Community managers want to monetize what they’re doing. Brands want to reach niche communities with marketing messages. Seems like a simple solution, doesn’t it?

But then came the social media hippies and tree-huggers. “Marketing doesn’t belong here! We don’t want your spam!” So brands sulked away. And the community managers (think forums, LinkedIn Group leaders, not brand-side implementation specialists) who were interested in making money for their efforts got shut out or snuck behind their brethren’s back to make a buck.

So what would happen if you took the concept of blogger outreach, applied it to community managers/leaders but instead of sending them press releases or story pitches, you sent them opportunities to discuss products and services within their communities and receive remuneration in return?

Well, you’d have Linqia.

Image representing Linqia as depicted in Crunc...

Image via CrunchBase

What this tool does is aggregate lists of communities from around the web, catalogs their originators, moderators and administrators and allows brands to buy cost-per-performance advertising in relevant communities. The community managers opt-in to the opportunities, so they’re pre-screened to not be anti-marketing. They have complete control over the content they pass on to their community (can edit copy, use the images they want, etc.) but are incentivized to motivate their community to click, try, etc., because that’s how they get a cut of the advertising dollar. They even set their own CPC price with some advisement and help from Linqia to ensure they don’t price themselves out of contention.

I sat with Linqia CEO Maria Sipka at South by Southwest a few weeks ago as she walked me through the tool. She told me brands can create a campaign in just a few easy steps:

  1. Target the types of communities they want to reach (based on topic, keyword, gender, age, location, specific network, language, country and more)
  2. Write a pitch to sell the idea through
  3. Upload social content or other brand messages they want passed on to the community managers
  4. Deliver the pitches to the relevant community managers.

The community manager, let’s say someone who runs a Facebook Group that focuses on fishing, gets a message from you, the Brand Manager at Bass Pro Shops. It’s news about a new iPhone app you’ve developed to help fishers identify breeds of fish they catch. He or she decides that’s useful information for their community and they post a message with screen shots and info about where to download the app.

Let’s say the brand agrees to a $3.00 per click fee. The community manager has set their price at $1.50. If Facebook and Linqia have an agreement in place, Facebook might get $0.50 and Linqia gets $0.50. If there’s not a social network agreement or requirement in place, Linqia keeps the balance.

Win-Win-Win

Here’s what I like about it:

  • Reaching out to targeted communities whose managers are open to the outreach infinitely increases a brand’s chances of getting clicks and/or conversions.
  • Brands don’t have to worry about reaching out to a wing-nut forum manager who gets his panties in a wad because he mistakes potential sponsorship for spam and then writes six blogs about how awful the company is.
  • It’s cost-per-performance. There’s just no better way to do online advertising.
  • The community manager controls the content. For the sanctity and purity of the community, this is important.

Here’s what I don’t like about it:

  • The community manager controls the content. Not only does this force brands to relinquish any control over consistency of message or talking points, but community managers who are just in it for a buck may adulterate their own communities. Over time, the community will then fail.
  • With few exceptions, it won’t pay much. I could be wrong, but the more niche and relevant the community, the fewer the people in it. I doubt there will be many community managers or influencers out there who will make much money unless they completely whore out their community.

The market is certainly open for a tool like this. I think advertising agencies and public relations firms will eat this up, especially if they have some early success with conversions. There will be a few communities where the managers will likely deliver good conversions (gaming, technology, sports, fashion). And the alternatives are reaching out to bloggers which brings with it a fair amount of risk unless you’ve built relationships with several through the years.

Linqia has the potential to deliver better conversion rates than any other form of online advertising, but only if the community manager is good at communicating the information in a compelling and relevant way. Not sure how many community managers you’ve run into in your time, but more than half of them I’ve met wouldn’t qualify as being capable. But you never know.

To my knowledge, there’s not a similar product on the market. Izea is probably the closest thing, but it’s a more outward-facing pay-for-play model. While Linqia also does what it can to ensure full disclosure and what-not, the placement of marketing materials within forums and communities is different than that found on a blog. Facebook and LinkedIn ads are about as close as you get, but Linqia isn’t an ad network. It’s a paid social content placement network.

That’s different. And quite compelling.

Your thoughts? Does paid content on your LinkedIn Group … coming from the group administrator … seem compelling to you? Would it if you were confident the admin was a good filtration point for these types of messages? What about a forum or message board community?

The comments, as always, are yours.

