Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Successful Social Media is Placeless

Forrester's Jeremiah Owyang writes one of the best and most informative blogs on Social Media: Web-Strategist.com. Several months ago he evaluated the Social Media efforts of major brands and was generous enough to share the criteria he used.

His post, What makes a Successful Marketing Campaign on Social Networks?, is a very informative read. Owyang highlights many important attributes for Social Media success, such as the ability to scale quickly, fostering member interactions, offering a satisfying user experience, and company participation. The list is excellent, but I think there is an attribute missing: Successful Social Media is placeless.

Web 1.0 was largely inseparable from the browser and the PC. The era of the Internet was officially launched with the release of Netscape, and for a decade the most notable advancements were almost entirely browser based, such as Web sites, portals, e-commerce, banner advertising, and search engines. Web 2.0 still uses the browser, but the adoption of Web 2.o will be driven as much by what happens outside the browser as inside, including desktop applications, SMS, mobile applications, voice, passive monitoring, and real world experiences.

For a good example of how Social Media is placeless, just look at Twitter, one of the biggest Web 2.0 success stories to date. According to ReadWriteWeb, around half of Twitter users interact with the service on Twitter.com. How do the other half access Twitter?
Thanks to the Twitter API and the ingenuity of developers around the globe, Twitter is everywhere and nowhere. Because of this, Twitter integrates with as many aspects of life as users care to utilize. If all you want to do is Twitter while sitting in front of a PC with a browser open, you can do so; but you may also Tweet a map from the middle of Japan, ask for a menu recommendation while out and about, or share a photo from the slope.

Much of the placelessness of Social Media is being driven by new generations of mobile phones with Web access, GPS, cameras, and other features. Mobile Web use in the U.S. is growing by leaps and bounds; Bango reports that the United States will soon surpass the United Kingdom--where people have been surfing the Web on phones for many years--to become the top mobile Web browsing country in the world.

According to eMarketer, several recent studies are forecasting tremendous growth in Mobile Social Networking: ABI expects 140 million mobile subscribers worldwide by 2013; Juniper Research estimates that the number of mobile social networking users will rise to around 600 million worldwide by 2012; and Pyramid Research expects even greater growth, projecting 950 million mobile social networking users by 2012.

The soon-to-be-ironically-named Web 2.0 will become increasingly less Web based, with tools that permit intuitive control of information flow when and where consumers want that information. But until those tools arrive, brands seeking to make the biggest splash should consider ways to move Social Media out of the Web. Here are a couple of examples:
  • Recipe Site: If your CPG brand launches a site where people can share recipes, why not consider a mobile site where consumers can access those recipes while they shop? Or, how about a feature that permits consumers to select their favorite recipes, enter their cell phone number, and receive an SMS message with a link to their personalized shopping list on a mobile WAP site? Or, why not use a shelf card beside the article that offers mobile access to other consumers' recipes via a texted link?

  • Mall: Here's a perfect idea for a tween-seeking mall: Create a Twitter account and promote the account to young shoppers. Ask them to send an "@" reply to the account whenever they find a great deal. This will permit consumers to share and watch for the best deals while they shop.

  • Event Photo Contest: Sponsoring an event? Invite consumers to post photos live from the event. Create a booth or kiosk where event visitors can see and vote on the photos, then announce the winner at the conclusion of the event. Or, use a panel of judges to pick the best photos and display them to all attendees along with SMS codes they can use to vote for their favorite shot. (You can motivate participation by offering a sweepstakes drawing among everyone who votes.)
Social Media that requires a PC and a browser will continue to be the predominant approach for some time, but it's never too soon to think of ways to use Social Media to make connections wherever consumers find themselves. The more brands can create social experiences or provide value away from consumers' computers, the more consumers will integrate the brands into their lives.

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