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    With first CMO hire, OpenWeb hopes to ‘de-troll’ the discussions and data space for publishers

    OpenWeb — a company that builds online engagement tools for publishers — has hired its first chief marketing officer as it builds more ways for media companies to expand both their audience size and advertiser revenue.

    Tiffany Xingyu Wang joins OpenWeb during the evolution of how consumers and advertisers think about social media giants. Wang — who previously was CMO at the contextual AI platform Spectrum Labs — said her strategy for marketing OpenWeb will be to “write the playbook for sustainable media” by also elevating the broader discussion around how to create healthy online communities.

    “It’s very easy to say we do well by doing good,” she told Digiday. “It’s very, very hard to actually flip the script and drive the value from where we are today with the status quo.”

    OpenWeb — which works with companies like Hearst, TechCrunch and The Wall Street Journal — works with publishers and advertisers in a variety of ways. Its tech works to foster online conversation around news stories while also providing first-party data for marketers to reach readers on media companies’ websites. Although comments on news stories have a reputation as hotbeds for toxicity, OpenWeb’s tools aim to “de-troll” the discourse.

    After spending more than a decade fostering online discussions and siphoning publisher ad revenue, social media giants like Facebook and Twitter now face increased regulatory and public scrutiny for their data-driven advertising practices. Meanwhile, OpenWeb is creating new ways for publishers to take back online discussions and give advertisers new ways to reach consumers with first-party data rather than rely on “walled gardens.”

    By building a “community as a service,” Wang also plans on helping publishers — and also advertisers — build trust with audiences. Part of the plan includes creating an internal “trust task force” that includes other c-suite leaders within OpenWeb such as the chief legal officer, chief privacy officer, chief security officer and chief people officer.

    When it comes to online trust and safety, Wang has a range of expertise even beyond her previous role at Spectrum Labs. She’s also a member of the digital safety coalition at the World Economic Forum and co-founder of the Oasis Consortium, a nonprofit think tank that brings together experts to discuss new safety standards for the metaverse era.

    “My view of the future — it’s like physics too — if everything is held too tight, things break down,” Wang said. “In the past 20 years, there’s a pendulum swing, from full decentralization toward centralization. There is a swing back right now from that centralization of power back to human needs … Hopefully, when users have those options which they didn’t have, they’ll choose and return and advertisers will return at the same time.”

    “OpenWeb is a mission-driven company focused on enhancing positive conversations, and its service helps publishers steer their community’s conversations in a healthier, more productive direction,” said Kelsey Chickering, a principal analyst at Forrester. “As publishers grapple with the tension between content moderation and ‘freedom of speech,’ they’ll lean on third parties, like OpenWeb, to help manage their communities in a way that is both risk-conscious and inclusive.”

    Founded as Spot.IM in 2012, the company changed its name in 2020 and earlier this year underwent a rebrand. So far this year, OpenWeb — which now works with more than 1,000 publishers — has acquired two tech companies: AdYouLike, a global ad platform, and Hive Media Group, a content creation and distribution provider. Eric Schmitt, senior director analyst at Gartner Research said moderating content is an “essential element” to creating healthy environments for advertising.

    “Like other aspects of publishing, including audience data management and consent management, it can be prohibitively expensive to do well, and at scale,” Schmitt said. “This dynamic creates the rationale for media companies to work with third-party vendors who provide these capabilities, and can spread the cost of software development, maintenance and enhancement across a portfolio of clients.”

    By creating safe and engaging ways for people to connect, Lou Paskalis, president and COO of the Mobile Marketing Association, said there’s a “lot of tailwind” around the business that OpenWeb is focused on. Although advertisers are reticent to experiment with advertising in new environments, he thinks publishers have a chance to grow online discussions around both major news and niche audiences around various sports and other interests.

    “We’re coming to a real global reset around publishers and permissions,” Paskalis said. “A marketer and a publisher working together are going to have a better path forward than a marketer and a platform. It’s a very long journey, but it may be the necessary journey to de-risk a lot of what we’re trying to do in advertising.”

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