destinations serving a mostly black audience. Last month, Hankins proudly reports, Black Focus rose to No. 3 in this area, attracting about 500,000 visitors. It trailed the more-established sites BlackPlanet.com and BET.com.
The audience skews female, about 60 percent, according to Hankins, with average age in the upper 20s, somewhat older than BET.com.
Unlike AOL Latino, Black Focus does not yet boast a long line of prominent sponsors. It relies instead on AOL's regular ad sales team to market the area. Hankins said she expects advertisers will run campaigns to specifically tap her audience.
"We want to answer the needs of a deserving audience," she said.
America Online's own research seems to indicate this is a group well worth reaching. It finds African-Americans more likely to buy certain things online: apparel, music and videos, when compared to the general Internet population. The group also has a greater propensity to listen to music and watch video online.
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