Do Corporate-Sponsored News Blogs Work? A Look at ThreatPost and Building43


Yes, we can argue that most newspapers, magazines and TV news programs are owned by mega-corporations these days.  But those news organizations are run separately and have business models based on providing objective news reporting.

What I’m talking about are blogs launched by “non-media” companies to provide coverage of specific verticals as part of a larger marketing and communications strategy.  Earlier this year, I was high on the idea – for better or worse – that these corporate-sponsored blogs would step into the news void being created by the massive lay-offs at and closure of traditional magazines and newspapers.

Now I’m not so sure, although admittedly, it is still early.

The two such blogs that I thought held the most promise were ThreatPost and Building43.  Here’s my assessment of how they are doing:

ThreatPost

ThreatPost, a computer security blog, is sponsored by Kaspersky Lab, a home security software maker.  Kaspersky Lab launched ThreatPost seven months ago to provided a one-stop news portal for computer security news and trends.  Here’s how ThreatPost describes itself:

“ThreatPost was launched by Kaspersky Lab in an effort to help the broader community of Internet users learn about the growing malicious software activity on the Internet.  Kaspersky Lab hopes that the broader IT security community will visit Threatpost to stay abreast of breaking security news, learn about the latest threats and the best ways to stay protected against those threats, and engage in the overall discussion taking place in the security community.”

Kaspersky Lab hired a team of former journalists – including security veterans Ryan Naraine (formerly of eWeek) and Dennis Fisher (formerly TechTarget) – to gather the best security news to aggregate on ThreatPost and to provide its own reporting and commentary on the industry.  I’ve worked with both Ryan and Dennis before as a PR consultant and both of them are top-notch journalists.

At the time they launched it, I thought ThreatPost was a great idea (certainly a bold one) – although the former journalist in me worried about the implications of a security company sponsoring a security blog.  Clearly, there would little criticism or analysis of Kaspersky Lab that wasn’t positive.  But at least Kaspersky Lab appeared to be putting up firewalls and was committed to providing an “independent” news operation.

So has it worked?

Not if you rely on web traffic as a gauge of success.

In the last seven months, ThreatPost has averaged about 7,448 unique visitors per month or about 248 visitors per day, according to Compete.com.  These are dreadful numbers for a blog with a full-time reporting staff (I have a defunct literary blog that has not been updated in 11 months that still averages about 200 unique visits per day).

These numbers are even more disappointing when compared to Kaspersky Lab’s web site, which in the same period averaged 396,054 unique visitors per month and 13,202 visitors per day.  And keep in mind that Kaspersky Lab advertises ThreatPost on its homepage – so clearly Kaspersky web visitors show no real interest in trying out ThreatPost.

The Kaspersky web page has also seen growth in visitors in the last seven months (up more than 30,000) – while ThreatPost traffic has been sporadic and growth relatively flat.

Assessment: The problem with ThreatPost might be its lack of focus – and the inability to tell ThreatPost content apart from aggregated news stories from other sources.  ThreatPost feels too much like a mishmash – and doesn’t have a lot of personality.  Always a danger when you’re run by a company – instead of a publisher.  But there is no avoiding the obvious: ThreatPost has been a letdown.  The real question now is how long will Kaspersky Lab continue to pour money into a blog that clearly isn’t drawing in readers.

Building43

Building43 is a blog and web community dedicated to helping businesses optimize social media tools.  It is sponsored by RackSpace, the web hosting company in Texas (full disclosure: RackSpace is a former client for more than a year ago).  RackSpace hired uber-blogger Robert Scoble to create and run Building43 after his short stint at Fast Company.

I’ve always thought Scoble and Rackspace were an odd pairing (back in March I predicted Scoble would depart within 18 months).  But one thing you can’t argue with is Scoble’s energy and passion for social media.  He brings that and more to Building43.  Here’s how Building43 describes itself:

“At building43, we spend our time focusing on what those new developments mean to you. We go in-depth, and discuss the practical implications and the ways your business can apply the technology.  We’ve designed building43 to bring together thought leaders in a variety of disciplines and organizations, from entrepreneurs to those responsible for the latest technologies. They will share knowledge, experiences and advice on how you can use these cool new tools and apps to make your business more successful.”

Building43 launched about the same time as ThreatPost – and has been much more successful.  For the last seven months, Building43 has averaged 36,795 unique viewers per month, according to Compete.com.  That’s about 1,225 visitors per day.   But the growth has been spotty and in the last few months traffic is down more than 23 percent.

The numbers, however, are disappointing, especially for a site with professionally created content and a high-profile team working behind the scenes.  RackSpace’s corporate web site, for example, averages 222,876 unique visits per month or about 7,429 individuals each day.  And the numbers for Building43 pale in comparison to Scoble’s popular personal blog Scobleizer, which averaged 117,907 unique visits per month during the same time period (3,930 daily visits).

Although Scoble’s blog numbers are dropping as well.  At the launch of Building43, Scoble attracted 181,500 unique visitors to his blog.  Last month, the number had dropped to 115,826 – and that was an increase on his previous four months prior.  The situation for Scoble must be difficult trying to figure out which property is his priority – Scobleizer or Building43?

