Ads in comments sections to target engaged readers

By Margaret Staniforth

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Contributors to online comments sections may see changes in the near future as online publishers consider placing advertising in that space. (Photo courtesy of Pixel Creatures via Creative Commons)

Publishers now have a way to monetize some of the most engaged readers on news sites: the commenters.

Online marketing company Livefyre recently developed a new platform that offers its customers, which include online news outlets, the opportunity to put advertisements directly into the comments section.

Lexi Monaghan, public relations manager at Livefyre, said that the company created the platform in response to requests from publishers.

“We have tons of different top-tier publications that work with us,” Monaghan said. “Now that we’ve introduced and publically announced ads and comments, they technically have the ability to integrate it.” Livefyre’s customers include The Wall Street Journal, CNN and Fox News.

If these outlets choose to place advertisements in the comments section, it will be up to them to decide how to do it. Typically online advertisements are embedded as close to the content as possible.

Steve Buttry, the director of student media at Louisiana State University, said that he would like to see advertisers experiment with the way ads function and are presented to news consumers online.

“I think we need to do a better job of using the data that we have about customers and what they want,” Buttry said. Putting ads in the comments section “just seems like another way to trick people into reading ads that they may or may not want.”

One format that publishers can use for advertisements in the comments section is native advertising, or advertising that looks like content.

Monica Guzman, the co-vice chair for the Society of Professional Journalists ethics committee, said that her main concern about online advertisements is the audience’s ability to differentiate the content from the ads.

“Buzzfeed has a lot of native sponsored content that looks exactly like their other stories but it does say at the top that it’s paid for by some company,” Guzman said. “They’ve been able to monetize that very successfully.”

Journalists and publishers may be expecting an uproar — or at the very least pushback — from commenters on this issue, but they seem to be staying out of the conversation at this point in time.

“People who comment are more often than not very opinionated people,” Livefyre’s Monaghan said. “So, when you’re popping in ads in their comment stream, it could be something that they initially are not a huge fan of.”

How do you think advertisements in the comments section could affect the way you read news online?

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