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article imageHuffington Post offers sponsored comments, Tweets to advertisers

By Chris Hogg     Dec 15, 2009 in Internet
As advertisers look for new and more effective ways to reach out to consumers, the Huffington Post thinks it has the answer: monetizing social media.
According to AdAge, the Huffington Post will let advertisers pay to put comments among reader-submitted comments, and sponsored Tweets into the site's live Twitter feed.
The Huffington Post, often called "HuffPo" is a U.S.-based news and commentary site founded by Arianna Huffington.
While nobody has bought into the advertising idea quite yet, the idea has piqued interest in the world of advertising.
"It's interruptive, potentially, but it also presents an opportunity for the advertiser to say something worthwhile," Ian Schafer, CEO of interactive agency Deep Focus, told AdAge. "In theory, there's more upside in doing it that way than in buying a banner ad. With those the default behavior is to ignore them. With this the default behavior may be to pay attention."
Greg Coleman, the site's president and chief revenue officer, said paid posts will be clearly marked and advertisers will get help on the best ways to join conversations. Coleman argues the format would give advertisers a way to start dialogue with readers.
For example, a discussion on football could include a sponsored post that includes relevant sports stats. Furthermore, a company that makes vitamins or health products could sponsor a tweet related to lifestyle and health.
"Although they’ve had a few years to get used to it, advertisers are still wary of social media sites because of the uncertain nature of user comments," writes David Kaplan of PaidContent. "But as the ad recession has dragged on and standard display units are regarded tepidly, publishers and marketers are desperate to find ways to connect with audiences."
The Huffington Post says advertisers need to see this as an opportunity to add value to a conversation rather than simply try and sell product.
The move into new forms of advertising comes at a time when the site is putting increasing attention on monetization. Coleman says the site expects to double revenue by next year and it's now hiring more senior sales execs and buying third-party research on traffic and visitors. Coleman did not give AdAge any specifics on current revenue.
The Huffington Post is not the first site to look at sponsored posts, but with an increasing footprint in the social media world it's getting a lot of attention with every move it makes.
"Clearly Ariana Huffington has spotted two trends in Twitter that make it a neat match-up for the news aggregation in HuffPo: Twitter's growing userbase, and the way the system is increasingly being used by PR professionals for networking, client contacting, and news promotion," wrote Kit Eaton of FastCompany.
The Huffington Post attracted nearly five million monthly uniques in November, according to comScore. And while the site is most well known for its political commentary and coverage, Coleman said 82 percent of pageviews in November were from non-political content such as entertainment and business.
If advertisers start adopting new methods of marketing their products, it remains to be seen how readers will react. While the Huffington Post says paid posts will be clearly marked, reader reaction to sponsored comments and tweets may be less than favourable.
Furthermore, it's not entirely clear how the site will react if a company does not pay for a comment post, but instead engages in dialogue in the comment section anyway.
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