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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Comments & Reactions

Comments Policy

Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://twitter.com/whofstetter Wendy Hofstetter

    I definitely think this an interesting idea, but as an agency director working on behalf of clients, I always want to see case studies. Are we talking a few clicks here and there, or substantial traffic? Thanks for the review Jason. I’m looking forward to keeping an eye on Linqia.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Good question. I’m sure they’ve got some examples to share (and hopefully they will). Sure, there need to be proof to the pudding but the idea is interesting, anyway.

      • http://twitter.com/mariasipka Maria Sipka

        I loved your post and reading the comments. Great and valid points! Paying anybody to do anything within the social web is a delicate matter that we’ve thought long and hard about. We interviewed 100’s of community/ group leaders over the past 7 years to understand exactly how this ecosystem could work effectively.

        Firstly, the idea around Linqia is to bridge the gap between the value that brands, businesses, organizations and individuals have to offer communities and groups of people they want to reach and engage with. It’s not advertising per se – in the form of a display ad that requires the leader to get people to buy a product or service. Also, value does not necessarily mean money. We found that community and group leaders are primarily motivated by adding value to their membership base by offering information, experiences and access to experts. Money is a secondary factor.

        Here are some examples:
        • E-dreams created an info-graph around the most efficient airports in Spain and wanted to share this content with travel groups: http://www.sigojoven.com/grupos/viajar_mi_gran_pasion/articulo/encuesta_los_mejores_aeropuertos_espanoles
        • What about a brand that needs to recall a product and urgently identify target groups of people
        • A university is performing important market research into infertility and needs to identify special groups of people

        Often when there is any mention in the advertising/ PR world around ‘pay for post’ everybody immediately thinks about influencers selling out their audiences with touting products and services. Brands are becoming smarter and realizing that sparking conversations and engagement around the topic achieves awareness and interest that ultimately leads to a transaction.

        Community and group leaders participating in Linqia have a choice to a) keep the cash and be for profit b) give the cash back to their groups or c) donate the money to charity. Whatever their choice is, it will be made 100% clear to their members either through a badge or mentioning “we have been approach by brand X to participate in this survey or share this report which I thought would be valuable to the community”

        ‘Some’ communities and groups are for-profit – meaning that the leaders have given up their day job or have chosen to be a part-time/ full-time community manager and they invest significantly into their communities – ‘if’ they can deliver value to the community AND get paid for it AND be transparent by disclosing the relationship, then they will gladly participate. It’s their choice. Many communities on Meetup and NING fit this criteria.

        Today, it’s impossible for brands, agencies, businesses and individuals to effectively identify ‘many’ groups of people existing within communities across multiple social networks AND efficiently connect, present and manage any form of exchange. Sure there are 100’s of monitoring platforms that ‘identify’ influencers but how do you connect with them en masse without spending days and weeks? We performed many outreach campaigns over the years and could only effectively manage a maximum of 5 communities manually.

        Ultimately, Linqia offers brands and businesses a scalable, efficient and effective service and they are currently investing their advertising, PR, media budgets into TV, Radio, Newspapers, google, facebook. Why not enable these budgets to trickle down into the most valuable sources – knowing that every person that has opted into that community is interested in that topic?

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Good question. I’m sure they’ve got some examples to share (and hopefully they will). Sure, there need to be proof to the pudding but the idea is interesting, anyway.

  • Gail Kent

    I’m sorry, but doesn’t anyone else here smell a rat? I’m a PR practitioner and former journalist, and this just screams unethical. Community managers “are incentivized to motivate their community to click, try, etc., because that’s how they get a cut of the advertising dollar.” “Linqia also does what it can to ensure full disclosure and what-not…” Really? Any self-respecting PR professional should RUN from this. PR professionals stake their reputations on building solid, trustworthy relationships with the media, and today that includes bloggers and community managers — regardless of how long it takes. You don’t take short cuts by bribing them. “Pay for play” is unethical unless it is CLEARLY marked as advertising each and every time. And what’s more, the FTC has published guidelines (http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2009/10/endortest.shtm) that cover endorsements such as this, making it very plain that doing so violates the FTC Act unless the relationship is revealed. Anyone playing this game is not only unethical, but possibly criminal.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      I hear you, Gail, but keep in mind that FTC regulations require the community manager to disclose the relationship. (And Linqia should require them to as well.) So long as they are disclosing, it is advertising … or paid placement. And the audience knows that.

      Ikea does this with pay-for-post bloggers and sponsored Tweets and it works just fine. Sure, there are people who believe that paid editorial placement or advertorial is unethical, but within the structure of disclosure it’s not illegal and transparent, so what’s the issue? It’s certainly not criminal.

