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In 2018, we introduced site sponsorships as a revenue stream to generate income that would go back into Stack Exchange. Now that we’ve been doing this for a while, and in response to Community questions, we thought that it might be helpful to share more about the process.

Who can sponsor a site?

The company is discerning about who can advertise on Stack Exchange (SE). Companies that want to sponsor a site on SE need to fall into at least one of these three categories:

  • Companies that have products or services related to topic tags on SE sites
  • Companies that have products or services that general site visitors on SE might be interested in — our stated policy to prospective advertisers is that we only accept endemic advertisers on the site
  • Companies that have products or services that can be used in conjunction with the main topic of an SE site

Only one company can sponsor a site at a given time, but a company may sponsor multiple sites at once, which occasionally happens (for instance, AWS is currently sponsoring three different sites through March).

The Community Team has been working with our in-house Customer Success team (who are tasked with supporting our clients through the advertising process) so that we can get a heads-up if a sponsorship discussion is in motion. This ensures that we can provide feedback to Customer Success if there are any red flags or concerns that the Community of an SE site may have. We do this in order to be transparent, so that Customer Success can relay this to the prospective customer. This is an important part of the process for the potential client to make an informed decision about whether sponsorship on the site(s) they are considering is a good fit.

The Community cannot veto a sponsorship, although serious concerns will be relayed back to the client. It’s important to be very clear about one thing, though: sponsorships have no impact on how the Community runs the site(s). For example, if questions related to a sponsor are off-topic, they should still be closed.

What happens after the sponsorship is signed?

Customer Success and the Community Team jointly author a Meta post to inform the Community on the impacted site(s). We also reach out to the moderators to give them a heads-up that the sponsorship is coming and that we’ll be posting about it.

Once we have the sample image of what the sponsorship will look like on the site once it's live, we'll make the Meta post. There can often be a quick turnaround time from a sponsorship being signed to it going live, but we’ve been working with Customer Success to make sure that at minimum we can notify the Community a day before a sponsorship goes live. We’ve been working hard to give more lead time whenever possible.

Sometimes a sponsorship might be delayed from going live due to technical issues. The Community Team has asked Customer Success to notify us when delays happen so that we can give the Community a heads-up.

What are the design requirements for sponsorships?

Sponsorships are not meant to be intrusive. The current standard is to place the sponsor logo in the top-right corner of the site. We have the same rules for sponsorship logos as we do for advertising on the sites. We don’t allow any animated or flashing images — everything needs to be static.

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  • 78
    Do you officially allow sponsor images to have tracking pixels?
    – bobble
    Feb 23 at 17:04
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    Would it be possible to make "sponsored by" a link to a page that explains what sponsorship means exactly?
    – ColleenV
    Feb 23 at 17:14
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    Will there be a Community notification that the site is going to be sponsored weeks in advance or is it (what seems to be) a one day notice to gather feedback.
    – Rob
    Feb 23 at 17:36
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    Didn't AI get a site design due to a sponsorship? Is that a possibility on any undesigned site? If so, how would that work?
    – Laurel
    Feb 23 at 18:02
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    Once upon a time, there were sponsored tags. Feb 23 at 21:10
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    @Rob We've been working with Customer Success to try and give more of a heads notice when possible. Sometimes there is a quick turnaround time because we can't post until we have all of the assets. We do check in with the moderators ahead of time to give them a heads up and see if they have any concerns so we can share that feedback.
    – Rosie StaffMod
    Feb 23 at 22:54
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    I seem to recall some companies sponsoring specific tags on SO years ago. Is this still a thing that happens? Or are all sponsors now site-wide?
    – Robotnik
    Feb 24 at 2:25
  • 3
    @Robotnik Some tags on SO are easily larger than most of other network sites. So maybe it would make sense to have tag sponsorships on SO and site sponsorships everywhere else. Problem is that tags on SO do not really have dedicated pages or layout. Collectives might be closest thing we have to tag sponsorship at the moment.
    – Trilarion
    Feb 24 at 11:31
  • 7
    How much does it cost to sponsor a site? Feb 24 at 18:43
  • @user1271772 I imagine sponsoring coffee would be cheaper than sponsoring super user. That is to say, it probably depends on the site. Mar 15 at 20:07
  • @EkadhSingh-ReinstateMonica what's the minimum amount? Also, is your assumption about varying prices correct? Mar 15 at 20:49
  • 1. (of a disease or condition) regularly found among particular people or in a certain area. "complacency is endemic in industry today" 2. (of a plant or animal) native and restricted to a certain place. Hrm. I feel like we got some marketing speak there.
    – ruffin
    Mar 25 at 20:14

5 Answers 5

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For example, if questions related to a sponsor are off-topic they should still be closed.

Indeed, a sponsorship by company X of site Y will cause new users to believe they can ask questions about company X's products on site Y. There are two major problems with this:

  • Some sites in the network have quite a large backlog when it comes to the Close Votes review queue. They certainly won't welcome the additional workload.
  • New users will perceive the accompanying downvotes, closures and comments as unwelcoming. This will reflect on the community and perhaps also on the sponsor.

Have/will these points been taken into consideration when deciding whether a sponsorship will be rolled out or not?

