Sorry Robert, Size Does Matter

Posted on December 31, 2007
Filed Under Marketing 2.0 |

Robert Scoble has posted his commentary following the news that Perez Hilton, one of the world’s most popular online personalities, made a paltry $5,000 in revenue from his revenue sharing with YouTube despite the fact that his videos have received 25 million views over the past three months.

In his commentary, Robert proclaims that asking “What’s your audience size?” is the wrong question. Why?

In the past few years I’ve had some success building audiences, but I found that that’s not really what’s important. It’s not what advertisers REALLY care about.

Yes, Robert Scoble has found that advertisers don’t really care about audience size. I couldn’t help but chuckle at this because I’ve dealt with major brand advertisers (and people who sell to them) on a regular basis over the years and “What’s your audience size?” audience size is always one of the first questions asked.

In Robert’s world, what do advertisers care about?

1. Are you getting content that no one else is? For instance, today over on ScobleShow we have an interview with Rondee. A startup building a conference calling service that’s really great.

Content can be an important consideration for advertisers (they don’t want their ads displayed alongside inappropriate content, etc.), but content in and of itself is not going to sell an advertising deal. Exclusive content can be powerful because it drives an audience.

2. Does that content cause conversations to happen? If you use Google Blog Search, do you find anyone linking to it?

This sounds a lot like the “It’s not the size of the boat, it’s the motion in the ocean” excuse. Advertisers don’t really care about the conversations around your content. If the conversations help get more eyeballs for their ads, that’s great, but I can assure Robert that major brands are checking comScore and Nielsen, not Google Blog Search.

3. Does that content get noticed in the niche you’re covering? If you’re trying to cover do-it-yourself crafts or robots, for instance, does Make Magazine notice it and link to you?

What does Make Magazine’s coverage do? It (hopefully) builds traffic and your audience size. Duh.

4. Even more importantly, does it get the most credible and authoritative to link to you? Notice in point #3 I mentioned Make Magazine. In the do-it-yourself movement I can’t think of anything more credible or authoritative. So, getting a link from that matters more than getting a link, from, say, Loren Feldman over at 1938Media. Keep in mind that because Loren is funny his audience size might be bigger than the one hanging out over on Make. But no one will buy an ad on your site cause Loren made fun of it. They might, however, buy an ad if Make links to you a few times a month.

This is an asinine analysis. If Loren Feldman links to your site, the traffic you receive from that link is probably going to be short-lived. The link from Make, however, has a chance at delivering traffic that will stick. Again, it is about audience size. The mere fact that somebody credible links to you is not going to sell an advertiser. Coca-Cola isn’t interested in the fact that Make linked to you; they are interested in the fact that, because credible people have helped you build an audience, you can deliver eyeballs.

5. Chris Shipley’s Demo Conference proved to me it’s not the size of your audience that matters. It’s WHO is in the audience that matters. She has a micro audience. Usually about 1,000 people. But they include VCs, bloggers, journalists, and other influencers on whether startups get noticed or not. She usually has 60 companies on stage that each paid $18,000 to be there and most people in the audience paid more than $1,000 to listen to them.

Robert loses all credibility with this comment. First, comparing the business of technology conferences to the business of advertising is like comparing Cyan Banister to my future ex-wife Viktoria Azovskaja. Second, while there are some niche publishers who can command decent amounts of advertising revenue with relatively small audience sizes, the average publisher does not fit into this category. And the advertisers these niche publishers get are typically going to be niche advertisers - not the major consumer brands that have the biggest ad budgets.

6. I’ve been having lots of conversations with my producer, Rocky Barbanica, about the new thing that we’re doing (if you haven’t heard yet, we’re leaving PodTech and starting something new on January 16th — we’ll announce that on the 16th). But I never talk with Rocky about how large my audience will be. No, instead, we’re talking about who we want on the show for the first week. How can we make the quality better? Who is out there who is doing innovative stuff that we can learn from? Epic-FU, for instance, is one show I’m watching a lot. I’ve never heard Zadi or Steve (the two who do Epic-FU) talk about how they can get a large audience (I’ve been on several panels with Zadi). Instead she asks “how can I take my art further?”

