An Excerpt From a TRUE Interview With Mashable’s Adam Ostrow
TRUE sat down with Adam Ostrow, chief strategy officer for Mashable, to talk about the future of content and how it is going `native.’ A fast-growing segment of Mashable’s revenue base, native advertising is basically branded content in a form ‘native’ to the channel chosen. So it could be sponsored articles, promoted tweets or videos, and it’s usually on topics in which a company’s customer base would logically be interested. One of the stars of Mashable’s latest tweak to native, called Social Lift, is Friskies’ favorite cat—and one of the Internet’s—Grumpy cat.
Q: How much of Mashable’s revenue does native and branded content make up today and do you see that changing over the next five years? Will native advertising take over traditional online advertising?
Adam Ostrow: Native advertising is certainly the most exciting aspect of our business right now. It’s what we’re out there talking about. But display still has a place for branding and awareness and I don’t think you’ll see it go away any time soon, at least for the next four to five years. That said, I see branded content becoming increasingly more important. Right now about 55 percent of our revenue is from display and 30 percent from branded content. I think in the next two to three years you’ll see those numbers inverted. If you look at what we did with Visa and FleishmanHillard at the end of last year, display was a part of that program. We found that the combination of display and content actually really delivered in terms of lifting the overall awareness among the readers that we surveyed in that campaign. And if you look, a really good chunk of display is already associated with branded content.
Q: How will branded content be affected by the Federal Trade Commission’s ruling earlier this year that it must be clearly marked as branded?
Ostrow: I don’t think it changes very much. Since we’ve started doing (branded content), our pieces have always been clearly noted. It actually gives the brand an opportunity to talk about why the program is relevant to them. Plus they own all the display advertising around the content, and I think that also makes it fairly clear to the reader. On our new Social Lift units (a new program started by Mashable to give certain branded content priority viewing), we’ve included something that says, “sponsored by the brand,” and our engagement has been very good there. In fact, what we’ve found is that our branded content on average actually gets 50 percent higher engagement than our organic content. The branded content actually gives us time to invest in deeper pieces, evergreen feature-driven content, that people really want to read. We’re not recreating magazine advertorials online where editors play little or no role, and the pieces are filled with branding. News, on the other hand, is very commoditized and only has value for five or 10 minutes.
Q: What do you think the next iteration is for content? What direction will it be headed?
Ostrow: Certainly more visual. If you look at how social media and the Web have evolved over the last couple of years, the Web’s going much more visual. Sites like Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter have become more visual; if you look at the Mashable redesign, our site has big beautiful photos for every story now. We did a licensing deal with Getty Images, and we hired our own photo editor and art people. The reason is simple: Visual content gets shared the most online. We did a study basically comparing what happens when we post a link on Facebook versus a photo. The photo got eight times the engagement of the link.
Content is also going to be more channel-specific and sophisticated. That’s why we created our new Brands Lab. Here we can create for companies not only articles and videos, but also the type of content that really resonates on social—Vines, Instagram videos, viral videos.
Homepage photo credit: Getty images