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    Have we seen any examples of this behavior in any past or current sponsorship?
    – Teresa Dietrich StaffMod
    Feb 23 at 22:28
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    Well - that's a concern we had on Super User, and even if it's not the case so far, worth keeping in mind imo
    – Journeyman Geek Mod
    Feb 24 at 14:40
  • I mean, it shouldn't be hard to find a question posted under one of the collectives tags with this behavior
    – Kevin B
    Feb 24 at 16:27
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    @TeresaDietrich I may be overly worried, but it's mostly based on my experience with 'lost souls' on Meta Stack Exchange. We see a lot of those and they're not so much of a problem here because we have many users participating in site moderation. Other communities are not so lucky...
    – Glorfindel Mod
    Feb 24 at 18:08
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    @Glorfindel I do not believe we have heard this surfaced as an actual problem, but if it becomes one, we would definitely investigate it and work towards a reasonable solution.
    – Teresa Dietrich StaffMod
    Feb 25 at 19:26
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    @TeresaDietrich I think that sponsorship hasn't had the opportunity to do so. But, Glor worries aren't unfounded, since company tags (tags with the name of a company or vendor) tend to have the same result.
    – Braiam
    Feb 27 at 10:39
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The Community can not veto a sponsorship, although serious concerns will be relayed back to the client.

I'd be interested to know exactly how much say the community would have in sponsorship decisions. Of course, for the vast majority of cases, the community will probably not have any serious objection to the sponsor. But in some rare cases they may. As a (somewhat contrived) example, if the Unites States' NSA were to sponsor either Information Security or Cryptography, it is quite likely that a significant portion of the community would have very serious ethical concerns with that, to the point that some active users might consider quitting over this. I'm not sure how relaying concerns back to the client would help in such a case, specially if the community is informed only one day in advance.

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    A sponsorship is basically just a permanent ad spot in the top-right of the page. The NSA is not known for running ads for itself, as far as I'm aware.
    – Kevin
    Feb 24 at 1:16
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    @Kevin Which is why I said the example was somewhat contrived. I could have used a more realistic example, but less people would be familiar with it.
    – nobody
    Feb 24 at 1:19
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    "how much say" Saying goodbye is one possible form of say that the community has. As for the company, they will probably not be able to quantify or codify this. It will be a case by case basis.
    – Trilarion
    Feb 24 at 10:59
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    @Kevin Yes, the NSA does run ads, specifically for recruiting software developers.
    – Moshe Katz
    Feb 24 at 16:01
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    There is a well documented phenomenon at RPG StackExchange of D&D dominating the site in basically every metric. I have no doubt that many, possibly even a majority, of active members of the community would have significant objections to a Wizards of the Coast sponsorship of RPG.SE. Feb 25 at 19:50
  • 3
    @ThomasMarkov That seems a bit silly. Sponsorships are temporary. It's not like DBA.SE members who use Azure revolted when the site was sponsored by AWS. Concerned users can just block the sponsorship image in the site banner (which is, I think, literally the only way a person can tell if the site is sponsored, aside from the Meta announcement that always precedes the sponsorship) using their favorite user style or ad-blocking browser extension, if they really care that much about seeing WOTC for a split second every so often while browsing.
    – TylerH
    Feb 28 at 14:46
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    @TylerH RPG is my #2 stack after the one I moderate, and I can say for me avoiding RPG.SE during a hypothetical sponsorship has absolutely nothing to do with seeing a banner, and everything to do with wanting to send a message about the direction I'd like to see the stack (and industry) go in. Mar 3 at 2:07
  • Can you object to the NSA advertising. Yes, block ads, use greasemonkey to remove the add on page load. Any number of ways you can make an advertiser spend their money and get nothing in return. Of course if SE causes me to write a GM script to remove that crap, the chances of me uninstalling that script after a sponsorship are effectively 0. We have the tools and skills to stop anyone from shoving ads down our throats.
    – boatcoder
    Mar 3 at 15:59
  • 2
    @boatcoder But the NSA would still benefit from you contributing to the site, even if you yourself didn't click any of the ads. That's what would be objected to. Mar 12 at 0:35
  • 1
    You think they don't already benefit from the Q&A aspect of the site @forestdistrustsStackExchange
    – boatcoder
    Mar 15 at 5:55
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    @boatcoder Not as much as if they got free advertising. Mar 15 at 22:12
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sponsorships have no impact on how the Community runs the site

Okay, so I know that they have no impact on this. But what impact do sponsorships have then? Only visual placements?

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    So far that pretty much seems to be the case for us at super user. Else we would be grumpier 😁
    – Journeyman Geek Mod
    Feb 24 at 14:41
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    Advertising is a heck of a drug!
    – TylerH
    Feb 24 at 15:15
  • 2
    Also tracking, ICYMI.
    – Michael
    Feb 24 at 15:44
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    @JourneymanGeek. I cannot imagine a grumpier SE site than SuperUser
    – boatcoder
    Mar 3 at 16:00
  • Imagine harder.
    – Journeyman Geek Mod
    Mar 3 at 22:48
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Can non-profits get free tag or site sponsorships?

For instance, could the Society of Gilbert Keith Chesterton sponsor the GK Chesterton tag on Christianity.SE?

Seems like it'd be a nice write-off if IBM and Facebook are setting the price of a sponsorship.

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Thank you so much for all of your feedback and questions. Buttoning up the Sponsorship process and making sure that the Moderators and Communities are informed earlier is something that has been really important to me this past year and Sales and Customer Success have been really great about working with our team so we can start giving more of a heads up.

A number of you have expressed concerns about what would happen if there were really strong objections to a particular sponsorship by the Community. I really appreciate Nobody’s question around what would happen if there was a sponsorship that raised ethical concerns to the Community.

I’m excited to share that Teresa has been working with Sales to ensure that in the future the Community Team and the Mods of the site(s) where the proposed sponsorship would be displayed are informed earlier — before the deal is signed. This way if any major concerns are flagged they can be shared with Teresa ahead of time, then she can determine if we should not proceed with the sponsorship agreement.

Again thank you for your input and feedback. It’s invaluable.

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