Samir Arora’s Glam Media Launches Foodie, a Social Network for Food

Samir Arora knows new media. Present at the birth of social media and digital advertising, Arora was founder, CEO and Chairman of the pioneering web development company NetObjects, Inc. from 1995 to 2001 and is the co-founder and CEO of Glam Media.

Arora’s 7-year-old Glam Media has successfully built a global audience of more than 220 million, along with a highly attractive model of new media publishing that pulls some of the best elements of social media into the content sphere. Arora spoke with The Makegood about the challengers for publishers and brands that requires marketers jettison their old ideas of digital marketing.

Today, Arora’s Glam Media launches Foodie.com, the first of many planned innovations designed to remix content and brand advertising around consumer’s digital identities.

The Makegood: Samir, can you tell us a little about how Glam Media began?

We started off with a very simple idea– that people will be the filters for content and commerce, as opposed to search or other elements that were at the core of Web 1.0. We launched, targeting women and lifestyle, and we built this over about 3 years. We did this very carefully, because it took a lot of care to build a meaningful offering when taking into account all of the change that was happening in socially. Where we are now is that we are number one for lifestyle globally, we reach more than 220 million consumers per month. We reach about 90 million visitors per month in the US. We started out with 12 journalists writing for us and we now have more than 4,000 globally creating content for Glam Media. We’ve launched other lifestyle channels such as entertainment, home, bliss.com and brash.com for men.

Broadly speaking, if you want an analogy for our business model, you can look at TV. We were not the studio at first. Like HBO or Canal Plus in Europe, we relied on content created by others and then we evolved and began to create content that was owned by Glam and that started last year. So part of our second stage is that we have relationships with authors and content creators but Glam actually takes the title for the content. If you look at other social media companies, where you can create content, and the companies have rights to it, but the companies don’t share revenue with you.

At Glam Media we believe journalism and writing to be sacred and we have a residual model that is borrowed from Hollywood. So any content created, even if the rights are owned by us, there is a residual share.

The Makegood: What’s happening today with Glam?

We are launching Foodie.com.When we looked into launching a food channel, we knew that when you launch a food channel, it isn’t about having articles about food. From a consumer perspective there are a rather large set of needs. If you are looking for a restaurant, for example, at the two ends of the spectrum you either have crowd-sourced reviews, where anyone can rate a restaurant, with no background in food or the well established players in print like Michelin or the Pellegrino Top 50. But with the latter, there’s no room there for the social energy and the social experiences that people actually have at the restaurant. So looking at that, and realizing that there are no really large media companies dominating food, as you see in travel, for example we decided to move into this space. And we knew that this was going to be a very important channel. So, we acquired the brand Foodie and it is launching today as the first major social content network created for food lovers.

When you go to Foodie, it’s not going to be a lightweight content experience. You register, create your profile or link your profile on Facebook or Twitter, but like LinkedIn or Foursquare you actually have to be a member to follow people. You can follow chefs, restaurants or friends. The best analogy is that if LinkedIn is a network for finding other professionals and jobs, foodie is a social network for food.

The Makegood: So is the idea of a new media company evolving towards this model of social and content convergence?

Yes. You nailed it. I spent about a decade at Apple so I’m firmly rooted in this idea of being responsive, to acknowledge consumer-driven change, paying attention to both stated and unstated needs. If you look at what is happening, the reason that there is a need for a new media company is that consumer behavior, how consumers interact with digital media, has changed. Today, you may be watching television, but at the same time you may be using an iPad and there may be an iPad or an iPhone being used by other members of your family at the same time. Print magazine readership has declined to under 2 hours per month for women, for example.There’s a real change happening in consumer behavior.

On a consumer level media is now dual-directional. That doesn’t mean that consumers will be the creators of all content. It means that as quality content becomes all the more important, you have to invest in that process as you watch that two-way conversation take place. For example in the old days, if you were thinking about buying a car, you would be influenced perhaps by the TV ad and the emotions that it triggered as well as the print ads, perhaps a friend who was the proverbial “car expert.”  Today, you have access to what others’ experiences of those cars are via social media, in addition to being able to go online and research.So what is happening is that this loop, that conversation from social, has been applied all the way back to the articles that are available online and the editorials.

This is socially-aware media and it is really a fundamental shift in the definition of media. It is no longer one-directional. It is no longer controlled at certain points of distribution like at newsstands or for example in the way that the number channels are limited on TV.

The Makegood: Will this “new media” model–that you say your company represents–mean that ad technology has to be developed just for that purpose of making that hybrid model work?

If you go to some websites for example, and you want to find “a great sushi restaurant in my city,” there will be some incredible answers to that question, but the answers will be all over the discussion board. There’s no way to unify, clarify and make sense of those answers. The reason is that social media is relatively new. For Glam Media to really create the first generation of a new media model, we know that we have to recreate all of the features of Facebook in a box. It’s not something that a traditional media company even knows how to do. They don’t have the technology. Today we have about 500 employees, and about 330 are in technology.

The Makegood: What are the benefits for brands of this “Facebook in a box” approach to media in terms of reaching an audience?

You have to look at what things are not changing and what things are evolving. The basic premise of digital advertising is that when you have quality content packaged with a relevant contextual ad in a way that is beneficial for the consumer it is a very big win. Think of a Vogue magazine for example, it wouldn’t be the same experience without the ads.That won’t change. The problem with digital is that nobody approached brand advertisers with respect. What I mean by that is that it was always an afterthought.It was thought that if you could use technology to prove that digital advertising works, then that would be all that advertisers would want. That is very shortsighted. Digital advertising is still a small percentage of advertising spend. The bulk of advertising spend is still brand-building.What is happening now is that brands are looking for curated, high-level content-based experiences on the Web. Brands are also looking for partners who understand earned media and owned media. We will eventually start to offer brands ways to build their fan pages, over time we are going to be able to offer them ways to develop content as well. You have to be able to reach consumers from 360 degrees.

If you contrast our model with Facebook, for example. Facebook is not a place for editorial content, you go there to connect with people. There’s no curation of content there at all. We are able to take the best Facebook-level social networking capabilities and merge it with our content. Too do that, there was a ton of technology required. If you look at portals and content-oriented sites, they came from the point of view of “let’s learn about people so that we can target them better.”  If you look at a Facebook approach, they are saying “we will make the ads more contextual, based on your social graph.”  We are applying social metrics and data along with context data and connecting it with content.

On Foodie, for example, you may want to follow a brand that produces a high quality olive oil because you love Italian food. In this approach, you as the consumer are the one indicating your preferences and passions. I don’t know of any content companies that offer this kind of social targeting, because they don’t consider themselves in that business.So for us, it’s a full-circle, because this approach offers the three major forms of targeting.We’re bringing social content and social media together.

The Makegood: Thanks Samir!