In a delicate balancing act of keeping audience and advertisers happy, Wattpad boosted in-app video ad completion rates to over 98%. By bringing influential writers into the ad process, the marketing team was able to successfully integrate video ads into the community.
Read below how the team developed a monetization strategy that focused on preserving the storytelling experience for users.
Wattpad is a global multi-platform entertainment company with its core product being a community of over 60 million hyper-engaged millennials and teens that are sharing, reading and writing stories across the mobile and social web.
“We view ourselves as the world's largest storytelling platform, and we work with some of the biggest brands in the entertainment field to create, curate and discover stories that penetrate pop culture,” said Chris Stefanyk, Head of Brand Partnerships, Wattpad.
The bulk of the audience and users are typically teens and millennials, and the marketing team uses ads throughout content and work with advertisers in a variety of ways. However, they want to ensure that these advertising products are not disruptive to users.
“As a user-generated platform for original stories, we often have to ensure that the advertising, the advertising products that we're creating, are not very disruptive to the reading or writing experiences to our users,” said Stefanyk.
At the end of the day, Wattpad is a user experience-driven organization. What that means is it has created a seamless in-app experience, integrating ad experiences that maintain a great storytelling experience.
“It’s taken us a while to get there over time,” he said, especially since they have begun providing writers with more opportunities on the platform.
There was an opportunity, Stefanyk said, in creating an in-app video experience where “we are able to share the revenue that's generated with our writers. It's essentially a win-win-win, especially if we're able to deliver high-end ads that are very targeted to the end user.”
The team wanted to build an experience where it was clear to the community that by watching the video ad they were supporting their favorite writer on the platform.
“We never want to over-inundate users with any sort of ad experience in-app,” said Stefanyk. “It's honestly about finding that perfect balance.”
This allowed the team to create an ad experience where the video ad was a bit more intrusive than a standard banner ad, he said, but was positioned in a way where it was clear that the revenue and money generated were being shared with the writer.
“There are many ways to deliver ads in a less intrusive experience, as we were thinking about videos, [we wanted to understand] what is the right way,” he said.
Step #1. Beta test with trusted users
“We took a lean startup-style way to this, which is how we often do things here at Wattpad,” Stefanyk said. “We first started with tests with 13 of our top writers, where we introduced their readers, the readers that were reading any of their stories, to video interstitials in a really controlled manner.”
The team then rolled it out further to just their most influential writers, called “Wattpad Stars,” running several experiments to ensure that key metrics around reading and engagement and retention were not negatively impacted.
“The Wattpad Stars … is a collection of a couple of hundred of our top, top writers. So, these are some of the biggest and best writers on the platform, folks that have millions of reads, hundreds of thousands of followers,” he said.
These users get first access to opportunities, and it is used as a platform to help writers take their skills to the next level and even connect them to brands and publishers. These writers are a critical part of forming the Wattpad community, he said, and the team frequently reaches out to them for feedback.
Step #2. Communication is vital
The team also worked with the writers to make sure that they could answer the potential questions that came up from their followers or their readers. So, if a reader was new to Wattpad, or maybe hadn’t seen some of the ads before, the writers could explain the rationale behind the ads.
“A lot of our users, because they're a little bit younger, don't necessarily understand sort of the [monetization] potential of some of this content,” said Daniel Kenny-Godoy, Programmatic Advertising Manager at Wattpad. “We wanted to make sure that the writers were comfortable with having this type of product within their stories but also were able to help amplify the messaging that we had around it too.”
Stefanyk said that as they rolled it out to more and more writers, the writers “would do things on their end to further communicate to their audience.”
He gave an example from one of the top stories called “White Stag” by Kara Barbieri, where she created a preface before the first chapter that showed an example of the ads, explaining the purpose of them — that her readers would be seeing ads up to 30 seconds now, and they were helping to support her as a writer.
“This was something that she did kind of on her own accord … as we saw things like that happen organically, it just really spread throughout the community, and you saw a bunch of people commenting on it and saying, ‘I absolutely fully support you. I'm going to watch these ads through to completion. This totally makes sense; happy to see you're getting supported,’” said Stefanyk.
Coming from the writer’s perspective, it helped to get the community onboard with the ads, and integrate them into the community experience.
Step #3. Test to determine user’s ad threshold
Initially, the team focused on reflecting on the feedback from that group, Stefanyk said, which was “resoundingly positive, as you could expect. They're moving from an environment where we're not running ads in between chapters and now we are, and you're making a sizable rev share on it; the general sentiment was quite strong.”
However, the team began probing the writers for deeper feedback, making sure that the relationship between the writer, Wattpad and the advertising was clear.
The team began combining that direct feedback with A/B testing to understand how to “optimize the best results for our community from a retention and user standpoint,” he said.
They looked at the frequency of the ad placement, based on how much time people spent reading a particular story.
Because of that testing, “what happens now is, we limit how frequently the users see the ads. They're roughly once every half-hour, when you're reading stories, that are opted into the product,” said Kenny-Godoy.
What users end up seeing is an ad between chapters, with messaging that makes it clear that watching the ad will help support the writer of the work they’re currently reading.
“We have an experience that lives in between chapters in the app, so ... when you [clickthrough] you'll see a full page, potentially video interstitial ad that has full sound on, etc.,” said Kenny-Godoy. “The actual spec that we landed on in this particular case was that ads can be skippable after 15 seconds, with a total of a 30-second view possible.”
During the process, the team had done an experiment where they ran ads with a much higher frequency, which meant that ads could potentially pop up before a user was between chapters. The shortest frequency was one ad every 15 minutes.
“We got pretty negative feedback at that stage. But we didn't roll out to a huge percentage of users anyway. The overall idea was to test … [our users’] threshold,” Kenny-Godoy said.
Efforts like this have “really validated the notion that both our writers and engaged readers can operate in a supportive environment that makes sense for all parties,” Stefanyk said.
His takeaway from this effort is that if “you have a really thoughtful approach in the ad world, you can really land on this … win-win-win mentality where it's still beneficial to the brand, beneficial to the community and beneficial to the end writer,” he said.
It’s important to be mindful of the all-around experience — because mindfulness was able to boost in-app video ad completion rates to over 98%.
“We’ve learned a lot more around how our users engage and … the threshold at which they're willing to be OK with ads in the product,” he said. “We're looking at new and exciting ways to integrate video across the greater product very shortly.”
Generating revenue is the main goal for the project, Stefanyk said, and “across all of our revenue-generating activities for our writers, we've generated over $2.3 million for our writers over probably the last two years.”
The team wants to grow these efforts to a much greater scale in the future, and “we're really excited about it and excited about how we're going to do more for our community,” he said.
InMobi – Wattpad’s mobile advertising vendor
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