You’re not likely to hear the terms "social networking" or "Web 2.0" being bandied about in the halls of Demand Media’s Santa Monica offices. The term of preference at the company is "social media," which CEO Richard Rosenblatt believes more effectively conveys the spirit and the substance of those technological tools that bring users with common interests together to create content that is meaningful to them.
Rosenblatt founded Demand Media in 2006, several months after selling his former company Intemix Media’s hot media property—a little site called MySpace—to Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. for $650 million. "Our goal with Demand Media was to take social networking beyond those monolithic portals like MySpace and Facebook and expand the idea into other online verticals," Rosenblatt says. "I believe that most people have one particular area of interest that they are passionate about—whether it’s golf, gardening, airplanes, or anything else. Our idea was to take websites devoted to particular interests, which already have devoted followings, and grow them with a social media platform."
Over the course of its brief existence, Demand Media has evolved into a leading online producer, publisher, and syndicator of professional content and social media solutions. The company’s solutions can be found under the hood of the websites for major publishers, brands, and retailers, such as The Washington Post, Better Homes and Gardens, USA TODAY, Circuit City, Discovery Communications, The Economist, and FOX News. Demand Media’s unconventional business model is evident in the company’s informational how-to site eHow.com. Instructional articles on eHow—such as how to tie a necktie or how to kiss on a first date—are written either by the site’s own team of expert editors, or by registered users, who can submit articles and get paid for their expertise on a per-click basis.
Demand Media took a big step toward expanding its reach last March when it acquired the web media syndication company Pluck, which developed a social media platform called SiteLife and operates a blog syndication network known as BlogBurst. SiteLife provides a comprehensive set of Web 2.0 tools such as blogs, comments, ratings and reviews, recommendations, forums, and photos and videos. BlogBurst essentially amounts to a stringer network of vetted bloggers whose posts can be syndicated out to major publishers, such as Reuters and USA TODAY. Rosenblatt saw Pluck’s set of tools and its ideology as fitting in seamlessly with Demand Media’s own ethos.
Pluck seized on the opportunity to capitalize on Demand Media’s resources and breadth of penetration. "Our view was that we were doing the same thing as Demand Media," says Pluck co-founder and CEO David Panos. "Only we were doing it under large publishers with brands that were already established."
"What we found in Pluck was a platform that allowed users to easily add all of those social media tools to their own websites and control them themselves," says Rosenblatt. "They were doing a lot of the things that we were doing with our own properties. You can imagine the synergy there."
With their now-united front, Demand and Pluck hope to convince the world that social media is poised to become as ubiquitous as search. "If you want to buy a product in the real world, first you do your research, and then you ask your friends for their opinions about it," says Rosenblatt. While search engines handle the first part of information gathering, Demand Media is poised to capitalize on the second part.
In November, Demand Media announced its latest effort to expand the reach of social media: Pluck on Demand, which allows users to almost effortlessly drop a few lines of prewritten code onto their website in order to enable text, image, and video advertisements. Pluck on Demand allows users to pick and drop social media widgets onto their websites. "The service will help users to grow their sites, make them more engaging with original content, and generate increased revenue," according to Panos.
With this and other offerings, Demand Media is taking strides to make social media tools accessible and deployable to anyone with a need for them, regardless of size or industry. Only time will tell if lightning will strike twice for Richard Rosenblatt, but for now he’s confident that his company—and his terminology—will be playing a crucial role in online commerce for the foreseeable future. According to Rosenblatt, "Social media is going to become a critical component of every single network."
Fun Fact: Richard Rosenblatt is part-owner of several Los Angeles-area nightclubs, all called Air Conditioned, one of which was
where Britney Spears shot the video for her song "Gimme More."
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