Maria Sipka – The future of advertising: Online interest communities

Maria Sipka, CEO, Founder, Linqia

A group of interior decorating enthusiasts gather in a friend’s home to chat about decorating ideas for the upcoming Halloween holidays. They’re asking questions, sharing experiences, what they’ve seen in magazines, television shows and homes.  They’re seated comfortably on sofas and plush cushions sipping tea and nibbling on horderves. There is a natural flow to the conversation and the inspiring thoughts evoke a feeling of closeness and deepening of their passion.

Now imagine an advertiser barging through the door armed with offers, coupons, humorous acts and banners showcasing their products.

For decades, advertisers have subjected people not interested in being advertised to or being interrupted to an experience that is nothing short of abusive and disrespectful.  The highly centralized media channels have been the primary cause of this dreadful experience where the few ‘media moguls’ have controlled messaging to the masses.

This dynamic is rapidly shifting as the population spends more time and attention within the social web to form and deepen connections with like-minded individuals around shared interests. Advertisers are experimenting in various ways to reach these highly engaged audiences.  It’s the holy grail of advertising that requires a delicate approach.

To reach these audiences is simple. Be human.

Back to basics and drawing on one’s real life experience interacting with fellow human beings is how brands are starting to behave and formulating their approach.  Joining the conversation in a respectful way and offering something of value is how people become motivated to form relationships with brands. Leaving your sales and marketing spiel in the office and starting out by listening, learning and bringing to the community what people will find valuable.

Advertisers must transform their messaging from selling to informing, entertaining, inspiring and/or educating. This approach earns the advertiser attention, loyalty and permission to build new and ongoing valuable relationships. It’s no longer about investing the lion’s share of the billions of dollars into clever, beautiful and expensive commercials and advertisements. The guardians of these budgets need to delve into the hearts of their brand, business or organization and repackage the wealth of value that has been built over the life of that entity into relevant content and experiences that can be shared and repurposed to an engaged audience of people.

Advertising channels, as we know them today – television, billboards, newspapers and magazines, radio and the like, are becoming highly decentralized as a result of the social web. The power is shifting from the Rupert Murdoch’s of the world to Melissa – a stay at home mom of three in the Midwest who reaches and influences 5,000 other moms through her online community focused on parenting. What is astounding is the 100 million people like Melissa on the social web today who have dedicated their time to forming and building communities around their passions and interests engaging people the ‘real and authentic’ way.  The Melissa’s of this world are using platforms like blogger, tumblr, wordpress, facebook, twitter, pinterest and instagram to reach their followers, fans, readers and members. And their reach is growing exponentially – sometimes 300% over 12 months.

Community influencers – the people who lead engaged groups of audiences around an interest topic are extremely powerful and effective in getting attention and inspiring their communities to take action. For example, advertisers who are investing into traditional adnetworks with sophisticated targeting and reach methods are achieving at best 0.05% click through rates, and more recently with ‘sponsored stories’ a 0.1% click through rate.  Brands activating community influencers and inviting their leaders to share brand stories and content are achieving 2%+ click through rates with even higher conversion rates of 10%+ once the person has visited their site

Interest communities hold the key to reaching and engaging with the masses through the social web. Syndicating 100’s or 1,000’s of interest communities feasibly replaces one major channel and the experience is far more dynamic, personal and effective for both the advertiser and the people receiving the story. The ability for advertisers to reach these communities and inspire them to share their stories and content means the advertiser benefits from an on-going presence – not disappearing when the campaign is over or the budget has reached its limit. These stories continue to live within countless communities, continue to be shared and positively impact SEO and on-going exposure.

People who have influence make things happen – they change the world – one story at a time.

­­­­­­­­­­­Maria Sipka is the CEO and co-founder of Linqia, a San Francisco based start-up tackling the untapped market of 100 million interest communities and helping brands share their stories and content with highly targeted communities of people.