Won’t You Be My Neighbor? – The CommunitySite Buy

Way back when, in 1994, a site was founded that several years later would be responsible for the democratization of the web. This site took the web out of the hands of just techno-geeks and programmers and made it the purview of people with access and something they wanted to share with the world.

Though founded in 1994, in 1997 GeoCities came on the scene as a viable ad vehicle with a compelling model for advertisers. Bankrolled by Softbank, it was an idea whose time had almost come. It had this terribly novel idea of giving registered users a certain allotment of server space (about 15 Megs if I remember correctly) for them to build and store a personal website on – free. Advertising supported the site, as all sites were hoping for then.

The property was organized into neighborhoods, and when visitors went to peruse the pages, they would coast by little house graphics set next to little road graphics, each with an address. Each neighborhood represented an affinity group (all the better to target you with, my dear!). Athens for the philosophers and educators, Napa Valley for the foodies and wine enthusiasts, and Sunset Blvd. for the entertainment fans. The list went on.

I was settler number somewhere between 300,000 and 400,000. I chose to build my “home” in the Athens/Forum area. I think my site is still there somewhere, untouched for years, furniture covered by dust sheets.

It was an amazing idea, and GeoCities was successful in attracting millions of users into engaging in a wide variety of categories, allowing disparate people to belong to a virtual community of like-minded, like-interested groups. This, in turn, was positioned as a powerful targeting mechanism.

The community site phenomenon took off. At the same time, several other sites originally set up as being “chat” hubs were trying to make the same kind of inroads. Sites like WBS (now a part of GO.com), Talk City and theglobe.com belonged in this camp. The lure to advertisers was the same. Topics of interest were grouped together into targetable categories, and the inventory was available for sale.

The problem with chat, though, was that advertisers were leery of content over which there was little control. The last thing an advertiser like Sprint would want is a banner to run in a chat environment, only to have discussion turn to how much the people present hated their phone service, or how Sprint jerked them around on a phone bill.

And what if an advertiser were willing to take a chance? What level of response would it really expect from an audience engaged in conversation? As it turns out, not much.

So sites like the Globe became community sites and started offering free home pages. And others just started referring to themselves as community sites, hoping this would put a warm fuzzy on the potential cold prickly of chat.

So what kinds of community sites are out there today, and how and why do you buy them?

First of All, the Why

The best reason for buying community sites is that these sites have a very broad reach against the general online audience. Lots of inventory can be purchased in channels and “neighborhoods” that have affinity with a given advertiser’s target. In addition, these properties can be purchased at fairly low CPMs.

Also, if you are testing a low-cost, ubiquity-buying strategy for a new advertiser, it never hurts to test community sites for the same reasons mentioned above.

Now, How to Buy Them

When it is the first time out with a particular advertiser, only buy one or two of these kinds of sites. If you have a solid understanding of the target already, negotiate placement in specific channels or neighborhoods. If you are not sure about the target or what kind of audience you expect to respond to the advertising, negotiate ROS.

In either case, stipulate that this is a “test” buy and that renewal is dependent upon performance. Hopefully you will be able to secure the lowest rates possible for your client, thereby minimizing their financial exposure during the initial test phase.

In the case of an ROS test buy, negotiate tracking of each major neighborhood/category. If you aren’t able to track more granular performance data, you don’t really learn much from the test buy.

And finally, always get the site to break down allocation of inventory by specific placement. That way you can most fairly and accurately evaluate performance.

Finally, Some Samples

Some of the major community sites out there to buy are:

  • Fortune City. This is a good property to test the concept on. Fairly priced and good to deal with.
  • theglobe.com. A bit expensive these days for what you get, but probably worth a test if they index high against your target.
  • Talk City. Sometimes great, sometimes not. Better for a female-targeted effort. Some good deals and interesting placement opportunities.
  • GeoCities. Hard to say anymore. Since it was acquired by Yahoo, I’ve not done much here, as they become too highly priced for the kind of inventory being offered and the Yahoo sales staff isn’t that interested in it. Worth checking into, but probably not the first place to go.

And there you have it – a brief history of community sites and what to do with them.

It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor…

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