Yesterday at the MarketingProfs event, Ariana Huffington took the stage for a keynote presentation sharing some lessons she has learned about building a successful blog network with the Huffington Post. Though she definitely ignored my advice to speakers about spending some time at an event to get to know the attendees (she was barely off the stage before heading out the door), she did share some interesting points in her talk that should be useful to most marketers:
- Make it easy for contributors to contribute. One of the hallmarks of growth for the Huffington Post has been the site’s ability to become the defacto location for any big celebrity to share their thoughts via a blog post. Not a purist about blogging, Ariana’s point of view on blog posts was simple – if someone shares their thoughts transparently and honestly, the site can publish it as a blog post. To make it easy for Hollywood celebs like George Clooney and Jamie Lee Curtis, she has a team ready 24/7 to capture blog posts via dictation, email, or any other method someone might submit it. Benefit: You don’t have to try and teach Rene Zellweger how to use WordPress (potentially a full time job on its own).
- Have a point of view. In one particularly revealing moment, Ariana talked about how journalism should not be an exercise in covering all sides of a story, but an investigative search for the truth – which is usually on one side or another. Of course, anyone who reads the Huffington Post knows which side she thinks the truth is on … but there is a certain logic in media seeking the truth instead of working hard to keep everyone happy with a mention of their points of view. The only trouble, of course, is who gets to decide the truth. Benefit: Visitors to your site have a clear idea of what you stand for and what your voice will be.
- Provide a safe environment. As Ariana explained it, getting new contributors would be tough if they felt that they could be attacked on a personal basis on everything they wrote. For that reason, she also has a team of real time comment "pre-moderators" who approve or reject comments in real time. Benefit: Arnold Schwarzenegger can blog about California issues without getting an influx of comments asking what the hell he was thinking starring in that dumb male pregnancy movie.
- Build on your big hits. One point when it was clear the Huffington Post arrived was when PerezHilton.com linked to the site. Interestingly, this big hit also offered a chance for the site to understand how big spikes like this relate to capturing consistent readers. Ariana shared that 72% of the visitors to Huffington Post from that hit never returned. Of the remaining 28%, they came and went, and over time, they found that 7% stuck around and became regular readers. Multiple that effect over three years of traffic and big hits, and the result is their current traffic of more than 20 million unique visitors per month. Benefit: Getting noticed consistently by the big sites can lead to a measurable subscriber gain if you focus on measuring it.