Byline: Steve. In my last post I discussed the network effects of Web 2.0 applications and how they present a challenge for marketers. Marketers demand control. Marketers need to control the message that is communicated to the market and the medium by which it is communicated. But with Web 2.0 applications like blogs, online reviews, ratings, and voting, marketers relinquish control of their message to customers (and prospective customers). That is, the market.
The fancy term for online content created by end users is user-generated content (or UGC). Well, maybe that's not so fancy, but only really cool Web 2.0-types use acronyms like UGC, so now you're one of them. Next you'll be adding TechCruch to your RSS reader.
Anyway, the scary thing about UGC for marketers is the very thing that makes Web 2.0 such an opportunity for marketers. That is, it's no longer just up to you to get the word out about your great product or service. There are thousands of people willing to help. Of course if your product or service is good ("good" = competitive, unique, high-value, or anything else you want it to mean), then this is great news. If your product isn't good ("not good" = substandard, a rip-off, poor quality) then this is bad news and you should refer to my previous post.
So not only are thousands of people willing to help you get the word out, but they're mostly willing to do it for free. And not only that, but they're also willing to give you free feedback about your offering so that you can make it better. Wow! Web 2.0 really is a boon for marketers!
Getting feedback from the market, measuring online success, and measuring the impact of marketing efforts will be a topic for a future post, so hold that thought for a while.
Tapping into the powerful network effects of Web 2.0 is not easy, but the rewards are definitely worth the effort. Marketers can regain some of the control they've ceded simply by monitoring the messages being communicated. This can be as simple as checking for any mention of your company name on the various blogs and message boards related to your products and services. A simple keyword search on Technorati or Google Blogsearch can scour all the blogs ever written in seconds. Upon finding a mention of your product or company, verify that the information is accurate and consistent with your desired message. If not, be sure to use the appropriate avenue to correct any misinformation. By "appropriate" I mean a measured response from a knowledgable individual on the same forum via comment or new post. It should be in keeping with the spirit of user-generated content. A flaming letter from your corporate counsel threatening to sue, sent to the blogger's mother, is not appropriate. And it will backfire.
Aside from simply monitoring what others are saying you can attempt to communicate your desired messages by injecting a little Web 2.0 into the marketing mix. The first thing you usually hear when people talk about "Web 2.0 marketing" is how they'll get thier message to go viral. "Viral" refers to the phenomenon of people finding something great/useful/interesting and then communicating it online to 10 friends (usually via e-mail), who each tell 10 friends, and so on. Virality is the holy grail of marketing. Everyone would love for their product to benefit from a viral campaign. Unfortunately, virality is hard to predict and even harder to to influence. Some marketing consultants and ad agencies claim to specialize in viral marketing. I have never seen one actually deliver results. I've yet to see a truly successful "viral marketing campaign," though I've seen a lot of proposals for them. Catching a viral buzz is like catching lightning in a bottle. It's neither predictable nor repeatable. Just ask Antonella Barba.
So how can marketers leverage the power of Web 2.0 without wasting time and money trying to force something to go viral? Sounds like a good topic for a future post...