Building a House on Digital Ground - A Primer on New Media
New marketing is the creation of events, experiences, content, products, and services in collaboration with the consumer. It is the creation of products and services that fill an actual need while creating a community that shares that need.
Google, Twitter and Facebook were initially created by people to fulfill a need. Google was created to manage information, Facebook demographics, data and connection, and Twitter, conversation. Software and hardware review sites emerged to protect consumers from false advertising. Blogs emerged because traditional corporations didn’t listen to their customers, leaving them to fend for themselves. Because of this, it’s much more difficult for traditional corporations to have a voice. It’s been drowned out by more valuable services. And the traditional communication channels have been severed. In the new web there is no longer one platform to speak from. Social, economic, brand, and lifestyle realities are constantly fragmenting, reorganizing and combining in new ways. Products are easily adopted and easily thrown away online. Additionally, each culture is constantly creating its own dialect, and unless a business understands that dialect and is extremely diplomatic, an online community will be able to see right through a marketing campaign.
There are tools out there that can be used to dive deep into these content networks such as Facebook and Twitter to secure information. Consumers have the power – both to create and destroy. But they also have a very helpful voice, and it’s important to listen to them. Often, they can’t create the products, services, and experiences they need. But companies can, and consumers want to help.
Web vs. Brick
In the brick and mortar world, most businesses have a front door and a loading dock, as well as finite hours of operation. Web designers originally built websites in the same way. But a website is always open, and every page a front door. Thus, each and every page on a site counts. Each page is a representation of the entire company, and must hold its own if accessed out of order and context.
One might think of the Internet as a vast ocean of noise with islands of content on it. Search engine optimization is a process that can bring an island closer to land…often close enough so that visitors can walk onto it. Visitors will generally use a website as a solution if they don’t have to navigate an ocean to get to the data they need.
Search engines can bring in traffic, but there is no guarantee that the content on a site will match what the user searched for. This can be helped along by having a site display items similar to what the user searched for. For instance, Amazon.com and the New York Times both have related posts and products that appear on almost every page.
As more and more companies turn to online software solutions, user interfaces become increasingly important. This is especially true when online collaborative software is used across great distances.
To quote the Urban Planner Paul Elek, “The point is that our daily existence is normally filled with short walks and passing through interfaces. It is not the number that we remember but rather the poor quality of them and the time spent in moving through them”. A principle to follow in designing an online experience is the time and number of clicks it takes for visitors to access data. If there is no flow, no calls to action, and no relevant content, then the user will generally move on — and click “no”, or the “back” button.
Users will generally take a route with the least interface changes to fulfill their needs. A good interface blends into the background while maximizing relevant user actions. The interface should also compress together similar steps so that actions do not have to be repeated uselessly by the user. Flickr’s image uploader and title/descriptions fields do an excellent job of this.
A website should contain no unnecessary code, styles, or content. A speedskater has different muscles developed than does an tennis player. There is no “one social media strategy fits all”. A website’s content/structure/links should be developed according to the type of products/services it provides. Conversation, community building and ease of use minimize consumer effort and can be achieved in different ways. It is imperative to pay attention to what communities/demographics need the services/products a site provides. Which avenue is best to play in – is Twitter more appropriate than Flickr? Examining the social media sites a community is drawn to says a lot about how they interact the most comfortably.
The ratio of good vs. poor content online makes filtering necessary. A website can only stand out among the crowd if it offers new and consistently reliable content. Additionally, that content must be accessible by both humans and machines (search engines). The online landscape only allows consumer’s limited time to make decisions. In these kinds of environments, one must alway focus on data accessibility, calls to action, and extremely clear direction. Information that is buried too deep into the site’s structure is more difficult to get to, and runs the risk of not being indexed by search engines. Products should be focused on providing value.
Some of the first industries to capture digital data real-time were hedge funds and other financial firms. They used something that I’ll call an intelligence dashboard — where different streams of data were needed to make complex decisions. The dashboard allowed users to see many different stocks at once, and companies were able to create a sort of proto-feed that showed many different ecosystems of data at once.
Services like Netvibes and Yahoo! pipes can be mixed together to offer companies real-time intelligence feeds that show what their competitors are posting on their blogs, what people are saying about them on twitter, and their overall online presence — all in one place.
Making these intelligence dashboards takes time and research, but the value added (not to mention the time saved) by the implementation of a centralized data source is immense. Also, it’s powerful enough for agencies that manage multiple clients, because the entire system fits into one browser window with a series of custom, labeled tabs.
All brands have an analog version of this, and some have a digital one — but all brands need it. Google Alerts is a quick and Intelligence dashboards are capable of handling the data generated by global and local brands as well. They can monitor Flickr photos, news items, blog posts, ect. Anything online, and anything in motion. Companies who do not monitor their own brands run the risk of their brands
A websites’ user base should be voluntary – it should be providing a comfortable nesting ground for user actions. Youtube allows its users the space for their communities to interact, and does not force them to interact in a specific way. New tools should be created to move forward the voluntary community’s ability to reach their goals. In doing this, the creator must be able to understand what the user’s needs are, and then help the user to get there step by step. Instead of major site redesigns, tools should be being found by the user during normal routine actions. This will allow the user to ‘discover’ that tool for themselves and then determine, over time, the best use of that tool.
Explicitly stated actions or rules for the user to follow are confining and dictatorial. Suggestions are better (See Tumblr – a user-based and created space to post quotes, pictures, and videos (a sort of microblog with media…but with less interconnectivity than Twitter). The database/user experience must expand more from the side of the users and the system must be mutable enough for the to move with the space of the user.