November 15, 2007

How to Build User-Generated Content Site for Target Audience: 8 Tips & Strategies From CondeNet

SUMMARY: User-generated content sites provide environments for just about anyone to socialize, share information and trade thoughts with one another. They also offer marketers an audience of like-minded contributors for targeted advertising and sponsorships.

See how CondeNet launched and grew a UGC site into 130,000+ members of young women in its first seven months. Includes three strategies and five tips for a liftoff that also created a new revenue stream.
“By design, our destination site was not going to be for everybody. We really had no interest in being another MySpace or Facebook,” says Jane Grenier, VP & Publisher,, part of CondeNet. “More than anything, we wanted it to be a productive, safe and comfortable environment for girls and marketers.”

On the heels of the successful launch of Teen Vogue, CondeNet wanted to build a user-generated content site that tapped the same demographic as the magazine: young women with a median age of 17. They used focus groups to help, including selecting the name for the site, “Flip.”

To get the UGC initiative moving, they followed three major strategies:

-> Strategy #1. Design creative applications

From the focus groups, they knew the site needed to stimulate girls’ creativity, so they implemented:

- Flipbooks. These scrapbooks give users a place to upload photos, images of art, videos and songs that can be shared with other site members. Via a drop-down menu, creators can post their Flipbooks on their personal Web pages on Facebook, MySpace and Friendster. An application lets girls take their Facebook photo albums and import them into their Flipbooks.

- “The Hot List.” Community members can view, vote and comment on others’ Flipbooks, which are spotlighted in the following ways:
o Most viewed
o Highest rated
o Most commented
o Most picked

A “newest” category in the Hot List also welcomes the latest registrants to the community.

- Clubs. These are to this brand what groups have been to the maturation of Facebook. While users have created most of the clubs, Grenier also pitched the idea of sponsored clubs to advertising prospects. In either case, the clubs let users join and communicate with other members.

- People section. This area spotlights four Flipbook participants, while providing access to member friends and “The Hot List” and “Clubs” sections.

- Four additional content channels. Special sections called “My Life,” “Entertainment,” “Style” and “The World” offer outlets to members. Each channel has an editor who writes original articles and posts them on a regular basis.

-> Strategy #2. Add advertising sponsors

Advertising in Web 2.0 spaces -- without offending the community -- can be tricky. So, the team again leaned on their focus group data to figure out how to provide marketing opportunities that didn’t turn off the girls. Using open-ended anecdotal-style questions, they learned that adding a sponsor could be considered cool.

After the registration process, the girls were given the option of picking one or more sponsors who would be served around the user’s profile pages. “It’s important to note that they were not required to have a sponsor,” Grenier says. “That decision was entirely theirs.”

The sales team also packaged those appearances along with banner and skyscraper ads.

Overall, Grenier and her team are happy with the audience they have built. Since the February launch, they have signed up 130,000 members, who have all created Flipbooks. Also, 1.3 million photos, songs, videos, drawings and scans were uploaded. “We see our members spend a lot of time on their profiles, which gives a lot of relationship value to our sponsorship partners.”

Indeed, advertisers have come aboard. Nike, Vera Wang, G is for Guess, Clean & Clear and Gossip Girls are among sponsors who have signed up. New Flip registrants are picking a sponsor brand more than 60% of the time.

“Giving them the choice empowered the entire situation,” Grenier says. “It’s also worth mentioning that no site is going to be everything to these girls. They will go to different sites for different things. They’ll come to Flip when it’s time for them to create a project that they can share with their friends.”

CondeNet also is participating in the Facebook Ads program, which lets advertisers zoom in on specific targets while allowing Facebook users to learn about through word-of-mouth referrals from friends.

-> Strategy #3. Beta-Test UGC effort

After the major features were developed, Grenier and her team needed to get users onboard for the beta test. About a year ago, they invited girls who belonged to Teen Vogue’s online reader panel of “It Girls,” which makes up the magazine’s most-responsive readers. For their participation, the It Girls were given exclusive opportunities, such as sampling offers and casting calls.

The team was able to attract more than enough girls to test the site. “We were delighted at how many jumped at the chance to express themselves on Flip -- they were invaluable to us in pre-populating the site with profiles and Flipbooks prior to launch,” Grenier says.

5 Tips for Starting a Web 2.0 Site

Grenier summed up the first eight months as a learning process. Here are her top five tips for marketers getting started with Web 2.0:

Tip #1. Don’t assume that if you build it, they will come. “Plan your consumer marketing along with the buildout of your site.”

Tip #2. Play nice with others. Explore business-development deals for your space with sites that are further along than yours.

Tip #4. Always keep your ear to the ground for new technologies that can enhance your site.

Tip #4. Factor in portability of content. Empower your users through RSS, embeds and other *share functionalities*.

Tip #5. Even if you don’t consider your site to be a social network, your users might. So, offer ways to share information and opinions with one another.

Jane Grenier of spoke at this fall’s ad:tech conference in New York. For details on upcoming conferences, go to

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