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BREAKING NEWS & VIEWS

IDG 'Amplifies' Ads via Social Media


Tuesday, May 5, 2009


The one thing we know about IT guys is that they love to show off their knowledge and share their opinion…loudly. Perhaps IDG is onto something, then, with its newly launched Amplify ad service that tries to tap this energy among tech professionals. On a side note, the company may be trying to maintain forward momentum on the heels of its Friday announcement to employees that IDG Communications is was laying off 8% of its U.S. workforce.

Partnering with ad serving platform SocialMedia.com, IDG will craft “conversational ad units” that can run at a social networks or can run in contextually relevant content at IDG sites like Computerworld.com, CIO.com or InfoWorld.com. The unit might ask the user to vote in a poll, for instance, and then solicit their opinion, which then can be run like social media content within the ad units others see. Or the user might elect to sign in to their Twitter account from within the unit and have their opinion or vote broadcast out to their own social graph.

“Most social media efforts have been pushing ads into social media environments,” says Matthew Yorke, SVP, sales and marketing, IDG Communications. “They are trying to get people to leave where they happen to be and go to another site. Our approach is different. We are trying to have distributed conversations—fishing where the fish are.” According to its own survey of IT buyers, half are active in at least two social networks each month, and two-thirds were in LinkedIn an hour a week. Almost half of those surveyed spent an hour in Facebook as well. By tapping into that social graph, IDG is hoping to “amplify” the IT buyer’s opinion among the people that matter most—his peers. The user is kept on the site and the ad message is sent to a network that may not be on any of the IDG sites. The viewers of the tweet can re-tweet and amplify the power of the original message even further.

For now the platform works within interactive ad units next to relevant content, but Yorke foresees it being integrated into keyword search results and even in-line text ads. A mouse-over of key terms might bring up the current Twitter conversation regarding virtualization or data centers.

Finding unobtrusive, seemingly natural ways to leverage online sociability and existing networks has been a core challenge for publishers in the past year. Early attempts by individual media brands to mimic the success of Facebook and LinkedIn largely failed as most users preferred to work within and maintain just one or two social profiles. And so publishers have been struggling either to find a comfortable place in these larger networks or devise smarter ways of pulling those networks into the publisher’s content.

Creating magazine-branded profile pages at Facebook or LinkedIn doesn’t seem to have worked well. They are hard to discover and most people don’t come to these networks ready to read a magazine. “Most conversations happen around content,” Yorke contends, and so the Amplify program tries to capture that opinion reflex as it happens in response to an article. The model also tries to solve a persistent problem area for advertisers—the plunge into unpredictable social networks. This program lets a sponsor stay primarily on the IDG sites or in targeted buys at a social network, but the conversations themselves are aimed squarely at tightly defined professional topics. “We could tee it up as an editorial calendar and even ask sponsors what key attributes they want to be associated with, like data center consolidation,” says Yorke.

Chuck Richard, VP and lead analyst for Outsell Inc., the publishing research and advisory firm, says IDG is trying to hit several trends at once with this model. The media buyers are looking for social media opportunities, with most brands expecting to increase their social media spend by 20% this year, according to Outsell research. Richard says that the use of simple online polling has become extremely popular among publishers and advertisers because it delivers instant analytics on audiences. “Advertisers are at least conceptually and vocally—if not always in practice—hooked on analytics and anything that smacks of measuring ROI of their spending,” he says.

Yorke says the Amplify program will be running in tests in the coming weeks, and several sponsors have already integrated aspects of the program into their plans. IDG Amplify is being offered at nine of the company’s major properties, including CIO.com, Computerworld.com, PCWorld.com and GamePro.com.

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