Social Voting Sites Demystified

Most media buyers think of Web 2.0 in the context of blogs and social networks. By now we know there’s no shortage of advertising opportunities on such sites, and it’s easier than ever to reach target audiences and deploy campaigns.

The newest social media sites are driven by collective opinion via visitor voting. The question for media buyers is can we, and should we, use them for client placements?

The Pros

Popularity contests with substance, services like Digg, Reddit, and Netscape, deliver up-to-the-minute stories, articles, and videos. They put the task of posting and managing content in users’ hands. Consumers vote on or rate the worthiness of the content, affecting site position and thus exposure. Popular material rises to the top for everyone to enjoy. The rest drop off into cyberspace.

Sites based entirely on user participation tend to attract an engaged audience, although a sizeable portion of the interaction may be represented by just a handful of members. But given this applies primarily to submitting content rather than voting, social news users still represent an active, attentive, and passionate audience for marketers.

The Cons

Like most new media types , social news sites aren’t without imperfections, particularly when it comes to advertising. This is one area in which properties are still getting up to speed. Some don’t yet feature ads, others are slowly shifting from showing paid search text ads to displaying standard banners.

On the upside, the progression toward integrating advertising means some sites are open to suggestions. This includes customizing section sponsorships and developing co-branded ads for larger clients. Most social news sites outsource their ad sales, as well as the management of such opportunities. If you want to place an ad with Digg, call on Federated Media Publishing. Need to navigate available placements on Netscape? Talk to parent company AOL.

Another issue buyers face when selling social news placements to clients is simply that it’s a social medium. Heck, we just finished convincing them there’s value in partnering with social networks, and now here comes another iteration to pitch. Given their novelty, these sites are best approached by exploration and experimentation. Until someone forms the social news equivalent of Blogads, buying placements on a case-by-case basis isn’t just practical, it’s unavoidable.

Site measurement is also in need of fine-tuning. According to Chas Edwards, Federated Media publisher and CRO, Digg’s internal server logs (analyzed through Web Side Story) show 15 million unique visitors per month. Yet comScore Media Metrix puts it at about 3 million.

One reason may be that social news users tend to prefer browsers such as Firefox, which, owing to factors such as the way they handle JavaScript code, aren’t as easily measured. A recent comScore study found Firefox users are young, affluent, and early adopters of Web 2.0. “If ‘early adopters of Web 2.0 technologies’ means that social media sites like Digg, Boing Boing, YTMND and Wikia have audiences that skew toward Firefox users, it may explain why panel-based research firms like comScore and Nielsen//NetRatings underestimate the reach of those sites,” observed Edwards in his industry blog.

While it’s encouraging that social news users are such an appealing demographic, conflicting traffic numbers make pitching these sites more challenging. Still, these unique and untapped sites are the social medium to watch. Their value promises to outweigh any barriers, and it likely won’t be long before such sites figure in your media plans.

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