Brands are pollinating the social web with easy-to-share features like Sharethis. As conversations splinter across the web, brands must prepare to aggregate those same conversations on their corporate website. As a result, the trusted conversations will centralize back on product pages.
[Trusted conversations have fragmented to the social web --shifting the balance of power to communities]
Social Pollination: Brands Currently Spreading to Communities
Why: Brands are trying to let their corporate and social content spread to many different communities in Facebook, Twitter, Email and others.
Examples: Any blog post, press release, or product page that encourages readers to share the content to other locations. Any brand created Facebook fan page, flickr account, or Twitter account.
Risks: Letting content spread to other locations causes some angst, as brand managers now must monitor content and discussions elsewhere on the web. The command+control mentality of “our corporate website is central” no longer holds true as people can share content using browser features like social bookmarking tool Delicious, or sharing links in Facebook.
Vendors: A variety of tools have appeared such as sharethis, addtoany, addthis and others. Incumbent players include: email, Facebook, Twitter, and Delicious that encourage content to be shared within those communities.
[To regain trust, corporate websites will look more like a collection of real-time customer discussions --not just product pitches]
Social Aggregation: Corporate Websites to Centralize Discussions
Why: Conversations and content have fragmented and distributed on the web, as a result, corporate websites are generally irrelevant. Expect brands to start to centralize these discussions on or near their corporate website in order to bring trust and relevance back to the corporate website.
Early Examples: There’s a few examples that we can start to analyze, they include:
Any corporate blog that frequently discusses recent topics or industry news is a manual version of this.
Early examples include Sun aggregating technorati blog mentions of any product to their product pages –even if it’s negative. I’m having a hard time find that example now, they may have removed that from their website.
IBM’s hosted thousands of developers at a conference called Impact. They aggregated event tweets in this twitterfall.
Perhaps the most mature example is Kinaxis, a supply chain management software company, has aggregated news of it’s industry at Manufacturing Central.
Future Deployments: Expect brands to at first create a lightly branded version of these discussions, on the topics of industry, or around mentions of any product.
Data and Content: The aggregation will need to pull in data and either sort by recency or relevancy or other prioritization pattern like Techmeme.
Location: Brands will likely create a seperate site or microsite for events or products that does this, as they get bolder, expect them to aggregate direct on product pages.
Branding: At first this will be lightly branded, but then will soon integrate directly with look and feeld or corporate site as this mainstreams.
Risks: Brands will have a difficult time finding all the relevant content. Secondly, while it makes sense to filter out off-topic, spam, and hate speech, the natural tendency will be to filter out negative reviews. Expect there to be customer backlash as their complaints are not publicly aggregated on the corporate web pages. Internally, expect social advocates to battle with brand preservationists who don’t want negative reviews on product pages.
Vendors: A variety of vendors will appear to serve this need:
The toolsets have not yet emerged, however we should expect a series of startups to appear that offer this or spinoffs from Friendfeed (a logical first mover) and eventually a form of a Facebook embed.
A second set of players could be any of the aforementioned pollinators (sharethis) and potentially listening vendors like Radian6, Buzzlogic, or any data house like Technorati, Delicious or Get Glue (read my take).
Takeaways Today, brands are trying to keep up with consumers as they self-connect to each other on social sites. Clearly, many companies aren’t even ready to participate with communities where they already exist, so only a few sophisticated companies will be prepared for this next future evolution of corporate websites. Don’t expect aggregation in the advanced forms I suggested to happen till brands are mature in the era of social colonization (read more about the future of the social web), so expect some time for true case examples to occur.
(Also, I’m trying out a new writing style, this time in outline form to break out a set of ideas. Was this helpful?)
Things are moving very quickly now, in fact I was pleased to learn about these contextual ads from my new friend Cory O’Brien in SF yesterday.
In my latest report “The Future of the Social Web” we pointed that in the near future we’ll start to see web pages dynamically created based on user profile ID in social networks. Essentially, your corporate, media, or ecommerce site could provide contextual media, content, and advertisement based on users’ info before they login.
[In the Future, The Era of Social Context Will Serve Personalized Content, Media, and Ads to Users based on their Social Networking Information]
Here’s an early example of a contextualized advertising campaign from VW (by agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky, read more about the modernist campaign) that’s intended to help prospects find the right model based on their preferences. Please note this isn’t yet the full entry into the era of social functionality as users have to manually submit their login info or user name (like this Twitter example below) and just examines recent tweets. When the era of social context matures, it will look beyond just profile info, but also behavioral data, friend data, location, and content analysis of explicit and implicit data.
Type 1: Context Ad based off of opt-in Twitter profile.
