The Quest to Monetize Online Content

For must of us in the modern developed world, online content (media websites, professional blogs, social media sites, etc.) has become an integral part of our lives. The importance of the internet as a primary source of information is leaving many traditional media publishers with bright, gold dollar signs in their eyes. As they seek to monetize this content, they are presented with several potentially profitable options, and an equal number of potentially disastrous obstacles.

Think monetizing online content is a breeze? Ask Twitter how easy it is.

The seemingly omnipresent social media company revealed its upcoming advertising platform, beginning today with “Promoted Tweets”. Companies will pay twitter an undisclosed fee to insert themselves into Twitter’s search results (i.e. a Starbucks ‘Promoted Tweet’ appearing when a user searches for ‘coffee’). Eventually, these tweets will appear in streams and other third-party Twitter apps.

Starbucks Promoted Tweet

The platform, going live today, is obviously still in its infancy, but one can assume two possibilities for how it is received by Twitter’s highly involved users. In the best case scenario, users will enjoy the super-relevant tweets, re-tweeting them and sharing their opinions on the Promoted Tweet. This is ideal for the advertisers as well as for Twitter. In the worst case (and another entirely plausible) situation, users will revolt against the commercialization of their company, feeling that corporate tweets shouldn’t be forced upon them. This approach is being employed for several reasons, including the fact that Twitter’s homepage is not a destination page where users go to access quality content (although, Twitter recently introduced “Top Tweets” to retain new visitors and encourage increased interaction by largely inactive users).

Traditional media outlets (TIME, Wall Street Journal, NY Times, etc.) are facing a similar challenge in determining how best to monetize their online content. With the realization that print media is trending towards becoming obsolete, publishers are beginning to look at ways to monetize their online content beyond advertising. The option several publishers are exploring is charging users for accessing the content on their website, which was previously available for free. In many respects, publishers dropped the ball on this. If they wanted to charge customers for access, they needed to do it from the beginning. By offering the content online for free from day one, they have created the perception that we, as consumers, deserve to view the content for free. We’ll pay for a newspaper or a magazine because we have always had to pay for it. It doesn’t seem like an inconvenience or that we are being slighted.

NY Times - 1914

Pay-per-click (PPC) or cost-per-thousand-impressions (CPM) advertising platforms may not fully recoup the costs of operating these websites, and in order to maintain the content online, publishers need to determine new and innovative methods to incorporate advertising into their content. Sponsored articles, advertorials, and other content-fused-with-advertisement platforms can be incorporated into the publication’s online strategy, but the rate of adoption may not be high enough.

Clearly, the challenges to monetization of online content are unique and complex, but as we’ve seen in recent developments, they are not insurmountable. The lesson has been learned, albeit definitely the hard way, that if you have a quality product that is an important, valuable aspect of consumers’ lives, don’t give it away for free and try to charge for it later. We will keep our eyes open for innovative ways to monetize social media, news, and other popular online content, and more importantly the reception these new methods experience by their customer and user bases.


About Michael Dossett

Inactive since Sept. 2011

Posted on April 13, 2010, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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