Six months ago, when Steve Hansen was named CEO of blog network Buzzmedia, he realized that he shared a problem with the company's readers and advertisers: He had no idea what the company's identity amounted to.
This week, as Buzzmedia (not to be confused with BuzzFeed) rebrands as SpinMedia, after one of its newer properties, Hansen is now pursuing an ad strategy based primarily on native advertising. But he says it's keeping an eye on programmatic as well. In order to appeal to marketers and agencies who want to easily plug their messages into placements, SpinMedia will continue to offer standard units as it prepares to accept more exchange-based advertising.
"The emergence of real-time bidding is undeniable," Hansen said. "For the moment, RTB is a small percentage of our business, but it's growing. We feel the market is migrating more towards higher CPM, customizable solutions alongside programmatic offerings. We have to do both."
As Hansen settled into the CEO role, he wanted to remake the company to appeal to people interested in music and entertainment. That included 50 layoffs, which he chalks up to downplaying its ad network operations. SpinMedia now employs around 200 staffers.
In rebuilding Buzzmedia to be more attractive to native ads, Hansen felt that the company needed to sharpen its position to something more specific than just the amorphous concept of "buzz."
"I felt that there was a problem to be addressed – figuring out what this company's identity is," Hansen said. "After we did the Spin acquisition, we looked at some of the early pages of the magazine, where it put forward this irreverent, passionate point of view and how it reflected those same sensibilities of their readers. We felt that by tapping into Spin's core values, that would help frame Buzzmedia's identity has well. I also wanted to send a signal that it was a new day."
Buzzmedia has been around for seven years, but Hansen says, "There was a fair amount of confusion about it on the part of advertisers and readers."
On top of the rechristening of the Los Angeles-based company under the digital-only Spin magazine brand, which it bought in July 2012, SpinMedia is removing the paywall on SpinPlay, the title's iPad app. The move is part of a larger goal to generate more users and higher engagement.
Secondly, SpinMedia also raised the curtain on a tween/teen site, HeartsAndFoxes, which covers fashion and young celebrities. The site was built on SpinMedia's in-house content and ad platform, dubbed Lucid.
"From a tech and platform standpoint, HeartsandFoxes represents our attempt to create a mobile-first property," said Max Engel, Director of Product, SpinMedia. "This is a group that is more attuned to their phones. And we also created a new canvas for advertisers. As we look forward we can bring in advertisers and have them sponsor a theme around a certain topic, such as a celebrity like Selena Gomez, or posts around more general topics, like fashion."
The new platform is meant not only to reflect the importance of mobile and tablets, but also to showcase how the values of portable devices have infiltrated content consumption on PCs.
Among the 40-plus revamped sites in SpinMedia's stable of properties are Stereogum, Idolator, BrooklynVegan, and general entertainment site Celebuzz.
"We've been running a new version of Celebuzz for the past few weeks, and we're seeing a 100% increase in time on site, 45% in pageviews per visit, and a 50% decrease in the bounce rate," Hansen said, noting that comScore's traffic numbers for the entire network average around 41 million monthly uniques, including 400 million pageviews. While that certainly qualifies as scalable for a blog network, Hansen wants more. In part, he plans to increase traffic and time-spent by running more videos – a natural for entertainment – but also by changing the company's visual approach to social.
"When I came on six months ago, we made a conscious decision to invest in products and technology that would produce a more social and interactive content experience for our readers and advertisers," he said. "When I got here, everything was running on a static blogroll format, where readers just scrolled up or down. Now, we have comments running on the side, which makes the point that users' activity on the site counts as content, and that it's just as important as anything else we feature."
"The focus has been on creating a more integrated community experience — it's not just tacking on social media buttons— so expect to see more quizzes and polls, which encourage more activity and interaction," Engel added. "We've highlighted comments and made sure they're weighted equally with the content."
For advertisers, the movement of content on the PC and mobile versions of SpinMedia's sites will mean a lot more swiping and movement between content. SpinMedia is inserting more interstitials that appear after users surf through stories and images. This allows for something better than a screen takeover, since it's mixed in with content as users are browsing and looking for something interesting, Hansen and Engel noted.
"The units we've chosen on the website are 300 pixels wide because that works with standard IAB units, so we're not completely reinventing the wheel here," Engel said.