While I agree that content producers need to focus on providing the best content possible, if you’re running an ad-supported content business, the purpose of producing high-quality content is to appeal to as many people as you possibly can so that you grow an audience that can be leveraged to sell advertising. If Robert doesn’t give a shit about growing his audience, then he has a hobby that generates some income, not a business that generates some income.

I’m always amused at some of the comments made by bloggers and this “size doesn’t matter” advertising argument just might be one of the most ill-informed of 2007. Based on his comments, I think Robert has a warped sense of the advertising business and is thinking quite small when it comes to this industry because he’s stuck in the small world of Silicon Valley. Yes, the ScobleShow has some sponsors, but until Robert is doing big ($100,000+) deals with major consumer brands and the ad agencies that represent them he deserves to have his credibility on this subject called into question for making such a ridiculous statement.

The truth is that the biggest ad deals come from consumer brands and this is where most online publishers are hoping to get a piece of the action. While audience quality does matter, audience size always matters more. Here’s why:

For anybody who thinks Robert Scoble knows what he’s talking about, here’s a suggestion: start a website, invest in producing the best content possible and immediately call 10 top consumer brands when you have little to no audience. Also be sure to call the top 5 ad agencies. If you even manage to get through to somebody who takes you seriously, they don’t reject you and they don’t ask you about your audience size, I’ll buy you dinner.

For those who already have some experience (or common sense) and don’t want to waste their time because the outcome of the exercise above is apparent, Henry Blodget has already stated the obvious: keep your day jobs.

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7 Responses to “Sorry Robert, Size Does Matter”

  1. Antje Wilsch on December 31st, 2007 2:44 pm

    I see a flip side corollary with this on PPC for start-ups. Some small companies have been working towards spreading their minimal marketing budgets to cover as many displays as possible, not as important as click-throughs of course but they still equal exposure. Even if users don’t click on the ads, having 6M exposures on a search term that has a 1% click through vs. 1M exposures on a term that had a 2% click through some would argue both are important. The search terms are still related as regulated by the search engines, but if you get 6M exposures on a broad term like “picture sharing” it might be as good as 1M on “black and white exposure only Cannon 2200M Series photos” - the 2nd audience might be smaller and more niched and may even be better buyers, but branding to the larger audience is important too as marketers say it takes a consumer seeing a message 4-6 times for it to make it through the noise.

  2. Mike Rundle on December 31st, 2007 4:40 pm

    Completely agree here and I think Scoble’s own arguments inherently prove his theories wrong.

    He talks about getting content that nobody else has, but what is his goal for this content? It’s that people are going to want to read it more than somebody’s regurgitated blog entry and therefore come to his site and build up his traffic figures. Content is king because content drives people and builds traffic, which is what advertisers look for.

    And if his theories around content really worked out, then perhaps his video shows would be more popular and more financially rewarding. His departure would not happen if his videos had 10x the exposure and viewers that they do now, because that would put more money in his pocket.

  3. Antje Wilsch on December 31st, 2007 5:11 pm

    @Mike - right, if my goal is to get unique content, I would assume that it would not just be unique or “first” to have it, but also be interesting. If I get unique, interesting content first, then more people would come to my site and read it. Thus increasing my reader base…thus increasing my chance to have more advertisers…

    I might have unique content regarding how to play with dirt but if only a few people cared and read my content, then I would have no advertisers. And then unless I had another source of income I wouldn’t be able to sustain my dirt playing content hobby [as Drama says] because no one cares.

  4. renatam on January 1st, 2008 11:57 am

    I hope Robert (and the rest of the 2.0 Silicon Valley crowd) hold that thought. New York is coming to the party late — but AWAKE — has its head screwed on right circa 2008 and will NOT allow his ilk to continue to “play” Madison Avenue’s greedy (”Mad Men”), dated and duplicitous media buyers/agencies who cannot change and that Google will (no doubt) be putting out of business very shortly. Party over! New York (and Google)on deck.

  5. Drama 2.0 on January 1st, 2008 7:50 pm

    renatam: I don’t think Google is relevant to this discussion as it’s in a completely different part of the advertising business. Ad agencies will be here for a long time.

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