Once upon a time, bragging rights in the world of online advertising went to the sites and landing pages that got the most impressions. In the old advertising ecosystem, advertisers and publishers alike spent millions of dollars in driving impressions to their site -- statistics that were brandished via impressive Nielsen and ComScore graphs at the end of every month.
Well, that's changed. In recent years, the focus of the online advertising world has moved from garnering impressions to acquiring the right users. The publishers and advertisers who have caught on to this shift are the ones that are the most successful.
Currently Facebook has 500 million users, and recent reports indicate that they are on track to grow to a billion users in the near future. Twitter's founders have firmly pegged the company's growth to an increase in the number of users. The personalized music radio station Pandora recently announced that they had grown their user base to 46 million. This impressive growth in the number of Pandora listeners was instrumental in helping them achieve profitability.
And publishers are not alone.
In increasing numbers, advertisers are building online communities of people -- on email, Facebook, Twitter, or simply on brand community sites. Using these online communities, they are able to provide meaningful experiences to users based on their preferences. By enabling consumers to connect with brands in a way that is relevant to them, marketers can drive important metrics like aided/ unaided awareness, recognition, advocacy, purchase intent, etc.
The Wall Street Journal recently reported how retailer Lockers.com is engaging its user base of 16 million by providing users with editorial content, social networking, and games. Luxury shopping site Gilt.com boasts a flash photo gallery that is the envy of fashion magazines. Tommy Hilfiger keeps its users engaged by allowing people to post photographs of themselves wearing the new arrivals. The ASPCA provides pet lovers with real-time tips on caring for animals through their Twitter group (it's the place to go to if you want to know what to do if your cat keeps you awake at night).
The first step to engaging people via online communities is getting their user data and inviting them to be a part of your community. But just what are the ways advertisers and publishers can acquire the user data of people interested in their products or services?
There are five viable ways that marketers can collect the contact information of interested consumers in a way that is respectful of their privacy.
Users visiting your site or landing page
When Aesop spoke about the low-hanging fruit in his fables, he was probably referring to the people visiting your site or landing page. These are the people who are already interested in your product or product category and who are more likely to give you their contact information.
There are three methods to acquire the user information of people visiting your site or landing page.
- Your site registration form. Site registration forms have been around almost since the beginning of the internet. Most online consumers are fairly used to submitting their user information through site forms.
Tip: While collecting information via site registration forms, it is recommended that advertisers collect only basic information such as name, email address, and zip code. You can always collect more information (such as consumer preferences, shopping behavior) over a period of time as you build a relationship of trust with the consumer.
- A Facebook plug-in. By clicking on the Facebook Login + Registration plug-in, people with Facebook profiles can submit their information to you directly from their Facebook profiles.
Tip: It is important to note that only the information that users have chosen to make public in their Facebook profiles will be shared. If the marketer requests any information that has not been made public on Facebook, a pop-up window will warn the user that the site or landing page is trying to access their information. This could potentially make for a disruptive experience and turn the user away from your site or landing page.
- The Open ID plug-in. OpenID is an open standard that enables people to log-in to secure websites without having to create different usernames and passwords for each one.
Tip: People who have an account with any of the following services already have an OpenID:
When people log in to your site with their OpenID credentials, you can access user information directly from their Open ID account.
It is recommended that you give users a choice in the way they want to share their information by providing all of the above three options.
However, it is not sufficient to just capture the user information of people who are visiting your site or landing page. No matter how big your site or brand is, most of your prospects are not on your website. The majority of prospective consumers or advocates for your brand are on other websites -- including those of your competition.
For example, the ASPCA has 2 million registrants. However, there are 71 million pet lovers in America. "We have to constantly be reaching out to new sites, new audiences, new demographics to expand our reach," says Debbie Swider, director of e-marketing for the ASPCA.
To capture the user data of people who are not on your site, you can run a mix of search and sign-up campaigns. You can use search ads to direct a user to a landing page, where you can use different tools to capture user data as discussed above. You can also use sign-up ads, where user data is captured directly within the ad.
- Search ads. Search ads are triggered when someone types a keyword belonging to your product category. You can run search ads on a number of search engines such as Google, Bing, Yahoo, and Ask.com to reach across the whole market. When people click on your search ad, they go to a landing page. As described in the previous section, you can use a variety of landing page techniques to capture user data. There exists a wealth of practices related to this practice which can (ironically) be found by typing in the word Google.
Search ads, which are typically priced on a cost-per-click pricing model, allow you to reach users who are searching for your product or industry category.
While search ads are excellent for getting your message in front of people who are searching for your product or industry category, there's also a large universe of people who are not searching for your product, but might be excellent prospects all the same. To reach people who are not actively searching (but might be excellent prospects for your brand), you can run sign-up ads.
- Sign-up ads. You can run sign-up ads that acquire user data right inside the ad unit on the publisher website. User information is sent from the publisher to the advertiser securely via back end transmission, so there's no need for a landing page. With sign-up ads, you only pay when a user signs up, so you get results for every dollar you spend.
Sign-up ads are typically priced on a cost-per-sign up or cost-per-lead pricing model.
By following the steps outlined above, you can develop a comprehensive approach to acquire the user data of people most interested in your brand -- the first step towards building a successful online community.
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