Posted in marketing, online advertising, online community, web business

The problem with ads in communities

Last week at the Online community unconference, I lead a session where we had a conversation about Ads in Communities: What’s working and what isn’t. This really got my head thinking, not only about the issues but what can be done to change the situation.

So I talked with a bunch of people and started trying to get some change happening. If you read this and think there is an existing soution PLEASE let me know. There are TONS of people/companies/communities/platforms looking for something better than the current method. I am still working on my idea for a solution, but here’s the problem as I (and other) see it.


There is currently not a universally acceptable way of proactively filtering and targeting advertisements to communities (and other sites) concerned with the content in the ads they serve.

Existing solutions:

  • Google and other large players in the ad space, have proactive filtering by context of ad description, coupled with the ability to remove ad from being served again to your site in the future. This method allows the process to be almost completely automated, thus scaling nicely.
  • PayPerPost and similar companies are using paid audience members to integrate marketing messages into user forums. This method allows for higher relevancy and

Issues with Existing Solutions

Accountability – Since advertisers are in charge of the ad descriptions, their text descriptions and self-categorization have a tendency to not reflect the complete context of the ad.

Relevancy – On the audience experience side, users are beginning to sub/consciously tune out the advertisements they see on sites due to low relevancy.

Objectionable Content – All too often, non-relevant, or worse, offensive, ads are served to communities/sites without anyway for the site to proactively prevent it.

Proactive Filtering – When asked for help, many sites have been told to simply remove the questionable ad from the pool of potential ads. This is often not a perfect fix, as the ad had already done damage to the quality of the experience for the audience.

Over-Filtering – Often times, removing one ad requires banning an entire IP address, eliminating other ads from the company serving the ads.

Traffic Requirements – Ad networks do offer higher levels of service, but these are only available to high traffic sites, leaving many lower traffic community sites without a viable ad option.

Frequency – Lower pools of acceptable ads means that super-users on sites are bombarded with the same ads, over and over, reducing their effectiveness and tending to frustrate users.

Credibility – PayPerPost methods sometimes cause credibility issues within communities where they are integrated.

As soon as I type up the proposed solution I have been dwelling on, I will post it here. Definitely let me know if one is already out there tho.

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Joi Podgorny has spent the better part of the past 2 decades working on the bleeding edge of the technology and entertainment industries, from content/brand development and production to leading international support, moderation, community and social teams. Most recently, Joi founded Good People Collective, a consulting agency focused on helping companies and organizations establish, assess and pivot their internal and external cultures to help maximize their potential. She and her team are currently working on an exciting new software project, combining corporate training and virtual reality.

2 thoughts on “The problem with ads in communities

  1. Wouldn’t an internal ad sales force be a fairly ideal solution for a community site concerned with the criteria above?

    The bulk of community sites can’t have their own ad force, but there are examples of similar sites banding together to sell and manage ad space on their sites as a collective. Sometimes this happens ‘naturally’ as acquisitions happen. For an example of this see

  2. I agree that an internal ad sales department is the most ideal situation, as they will have a clear view of the needs of the company and the community when choosing ads to put on the site.

    But you usually have to have substantial traffic to justify adding that member to your site (which, a case could be made you SHOULD have, or why even add ads). And you have to hire more staff. And staff is expensive, especially initially, when no ad revenue is coming in.

    In the climate of outsourcing we are in, though, having an outsourcable solution for aggregating safe/appropriate ads is a good idea. There are good ad companies who do this to an extent. But what if you were to layer in the users who are to consume the ads and the companies that are serving the ads on their site. Give them a voice in the ads they see and how they are categorized. The ads would increase in relevancy and the collective wisdom would keep quality/content in check. Advertisers would have an avenue to get a “seal of approval” in a way and CPMs wold certainly increase.

    Am I being too Pollianna here? (Does anyone use that reference anymore?)

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