Hosted blogging site LiveJournal said late last week it is rolling out new sponsored communities and sponsored features like text messaging integration.
The first sponsored community is hosted by Warner Bros.’ quirky “Science of Sleep” movie, from the same director as “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.”
“One of the things advertisers are looking for in participating in social media sites like LiveJournal is a way to be a good participant in those sites. Classic advertising vehicles can’t do that,” Barak Berkowitz, CEO of LiveJournal parent Six Apart, told ClickZ. “In almost every category, there are brands that people have feelings and opinions about. It makes sense for the brands to engage those people and build a community for the people that care about their brand.”
Other social networks, such as MySpace and Facebook, offer similar opportunities for advertisers.
Sponsored features are applications and site features that will be provided by vendors, in exchange for “this feature made possible by this company” recognition on the site. The first sponsored feature is SMS integration with LiveJournal, sponsored by Amp’d Mobile. The feature will allow subscribers to interact with the LiveJournal site via text messaging on a cell phone. Paid subscribers will be able to use the feature without ads, while non-paid subscribers will see ads when using the service.
LiveJournal has been selling ads on its site since April, and advertiser response has been very enthusiastic, according to Berkowitz. The new sponsorship options give brands another option for reaching LiveJournal users and engaging them in a conversation, he said.
Six Apart, which acquired LiveJournal at the beginning of 2005, has done its best to honor a promise made to users by Brad Fitzpatrick, LiveJournal founder and current chief architect at Six Apart, that the company would never force users to see ads, according to Berkowitz.
When the decision was made to add advertising to the site earlier this year, users were given two options to avoid seeing ads: pay or give up some features. A paid service level, which only about 1 percent of users have chosen, allows users to keep ads off their own journal, and to not be shown ads anywhere on the site. A free service level also offers ad-free surfing, but limits the functionality available to users.
About a quarter of active users, and the majority of new users choose the “Plus” level account, which provides for free many of the same features paid users get, but shows ads.
“We’ve tried to keep the spirit of the promise that Brad made. We don’t want our paid users to see ads, but we also don’t want them to not have access to new features,” Berkowitz said.
Sponsored communities and features will be displayed and marketed differently to users in different service levels. Plus users will see new communities highlighted throughout the site, while paid users will not. Sponsored features will carry a “brought to you by” message in the management interface area of the site for Plus users, but not paid users.
All users will see a graphic at the top of each sponsored community identifying it as sponsored content, and a new icon is being created to make that distinction even clearer when the communities appear in search results and other areas of the site.
When the new sponsored elements were announced on LiveJournal’s corporate blog Friday night, the news was promptly met with an outcry from its members. Much of that was due to poor communication rather than problems with the sponsored communities and features themselves, according to Berkowitz.
“We clearly made a couple of mistakes in the implementation of the new features,” he said. “There’s a grey line around what constitutes advertising, and in some cases that line was drawn in the wrong place.”
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