Sift CEO Ben Heald
So these guys over at Sift Media are heading for £3 million of advertising revenue this year. Probably worth hearing what their CEO has to say about online publishing. The first question is a bit silly:
What levels of participation inequality do you see from forum and community users? What can publishers do to tackle that more effectively?
Ben Heald takes a valiant stab at it:
You probably get about 10% of the audience that you are sending your emails to, contributing to the content in some way.
I don’t think usage levels have changed that much. It matches the dynamics of a conference, where out of an audience of 100 people, you will get ten asking a questions and one or two people speaking to you after the presentation. I don’t think that will change. We won’t all become avid contributors to forums. Some people just want to take stuff.
His answer is basically right – participation will not be level – but at the end he goes seriously astray: “Some people just want to take stuff.”
That may be true of some people but even more often, people are at different points of the cycle. There have been many communities where I have been a passive observer and then gone on to contribute substantially. Then there have been communities where I was very active and then dropped back to just a monitoring position.
If you cut off the people observing, you are eliminating a huge portion of future participants.
On the other hand Ben Heald’s has some brilliant ideas on how to:
- create engaging online content in a business context
- remunerate the people writing and promoting that content
Here’s what he has to say:
Writing to engage, rather than to inform, is a big switch. These worthy articles that quote all and sundry are fine and they have their place. But you don’t feel like commenting on them at the end. You don’t feel like engaging with it. You’re informed but you feel a bit exhausted by it.
We are trying to be a ringmaster or a coordinator or a facilitator. The job of the editor is to seed audiences, stimulate and provoke on behalf of the whole site. All our editors are rewarded through the success of the sites in terms of the page impressions and users their articles generate, not how many words they write. They have a basic salary and the commission is based on the page impressions and the number of reads of their stories.
It’s about engendering the right behaviours. Do you really need to write 1,000 words, or do 500 words that are more provoking? They become active on other forums, promoting their websites. You can’t be successful when you’re running your own walled garden.
Bingo! The problem is solved. The writer/promoter is not rewarded for a long dull article. The writer/promoter is rewarded for a successful article on objectively measured criteria.
How to transfer those terms into a smaller environment like Foliovision is a challenge, but it’s certainly the right direction for online publishing.
The other issues is to hire engaging writers in the first place. If a writer has a history of penning dull work, publishable but somniforic, the odds are that writer isn’t going to set the world on fire writing for you on business themes.
Still, it’s a great way to force motivation for those who have the talent but perhaps not the will.