The immense popularity of social platforms such as Facebook and Twitter has heralded a new breed of web publishers that embrace an inherently social model. Publishers such as BuzzFeed, The Cheezburger Network, and The Awl exemplify an approach to publishing that is built from the ground up for the social web. Along with their successful content models, these sites have also created "native" advertising experiences to monetize their sites in new ways that delight users and advertisers alike.
Social content publishers and curators have benefitted from the insatiable appetite millions of people have to share content with their personal online networks. The success of these sites stems from being lightning-quick to latch onto emerging memes and stories, and cover news with an original and entertaining voice. Perhaps most importantly, these sites are truly participatory: Visitors don't just come to these sites to discover content, they come to find content to share. Buzzfeed notes that nearly 80 percent of visitors come to the site to find something to share. This social content format works well in today's environment, where people are short on attention span, but always on the prowl for new, compelling content to share with their friends. By pumping out consistently entertaining content, these sites fuel their readers with conversation starters to participate in on the site or share with their respective online networks which, in turn, drives more traffic to their content.
Parallel to their efforts to use social strategies to drive traffic to their content, social content publishers are also innovating with a commitment to "native advertising" experiences. Native advertising describes advertising experiences that seamlessly integrate promoted content from brand advertisers into the fabric of the site itself, rather than interrupting users with pre-roll ads or putting boxes, buttons, and banners into the corners of pages. Sponsored Stories on Facebook, Promoted Tweets on Twitter, TrueView in-search video on YouTube, and Paid Discovery on StumbleUpon are all examples of effective native monetization. In fact, companies such as Facebook and Twitter have placed their entire ad bets on native and are saying "no to display, pre-roll, and rich media ads.
In 2011, advertisers spent billions on these native advertising experiences, and this amount is expected to vastly increase in 2012. Facebook alone projects $5 billion in native ad revenue for 2012.
For marketers, one key to native advertising's value is that it is sold as an engagement-based model, which ensures that consumers are interacting with marketers' ads and there are no wasted impressions.The beauty is that the ecosystem self-regulates towards the best content: the brands who consistently produce relevant, entertaining, shareable content drive the most engagement and sharing, and therefore enjoy the most efficiencies through native ad buys.
We're already seeing quite a few traditional media sites start to experiment with this content based advertising model, as they look to provide a better user experience while also driving new revenue for their content. In fact, it appears native monetization strategies are at a tipping point. The two primary roadblocks to adoption -- a lack of developer resources to build native advertising experiences, and the lack of original branded content to fill this inventory – no longer exist. Content marketing is now a booming industry, and brands are investing unprecedented budgets in original content production, especially video. And publishers can now also leverage a new breed of advertising technology companies to support the development of native advertising products. Just as companies like DoubleClick empowered publishers to unlock display ad revenue and FreeWheel brought pre-roll video ad serving to the table, native monetization companies like Sharethrough now enable publishers across the industry to unlock native ad revenue. As more marketers look to attract audiences for their original content, there is a huge opportunity for publishers to develop native advertising experiences to accommodate this content. Ultimately, consumers will be rewarded by the merging of branded content and native monetization, as they will be thankful to endure fewer interruptive ads and be given more opportunities to engage with brands in an entertaining way on their favorite sites.
Chris Schreiber is VP of marketing at Sharethrough.
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