But Building43 needs to improve given that one-man blogging operations writing about the same topic – social media – like Jason Falls and Chris Brogan have far better numbers.  Last month, for example, Building43 had one of its best months at 40,627 unique viewers compared to Brogan with a whopping 181,141 and Falls’ Social Media Explorer at 58,863 (again numbers via Compete.com).

Assessment: RackSpace hired Scoble for his visibility and know-how, yet Building43 doesn’t focus on him.  In fact, other than byline credit and appearing in videos, Scoble isn’t a focal point for the site.  I can understand why RackSpace doesn’t want to do this, but clearly it isn’t working.  Scoble should be the face and voice of Building43.  I see RackSpace giving Building43 more time to develop given that the numbers are inching upwards (and RackSpace’s stock has soared recently).  But I’m not yet willing to retract my prediction that Scoble and RackSpace will part ways within the next 12 months.

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6 Responses to “Do Corporate-Sponsored News Blogs Work? A Look at ThreatPost and Building43”

  1. Good article, execpt for the hyper-focus on monthly unique visitors. While that might be the primary goal of (say) Brogan, who’s selling ads on his site and presumably making money from it, what if the goal of (say) Building 43 is not to get the most traffic possible but rather to attract extra eyeballs to the brand of Rackspace?

    Here’s a real question: How many visitors to Building 43 had never been to the Rackspace site before? (I had never heard of Rackspace before Scoble went there.)

    Here’s another question: How passionate are the (fewer) unique visitors to Building 43? If they are five times as passionate (w/r/t talking about you on their blogs, etc.) but you have one-third the traffic, isn’t that a marketing win?

    There’s a difference between marketing goals and traffic metrics. No where in this article were the goals and strategies of the companies and people involved discussed.

    I don’t disagree that Scoble might be the focus/face of the site though. Why hire a face and then leave him in the back room?

  2. Hi Mark:
    Great points on social media and micro-targeting. I had to make some assumptions because I don’t have an inside track on the internal goals for either blog. So perhaps they would view the success/failure of the projects differently (in fact, I’m sure they do).

    But since both are news focused, I assume (and I know how dangerous that can be) that they hired professional journalists and content creators so that they could reach a large (or at least larger) audience. Otherwise why use the strategy that they did? There are better ways to micro-target using social media.

    I’m also more interested – at least in this post – about whether these kinds of corporate-sponsored “news” blogs will be able to attract large audiences and replace (or at least supplement) traditional news outlets in the creation, distribution and analysis of news.

    Thanks for the feedback!

  3. Part of the success of building43.com is not visible: it keeps us in touch with the startups who are trying to change the world and, who, buy lots of hosting. From that standpoint building43 has been a sizeable success, but it’s not one we talk about in public very often. Maybe we should.

    As to using my face, I was explicitly trying to build a community of people who care about the 2010 Web and are trying to help other businesses get into it. From that aspect it’s been a C+. We haven’t gotten the community to gel here the way I’d hoped, but that’s because Twitter and Facebook are far better places to do that than FriendFeed and we misjudged there. We’re looking at those things and doing some rethinking that should be coming in early part of next year.

    But you hit on another thing: I’m spread too thin. My blog isn’t getting the attention it deserves because I have been focusing more on social media. Now that Twitter’s lists are here you can see that start to pay off (in just the past couple of months I’ve gotten some nice growth on Twitter, which will pay off).

    But something deeper is going on here. Look at http://twitter.com/#/list/Scobleizer/tech-news-brands and see how often it changes. The flow of news and distractions for people are going up. It’s harder to get attention, and the news brands like Techcrunch are now using more and more video so getting attention on video is more and more difficult.

    All of this requires doing some innovation and making sure we remain relevant. I’m having a ball trying to figure it out, so I hope to be here for quite a while working on it.

  4. Hi Robert:
    There’s no doubt that there are other success factors for Building43 other than audience numbers.

    I’ll be curious to see what changes you and your team decide to implement in order to grow your community.

    I agree that the information overload on the web is getting out of control. It can be difficult for people to manage their email, text messages and calendars – never mind Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social networking sites and RSS feeds and news sites and, well, you know…

    Must say that I do miss reading the regular postings on Scobleizer, but understand how you need to prioritize the “day job.” I still think it is weird for you to be at RackSpace – but wish you the best of luck!

  5. Name a better content aggregator for
    IT security George. ThreatPost has all the feel of a more socially-engineered site like Twitter – and their Twitter pushes are better than other security sources. Their title does them justice – it focuses on the new threats and variations of threats that impact the market. That said what good is good content if its not consumed…

  6. Hi Tom:
    It’s not about naming a better IT security aggregator, although TechTarget and some of the online IT books do an excellent job covering the space. It’s about whether Kaspersky’s investment is paying off.

    I’ve been told by sources that the Compete.com numbers for ThreatPost are off and if the stats I’ve been shown are real then it is doing better than the Compete.com numbers indicate.

    I’m curious though. You’re in IT security. Does ThreatPost being sponsored by a “security company” make you at all suspicious of the news they decide to aggregate? Do you trust them as an impartial, unbiased news source?

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