Above Ad: Enter your Twitter name to see a product recommendation
Above image: Facebook recommended these products to me on the VW fan page
Expect social context to impact not just ads, but many websites in the future. Also, expect the accuracy to increase as social and behavioral data starts to merge.
Facebook, Twitter, have a tremendous amount of explicit and more importantly, implicit data that could serve up information about users, yet we should expect years of refinement for these engines to truly be accurate. Interestingly, the Twitter ad suggested I’d like the Jetta, yet the Facebook app suggested a Rabbit and Beetle, which I find funny as I’d never drive a Beetle, that’s really not me at all.
In the future, these ads, media, or recommendations should be more intelligent and also find friends with similar cars, or people with similar traits to me that I don’t know and suggest products. As user ID start to federate and connect with other such as Open ID and Facebook Connect, we should expect a higher degree of accuracy.
Then, users may choose to opt-in to expose parts of their identity as they surf the web on trusted sites to receive a contextual experience. For example, I may trust Amazon, eBay and Google search to expose my identity in exchange for a more personalized experience.
We should also expect a rash of privacy concerns and user backlashes to happen, even if they opt in, we’re just scratching the surface here. I have so much more to write on the topic of social context, but it’s 3am and I need to go back to bed, so I’ll save it for a future blog post.
The above ads are simple experiments of how context can be served up through social data
Expect this contextual content not to be limited to just ads, but also on media sites, ecommerce, corporate sites, and TV
Expect digital content to be contextual –even without express content of the users
During the early years, expect privacy concerns to overwhelm brands, causing them to rethink this approach
Although it will take years to perfect, expect context to increase CTR, and therefore the cost of ads
What did the Twitter ad and Facebook page recommend to you? Were they accurate recommendations?
One of the key findings from the very popular report The Future of the Social Web (which has been translated into over a dozen languages by the community) is that identity technologies like Facebook Connect, OpenID, as well as existing identities will soon colonize the web, making every webpage a social experience –even if they don’t choose to participate.
[Soon, every product page and webpage will be a social experience –even if brands don’t choose to participate]
Although the identity space is still in it’s adolescence, many of the vendors agree on the direction to head, but not exactly how to get there. Secondly, there’s many different groups coming together from Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, Facebook, and the third party OpenID foundation that are trying to make their specific requirements work with each other.
Once the different parties representing the identity systems agree on the specifics and start to implement we’ll still need to see a transport method that will allow these identities to appear on any webpage:
How Every Page Could Be a Social Experience
• Connective APIs. Expect to at the highest level technologies like Facebook Connect and OpenStack to allow third party sites to connect with websites –without users having to give up their login credentials or personal information –essentially bypassing the annoying registration page.
• Social inlays and overlays. At the next level, expect social networks to create ‘overlay’ experiences so their social experience will traverse every webpage. If you currently click on a link within Facebook to a third party site it will open inside the Facebook experience. We also see this with Digg, with it’s “Digg Bar” experience.
• Browsers to add social functionality. Expect every browser to provide a social experience. Finally, at the next level, expect pervasive technologies like browsers to start to become social. Expect Google’s Chrome to allow your Gmail contacts to share their experiences on every webpage and product you visit. In fact, startups like GetGlue are already experimenting with aggregating reviews from a person’s network using Firefox plugins.
• Birth of the Social Inbox. In the most radical future, content will start to appear on a new type of aggregation webpage that resembles both email and newspages. I’m watching vendors like Friendfeed to aggregate public and some private data, expect Facebook and Google Wave to present unique new experiences we’ve not seen yet. As people interact socially with others on the internet, expect social networks to aggregate the colonization creating a new type of ‘Social Inbox’ (more on that soon). Expect to see Microsoft Live, Yahoo Mail, Gmail/Google Wave start to merge with social networks, birthing a new type of communication and collaboration platform. Why does this matter? because fragments of the corporate websites will be aggregated into these platforms, in a social context.
[As a result, people will lean on the opinions and experiences of their trusted network –diminishing traditional marketing efforts]
Key Impact: A Shift to Customer Opinion Over Corporate Messaging
More importantly, this means that your customers will be able to rely on their immediate friends and trusted network to make decisions –not just nameless customer reviews like on Amazon from folks you don’t know. This means they will also start to rely more on each other for reviews –not the marketing created by brands. This also applies to the real world –not just online, as people can access digital devices on mobile social networks to find out which stores, restaurants and activities their trusted network prefers.
[Get Glue is an early example of the Era of Social Colonization –a state when every product, services, and object can have social reviews by people you know]
Last week I spent time with small Get Glue team on a briefing, they were recommended to me from former colleague Charlene Li, so if she suggests something, I’m going to quickly follow up. It’s rare that I would dedicate a blog post to a company from a briefing, but this one is significant.
