News360, a news aggregation app that seeks to learn users' interests and direct them to relevant content, this week announced the launch of a native advertising platform designed to help brands find and grow audiences for their sponsored content.
The free app, which currently has four million users, uses semantic analysis and natural language processing to analyze user interests, reading behavior, and social cues. It then constructs a relevant news feed for each user. The launch of sponsored content embedded into its news feeds is the company's first attempt to monetize its service since it was founded in 2010, confirms Roman Karachinsky, CEO of News360.
Karachinsky says the new platform also addresses a problem for brands: "There are lots of brands out there with great content," he tells ClickZ. "But once they create that content, they don't have a good way of finding the people interested in consuming it."
The standard way for brands to find an audience on the web, tablet, or smartphone is to buy keywords on Google or pay for sponsored campaigns on Facebook and Twitter. While this may work for consumer-oriented brands, companies that have specialized content aimed at a professional or technical audience can struggle to find the right readers, according to Karachinsky. Or the company may lack the large budget or capabilities to work with numerous publishing partners to get the word out.
News360's approach is instead to apply its own web crawler to sponsored content. The news engine looks at the brand's content, analyzes the text, and finds the people who are most likely to engage with it, Karachinsky says, just as it would for regular news.
"For most users, we are a discovery platform. Integrating the sponsored content into this discovery scenario works really well, because people are expecting to find interesting content," he says. Readers can like or dislike content, and if it becomes clear that a user dislikes all sponsored stories, the aggregator stops showing them.
For brands, which only pay for people who actually engage with the content, using the company's engine offers "a way to put fuel behind content marketing efforts without spending a lot of time preparing and targeting it," according to Karachinsky. They can choose to target audiences by geography, age, or interests, or simply allow the engine to determine the right audience. It tracks around 100,000 media properties, and then attempts to match them to the right users, eventually learning from its efforts as time goes on.
Once downloaded, News360's web crawler seeks out information on specific behaviors such as whether users are experts on a topic, prefer long- or short-form content, and even whether they like humorous or more sober approaches. "Our engine has one million different concepts it can detect and tries to understand who content should be shown to," says Karachinsky. It also tries to understand the person's role relative to the topic of interest. For example, an enterprise software developer and a person who likes high-tech gadgets are nominally interested in "technology," but each in a very different way. The former may consume very complex material, while the latter wants more consumer-oriented tech news.
Early adapters of the new platform include Intel, which is running a sponsored content campaign seeking to drive traffic to its digital magazine app, Intel IT Business Report. Intel couldn't be reached for comment on the new campaign. Enterprise software company Cincom Systems also ran an initial month-long promoted campaign using the app, targeting high-level decision-makers and business professionals.
"My marketing team is faced with the challenge of extending the magazine's reach by finding a very specific type of reader...they're not the people you just find on Facebook. Sponsored stories amplified our brand voice and thought leadership by simply leveraging our existing content creation efforts," says Marilyn Cox, director of marketing communications at Cincom, in a company statement.
Cincom reported a 48 percent increase in its blog readership over the course of the campaign as well as a 12.5 percent unique click-through rate on the iPhone, and a 5 percent CTR on the iPad. It also reported that readers spent an average of 1:30 minutes on each article on the iPhone and 1:15 minutes reading on the iPad, which the company says is far above average. About 7 percent of users also shared the promoted articles over social media.
In efforts so far, Karachinsky says he has been surprised by the fact that conversion rates for readers of sponsored content have matched those of non-sponsored content, indicating that the news engine is doing its job correctly. Depending on the richness of the profile, CTRs on tablets are in the 6 percent to 8 percent range.
The News360 app is available for free download on iOS, Android, and Windows Mobile devices.
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Mary Lisbeth D'Amico is a freelance writer based in Jersey City who frequently covers digital marketing, social media, tech startups, and venture capital. She has contributed to a wide range of publications including The Wall Street Journal, Business Week, Red Herring, and Real Deals. Find her on Twitter at @mldamico.
March 19, 2014