Ad:tech Panel: Context is King – Finding Information in an Overcrowded World

A panel at ad:tech today entitled ‘Context is King’ featured Vivian Schiller, Senior VP and General Manager of the; John Byrne, Executive Editor and Editor in Chief of; Betsy Morgan, CEO The Huffington Post; and Robin Steinberg, SVP and Director of Print Investment at MediaVest. The panel was moderated by Pam Horan, President of the Online Publishers Association.

Horan kicked things off by outlining what she believes are the three most important things for any publisher or advertiser to remember: deliver content that is relevant, deliver content that has a voice and that will resonate with the consumer, and deliver content that is real – in other words that radiates authority.

As user generated content becomes increasingly popular, it becomes proportionally difficult to verify the authenticity of this content or to exercise quality control. Horan claimed that studies show 76% of internet users would appreciate the assistance of an editor in vetting information available online.

Schiller then weighed in, offering her thoughts on the changing role of the editor from someone who is curating content created by journalists and columnists to now curating content from across the web.

The New York Times’s topics pages are now slowly beginning to curate more than just original content – they’re also aggregating and presenting related headlines from all over the web. "We’re professional editors – we’re going to send you wherever you need to be. If you go away that’s fine, but we’re sure you will come back. This will ultimately work to benefit of our traffic revenue."

She revealed later this month, the Times "will take a quantum leap forward called Times Extra." Currently in internal beta, Times Extra will feature links to stories from other publications under every article. This includes pieces from competitors that take a different stance. "For many it was a radical move, but it’s very much of the web and we think it will engender loyalty."

Another new feature (currently in beta) is Times People – the Times’s social network. "It’s a way for us to engage with our very active community," says Schiller. Users can recommend articles to their peers – and can also follow others users, who they presumably develop an interest in due to their content preferences.

Then came John Byrne. He cited a study from McKinsey that he noticed about 18 months ago, which revealed thatpeopel who consume news regularly typically rely on about 16 to 18 brands per week. "For traditional media we’d like to think everyone comes to us but of course that’s not true. This informed the project I’m about to show you. We live in a world where there is too much information chasing too few eyeballs and too little time to observe all of it."

Business Week’s solution: The Business Exchange. Described by Byrne as "a bit like Wikipedia, a bit like, a bit like Flickr and a bit like Google," the Exchange allows you to create a business topic. This is then immediately populated by information relevant to that topic – whether it’s a news story, feature, or a blog – and the information can come from anywhere, not just BusinessWeek.

"Since these topics are organized around people, they naturally form communities. The people in these communities are very interested in that topic — they are people you want to know if you want to stay on top of your idea," explains Byrne. The product lets the community decide what rises to the top, or in other words what appears on the front page, by ranking the content based on levels of interaction (whether this be reading, sharing, commenting or just adding the story.)

"One of the cool things about the product is the voyeurism concept – can peer over shoulder of person and see what they’re doing, reading, commenting on , sharing and adding to their topics," says Byrne.

Business Week is aiming to get acknowledged experts to become members of these communities in order to enhance credibility. Henry Bloggett, CEO of Silicon Alley Insider, is one celebrity figure who has shown up since the product launced in September.

Then Betsy Morgan of the Huffington Post spoke. She talked about the site’s model:  to recognize and then capitalize on people’s obsessions – whether they be the election, Sarah Palin in particular, the economy or anything else that has people excited. Her focus was on explaining what the site has done to create a strong community around Sarah Palin: "Sarah palin has gained huge community on the Huffington Post. We’ve taken a politics topic and made it into way more than politics. She’s had a prominent spot on our style vertical, our living vertical... This speaks to the unsiloed nature of web these days. In a world of niches we can broaden our coverage."

Finally, Robin Steinberg from MediaVest gave her spin on the importance of context. She mentioned the concept of "emotional trust" – a feeling that is built between a brand or publisher and their consumer by past experiences on that particular site. "Content still seems to be king in terms of what clients are looking for."

She went on to spell out her disappointment with most media or magazine sites, which don’t offer an experience that would allow the creation of such trust. "It’s an issue for us today to create multiplatform ideas (to advertise) for credible, great brands, but the experience is just not there on the websites."

Steinberg sees the problem as one of approach: "The editing (for sites) is done like a magazine. We need to drive consumers to a site on a daily basis. It’s hard to execute partnering with a or – we need to balance this but they aren’t delivering in even a small way."

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