Get Glue is meta social network, meaning it aggregates the explicit and implicit behaviors of other social networks. Example: If you leave ratings about products on different websites, it will start to aggregate it to one page. What does this mean? It means that Get Glue can aggregate the opinions of your friends about nearly any product.
Early example shows significant impacts to brands
Early example, yet not maturity: Although this is focused on media, movie, music, gadgets and more, expect it to grow it’s scope to include services, restaurants, and even enterprise products.
Barriers to mainstream adoption It requires users to use a Firefox plugin to enable, so it’s only reaching a limited number of people –and they have to be active in social networks.
Recommendations will be aggregated: Soon, every product, webpage, and service will be rated by your friends, and the information will easily be aggregated into one location. Silos break down, as Get Glue is pilfering the reviews from thousands of sites to create a unique database with all the social data.
Significant impacts to marketers: You cannot stop this, and marketing as we know it will have to switch to a focus on social recommendations.
If you haven’t figured it out, the Five Eras of the Social Web are a roadmap that you should factor into your product roadmap (vendor side) and social strategy (brand side) You should have already dove into the era of social relationships, experimenting with era of social functionality, and thinking about the coming era of Social Colonization.
Today’s social experience is disjointed because consumers have separate identities in each social network they visit. A simple set of technologies that enable a portable identity will soon empower consumers to bring their identities with them — transforming marketing, eCommerce, CRM, and advertising. IDs are just the beginning of this transformation, in which the Web will evolve step by step from separate social sites into a shared social experience. Consumers will rely on their peers as they make online decisions, whether or not brands choose to participate. Socially connected consumers will strengthen communities and shift power away from brands and CRM systems; eventually this will result in empowered communities defining the next generation of products.
We found that technologies trigger changes in consumer adoption, and brands will follow, resulting in five distinct waves, they consist of:
The Five Eras of the Social Web:
1) Era of Social Relationships: People connect to others and share
2) Era of Social Functionality: Social networks become like operating system
3) Era of Social Colonization: Every experience can now be social
4) Era of Social Context: Personalized and accurate content
5) Era of Social Commerce: Communities define future products and services
Timing of the Five Overlapping Eras:
It’s important to note that these eras aren’t sequential, but instead are overlapping. We’ve already entered and have seen maturity for the era of social relationships, have entered social functionality but haven’t seen true utility, and are starting to see threads of social colonization with early technologies like Facebook connect. Soon these federated identities will empower people to enter the era of social context with personalized and social content. The following diagram demonstrates how we should expect to see the eras play out in the future –with social commerce the furthest out.
Interviews with 24 of the top Social Companies:
Research isn’t done in a vacuum, that’s why we conducted qualitative research to find out what we should come to expect. We came to these conclusions based on interviews with executives, product managers, and strategists at the following 24 companies: Appirio, Cisco Eos, Dell, Facebook, Federated Media Publishing, Flock, Gigya, Google (Open Social/stack team), Graphing Social Patterns (Dave McClure), IBM (SOA Team), Intel (social media marketing team), KickApps, LinkedIn, Meebo, Microsoft (Live team), MySpace, OpenID Foundation (Chris Messina), Plaxo, Pluck, Razorfish, ReadWriteWeb, salesforce.com, Six Apart, and Twitter.
How Brands Should Prepare
What’s interesting isn’t this vision for the future, but what it holds in store for brands, as a result, companies should prepare by:
Don’t Hesitate: These changes are coming at a rapid pace, and we’re in three of these eras by end of year. Brands should prepare by factoring in these eras into their near term plans. Don’t be left behind and let competitors connect with your community before you do.
Prepare For Transparency: People will be able to surf the web with their friends, as a result you must have a plan. Prepare for every webpage and product to be reviewed by your customers and seen by prospects –even if you choose not to participate.
Connect with Advocates: Focus on customer advocates, they will sway over prospects, and could defend against detractors. Their opinion is trusted more than yours, and when the power shifts to community, and they start to define what products should be, they become more important than ever.
Evolve your Enterprise Systems: Your enterprise systems will need to connect to the social web. Social networks and their partners are quickly becoming a source of customer information and lead generation beyond your CRM system. CMS systems will need to inherit social features –pressure your vendors to offer this, or find a community platform.
Shatter your Corporate Website: In the most radical future, content will come to consumers –rather than them chasing it– prepare to fragment your corporate website and let it distribute to the social web. Let the most important information go and spread to communities where they exist; fish where the fish are.
If you translate this blog post, I’ll add your link here and credit you.
This project took a team effort, and I’d like to thank Josh Bernoff a guiding force in my career, Emily Bowen who kept the project going, Cynthia Pflaum for the quantitative data, Megan Chromik in our editing team for the polish, and Jon Symons in our PR team for the media outreach.