Fostering Brand Loyalty through Content Creation

In the overly saturated online marketplace, a wide-range of companies have turned to SEO, third-party social marketing, and other strategies to generate both short-term and long-term gains in sales, contacts, traffic, and brand recognition.  But while these approaches provide a lot of value when it comes to selling tangible goods and services online, the flip-side of the coin shows that in the ad-driven world of online publishing and content syndication, high placement in the search engines and a large volume of traffic are no guarantee of monetary success or brand extension.

As was mentioned in our previous write-up about Google's expansion into browser-based games, there is a certain value associated with visits and time spent per visit, especially when a site is centered first and foremost on content. In an industry that still views impressions and click-thrus as reliable measuring sticks for success, a number of Web consultants make the critical mistake of overlooking the long-term implications of these two metrics.  But they are vitally important when looking at the current health and future trajectory of a website's ad revenue and future brand potential.

While great content can drive visitors in by the tens or hundreds of thousands, an unfortunate and often unspoken fact is that first-time visitors are incredibly fickle and they rarely, if ever, make content creators any money. Traditional click-thru-based ads aren't converted on in sufficient numbers and impression-based ads are often priced in the lowest tiers.  The key is to get these users to come back, again and again.  But retaining visitors over an extended period of time is getting more difficult as the amount of competition continues to increase.

In a medium where content consumption is done quickly and with little regard for the original producer or originating brand, the challenge involved in increasing on-site loyalty and exposure can seem monumental.  One solution that has been gaining in popularity is the promotion of active participation among a site's regulars; allow the users to submit, create, edit, vet, and manage some if not all of the content. Naturally, this has been done famously by Wikipedia as a non-profit venture, but there are others in the marketplace who are attempting to further flesh out the collaborative process in the hope of making an honest dime.

One example of this is the Whiskey Media network.  Founded by CNET co-founder and former CEO, Shelby Bonnie, the Whiskey Media network combines a traditional editorial system with a collaborative wiki-like back-end system. Their content creation process leans heavily on their niche audiences; encouraging long-term participation and allowing users to proactively submit and modify existing content that both feeds into and runs alongside staff-written features. Much like the Wikipedia model, this process fosters a high level of user engagement.  As a result Whiskey Media's properties boast not only high numbers for key metrics like monthly visitors, but also impressive figures for repeat visits, time spent on site, pages viewed, and more.

Another prominent example is the user-managed regional directory Yelp.  Like Whiskey Media, Yelp relies on its users to submit and manage a large cross-section of its available content.  With well over 12 million user-submitted reviews, event listings, and other locally-supported content, Yelp is working to become the most trusted online directory and advertising partner for local businesses.  All of this, of course, is being done for them by the site's very active and enthusiastic users.

While it would be foolish to think that more traditional media would ever move over to a system like this, the incentive for smaller brands and upstarts to pursue this level of user feedback is quite high.  As both Yelp and Whiskey Media have quickly learned, providing users with the tools they need to stay active and engaged not only fosters a sense of ownership and brand loyalty, but it leads to the much coveted repeat visit that online media companies seek.  Given the impermanence of most online media ventures, it will be interesting to see where both of these properties are in a few years time.

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