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Fostering civic engagement in digital spaces

Michele McLellan, a fellow at the Knight Center for Digital Media has started a conversation she calls “civic engagement 2.0”. She’s examining the tools and best practices that journalists and other news providers can use to foster civic engagement in digital spaces.

In her recently revised post on civic engagement 2.0, McLellan asks:

Is this the best way to be looking at this issue?
What best practices exist and who is developing them?
Do some of these practices exist outside journalism? Should I see if they can be adapted?
What is most missing in terms of tools and best practices that can help journalists engage in civic discourse online?

Much of civic engagement must come from a mindset of servicing a community and while journalism is a “calling-based profession,” the organizations themselves have not broadly defined themselves as a listening organizations. In order to serve a community, a listening posture is required.

customer-service

Understanding the larger cultural movements and gestalt of our times can also help media organizations and more nimble hyperlocal operators service communities better. A good book for understanding our current cultural path is called “Craving Community: The New American Dream” by Todd Mansfield, Ross P. Yockey and L. Beth Yockey. While their primary focus is on designing physical communities that foster connectivity, they also examine the science of community…our human need to connect.

These listening practices may come from a corporate America and companies that practiced a continuous improvement model to gain competitive advantage. Books like “Service America” by Karl Albrecht and Ron Zemke help to define the actions of this service posture in a consumer-focused culture. Their latest edition examines the effects of technology on service and how technological efficiency has set back customer service by 10 years.

When I created mytopiacafe.com (now defunct) for the Daytona Beach News-Journal, I created a service posture and philosophy. We were an organization/skunkworks designed to service the community. All our functions, content, tools, and actions were designed to foster community dialogue and build social capital (a way to measure the effects of your actions is by looking at social capital metrics).

That meant returning phone calls, getting that graduation photo scanned and up online and returned to grandma, going anywhere and everywhere to demonstrate how the site could be useful to the community. That service posture went a long way to developing a real following in the community.

  • Listen.
  • Do what you say you’re going to do.
  • Do it promptly.
  • Don’t think technology is the replacement for real service.
  • Walk the streets and listen to everyone.
  • Honor the stories, contributions, and complaints of those you come across as opportunities for improvement.
  • Work at humility.

But monetizing civic engagement is a difficult proposition for for-profit entities. The effects must build over time and unfortunately, the experiment called mytopiacafe.com was shelved just as it had reached its tipping point. But the lessons learned are valuable for anyone venturing into fostering civic engagement in digital spaces.

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Fostering civic engagement in digital spaces

Demystifying Advertising in Hyperlocal News Communities

Two hyperlocal efforts described their advertising strategies in a recent conversation sponsored by the Journalism That Matters collaborative. Tracy Record of WestSeattleBlog.com and Barry Parr of Coastsider.com discussed the advantages of ad servers, pricing, and some do’s and don’ts of ad sales in the hyperlocal space.

Do
•    Publish awhile before selling ads. WestSeattleBlog.com ran for two years before it took ads. Coastsider.com didn’t start selling ads for four years. Having another revenue stream (like a job) helps during the startup phase.

•    Develop a page design/platform that accommodates ads…even if you don’t have any yet. That means building in multiple positions – leaderboards, banners, buttons, text ads. The challenge is a design that has enough ad positions…a challenge if ads are your only revenue. A sidebar of ads is workable in a hyperlocal market (see westseattleblog.com), but the ads should rotate so that everyone gets positioned with the daily content…not somewhere south of Antartica.

•    Develop a presence in the community and let the community buzz and retail demand drive the decisions about adding advertising to the site.

•    Create a strong and easy-to-communicate ad strategy. Complex pricing and rotation schemes will end up confusing the advertiser and the bookkeeping.

•    Barter ad space. Use restaurant coupons, theatre tickets, free coffee, haircuts and other trades as giveaways on the site for new visitors, registration, participation or food for your own table.

•    Ad servers help manage ad space. Rather than hard-coding ads, ad servers help manage the rotation of ads, control traffic, and provide great reporting on how many times an ad was delivered on the pages and how many clicks the ad received.

•    Develop ad sizes based on standards from the Interactive Advertising Bureau. A square button size for rail ads is 125 x 125 IMU (interactive marketing units). A leaderboard is 728 x 90 IMU. Standard ad sizes mean your advertisers don’t need odd-size creatives for your site. If you plan to partner with other sites in ad networks/exchanges, standard sizes make you more attractive.

Don’ts
•    Don’t sell pay per click advertising. You have to sell based on branding and awareness, not on click rates because advertisers will be disappointed versus what they typically expect from other media.

•    Don’t be afraid of a high CPM (cost per thousand – cost to have an ad delivered to 1,000 people/eyeballs). Price the ads to get a fair cost for the audience you are delivering.

•    Don’t cultivate a lot of advertisers for a few good ones. It takes time to service advertisers and keep track of the accounts.

•    Don’t deliver specific reports to advertisers. Do share how many visits per month.

•    Don’t promise what you can’t deliver. If you can’t change out ads for daily specials – and do it consistently – then don’t sell it as an option.

A key point to remember: When you are the editorial and advertising person (or in the same household) there’s no separation of church and state. If your editorial opinions are not favorable to a particular advertising community, don’t be surprised if they don’t come to your party.

CHAT BACK: Have you played with ad packaging strategies? Do you have categories of advertisers that are working well on your site? Tips for pitching in a tough economy? Post your comments here.

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Demystifying Advertising in Hyperlocal News Communities