      The audience always has the discretion to not click, ignore and even unsubscribe from that forum, outlet, etc. If they are being delivered a paid message, told it’s a paid message and still choose to consume the content, I don’t see your argument.

      But thanks for making it. Debating the topics is part of the fun in this uncharted world.

  • http://twitter.com/GnosisArts Gnosis Arts

    Too complicated. You lost me at “remuneration”. Services like this need to be simpler.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Sorry. Was it my description that was confusing or their tool?

  • http://twitter.com/GnosisArts Gnosis Arts

    Too complicated. You lost me at “remuneration”. Services like this need to be simpler.

  • http://www.twitter.com/jeffscott jeffscott

    I agree with Gail and I’m as curious as Wendy. This sounds very sketch to me and I couldn’t recommend it, but it makes me curious to know who’s using it and what kinds of results they’re seeing. I’ll stay tuned for more info. Thanks for the interesting post!

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Thanks, Jeff. Gail is obviously very passionate about her reaction. I’m not sure if she fully understands it or is just anti-paid placement altogether. I agree it’s not going to be for everyone, but again, with full disclosure in place, I don’t see a huge issue with it. The think that makes it work for me is that the community managers/influencers opt-in and control what they use/don’t use. They must disclose and their community has the choice to listen to them or not. I don’t see much problem with it.

      In the right circumstances — when an audience trusts the community manager, he or she discloses, and they prove over time they don’t abuse the community by driving ads down their throat, everyone wins.

      • http://www.twitter.com/jeffscott jeffscott

        Agreed! Transparency is key, and without it I would have a problem with Linqia. At this point I don’t have a problem with them, and my concern comes mainly from my lack of understanding about the relationships that Linqia has with community managers. Gail’s mention of “relationships” is what triggered it for me. Does Linqia develop relationships with selected community managers or can anyone sign up in the hopes of earning some extra cash? I realize outreach using media lists is nothing new, and perhaps Linqia is just reinventing how they’re used in the age of digital communications. I’m curious to see how their model will play out and how their service will evolve in light of user feedback. And thanks for your thoughtful reply!

  • Kolbemarket

    Watching this one but not too hopeful. Anything with “paid” and “content” never works out well in the long run. Consumers are too savvy today. But will keep watching to see if linqa pulls it off. Thanks for bringing to our attention!

  • Gail Kent

    To make it clear, what bothers me is the description of the loosey-goosey disclosure arrangement revealed in the sentence: “While Linqia also does what it can to ensure full disclosure and what-not…” NOT the idea of paid content in general. If it consistently revealed to be paid when it is paid, that is not unethical.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Well, let’s give them some credit and not throw their service under the bus
      because the dip-stick who wrote the piece didn’t clean the verbiage up a
      bit. Heh.

      While I’m not at Linqia and don’t know what process they go through, I’m
      assuming from my meeting their CEO and that they don’t want to violate law
      that they have disclosure processes in place. Perhaps they’ll swing by and
      verify.

      • http://thebuzzfactoree.com Gail Kent

        Thanks for your follow-up, Jason. No need to throw them — or you — under the bus! thanks for clarifying and enduring my passion for staying on the up and up!

  • http://www.ventureneer.com Geri Stengel

    Feels a lot like when your friend invites you to a Tupperware party. Or the hat is passed for yet another birthday present at the office. This requires a very clear-headed community manager to screen products. One concern I have is if an over-zealous community manager screens out unfavorable comments. That would be unacceptable. Bad reviews have to be included in the conversation. If not, it isn’t a community anymore.

  • Uwe Hook

    While I believe that Linqia has appeal to advertisers and there’s a market for their offerings, the bigger opportunity is in tribe buying. Activate a tribe of passionate people to go directly to the brand and turn the supply-demand model on its head. That’s a disruption I’m looking forward to.
    Both businesses are not mutually exclusive, I would try both routes. (Disclosure: Maria, CEO of Linqia is a friend of mine. Hi, Maria!)

    I just blogged about the change from group to tribe buying

    http://www.bateshook.com/from-group-buying-to-tribe-buying/

  • Uwe Hook

    While I believe that Linqia has appeal to advertisers and there’s a market for their offerings, the bigger opportunity is in tribe buying. Activate a tribe of passionate people to go directly to the brand and turn the supply-demand model on its head. That’s a disruption I’m looking forward to.
    Both businesses are not mutually exclusive, I would try both routes. (Disclosure: Maria, CEO of Linqia is a friend of mine. Hi, Maria!)

    I just blogged about the change from group to tribe buying

    http://www.bateshook.com/from-group-buying-to-tribe-buying/

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