Publishers: Tell your users what they’re getting out of viewing ads
Contributor Ben Barokas discusses how publishers can regain control over their inventory and build better relationships with their readers by explaining the value exchange occurring on ad-supported media.
Despite Facebook’s claim that publisher adoption of Instant Articles has increased by 27 percent since the beginning of 2017, the fact that publishers such as The Guardian have removed their inventory from the platform sends a clear message to the industry: monetization of content through the platform is becoming increasingly challenging, while more needs to be done to build transparency and trust with the most valuable asset of all — the reader.
The consensus of the digital media industry is also supported by a recent report from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, which reveals that almost half of respondents (46 percent) are more worried than last year about the influence of third-party platforms on the publisher-reader relationship.
With these concerns mounting, how can publishers reclaim control over their inventory while building more robust direct relationships with their readers?
Engaging with audiences
With publishers continually looking for new ways to engage their audience, innovative platforms such as Facebook’s Instant Articles — which allow users to browse content directly within the app rather than linking to the original site — initially presented the perfect opportunity to drive traffic and reach new audiences with faster-loading content.
The first problem with this approach, however, is that publishers have far less control over both the format and the frequency of the ads being served alongside the content. Secondly, as publishers are quickly realizing, they no longer have the same level of access to customer data, which in today’s data-driven world is the key driver of dynamic, personalized advertising.
As a result, advertisers are becoming frustrated as they struggle to achieve a satisfactory ROI, while publishers are left to bear the brunt of this dissatisfaction as they strive to maintain a balance between their audience’s experience and their advertiser’s expectations.
Meanwhile, the growing importance being placed on the value exchange between content providers and online users is also calling for a change to the current subscription model. Until now, the media industry has functioned by providing supposedly free content while exposing consumers to some form of advertising.
However, with consumers taking a stance against irrelevant or intrusive advertising, evidenced by the recent rise in the adoption of ad-blocking software, this traditional model is no longer sustainable. Therefore, consumers need to be educated on how their “free” content is in fact funded.
Given the fact that a fifth of the Reuters respondents (21 percent) are aiming to focus on their own sites as the primary means of distributing their content in 2017 — as opposed to only 6 percent intending to focus on third-party distribution — what are the options available to ensure a fair value exchange while driving those all-important engagement levels?
Restoring the value exchange through increased compensation awareness
Throughout 2017, we’ve seen significant efforts devoted to raising awareness around “content compensation” with publishers beginning to communicate directly with their users about the value exchange of viewing ads in return for accessing content. Once the understanding of this exchange is established, publishers can then encourage users to opt in to a variety of compensation choices — dependent on their personal preference.
For example, when entering a site or clicking on an article, users could be asked if, in exchange for an ad-free or ad-light browsing session, they would like to view a display or video ad of their choice, whitelist the particular publication or purchase a subscription.
According to test data from our work with Dennis, up to 57 percent of visitors using ad-blocking software were willing to disable the technology after being presented with direct messages explaining the reasons for the proposed funding model and offering a number of different content compensation options. In addition, almost two-fifths (38 percent) were prepared to whitelist a site in return for accessing premium content.
It may be difficult to know where to start when approaching users directly, but methods such as A/B testing can help determine the most effective combination of message text and/or compensation options depending on the individual user to ensure optimum engagement levels across the entire audience — as well as increase readership levels in the long term.
Ultimately, having access to this first-party data means that publishers and advertisers have a much better understanding of the type of editorial content or ads an individual user may like to view based on his or her preferences — which simply isn’t possible via platforms such as Instant Articles.
As publishers vote with their feet in 2017, regaining control of the publisher-audience relationship is clearly a priority. And by communicating directly with users through open and upfront messaging, publishers may well be surprised how positive the reader response proves to be.