As even the poorest villagers in 3rd world countries know, the Internet is fundamentally changing the lives of all people; providing fast and inexpensive access to information and knowledge, vastly improving our ability to communicate, and driving the development of new opportunities for work, play, entertainment, and self expression.
According to analysts (www.internetworldstats.com), more than 1.5 billion individuals regularly use the Internet worldwide. That is roughly one fourth of all individuals on Earth. The growth rate of Internet usage has been astonishing, increasing approximately 342% in the last 8-year period alone. When you look at specific countries like Korea, China and the United States, the growth has been even stronger.
A second wave of innovation, global efforts to extend the Web to mobile devices, is racing around the world as this article is being written, causing even deeper sea changes in the way people communicate and consume. It is highly likely that you are personally helping to drive these changes through your usage of computers, mobile telephones, networked consumer electronics hardware and software, and even in the online games you play and the manner in which you order pizza for delivery.
This revolution in information and communication technologies is changing the world faster than Hollywood exported Western Culture. What does it mean to businesses and organizations? That it is simply not possible to present your business, your organization, your ideas or your products properly in today's world without a strong Internet presence, and without understanding how this “new" medium is different from traditional experiences like print and television, and how it is evolving.
We all know that it's “interactive", “real-time", and “data rich". And that it's a lot easier (read cheaper) to broadcast key messages and offer discounts. But, from a marketer's prospective, what is really interesting are the new behaviors emerging as Web usage continues to evolve, offering new ways for companies to attract customers and build loyalty. Initially, it was email, the killer app. Next we discovered “user generated content", the holy grail of sticky, relevant, cheap content (you don't target it or pay for it, your readers do that for you). Today, we are just beginning to discover the power of social networks (like Friendster and Twitter) and the rules for effective social media marketing.
What does this mean for you? Perhaps (if you move quickly) there is a way for you to “get a leg up" on your competition and benefit from the worldwide interest driving the success of social networks. Only the very best companies have begun harnessing the power of social networking in their marketing efforts. They are relying less on “selling campaigns" and are, instead, making efforts to connect directly with customers through networking. They do this by focusing more on building brand awareness and by parading corporate values as opposed to sales and conversions. They are encouraging consumer expression about their products, companies and key messages. And it's working.
Through YouTube, media-savvy companies promote their businesses with informative videos, tutorials and even humorous clips. Media giant BBC alone has over 4 million views on their official YouTube channel.
Taking it a few steps further, Skittles has embraced social media by redesigning their entire Web approach. When you visit them online, you are no longer greeted with a traditional homepage. Instead, they display their Wikipedia page, FaceBook profile, Youtube content and a feed of all mentions of ‘Skittles’ on Twitter. Skittles.com breaks new ground in web marketing, leading the charge away from “hard selling” and towards a more inclusive and customer involved social networking approach. They know the value of rich user-generated content and it has benefited them greatly. The result? Social media networks are buzzing about Skittles, right up there with Chuck Norris and other popular icons.
To provide another example, WoWGoldPig.com, a popular World of Warcraft gold selling site, reaches out to its audience of young, tech-savvy online gamers by maintaining a media-rich blog, independent of its e-commerce activities. It promotes its blogging activities on various social networks. In their words, it is “important to add value to the community. You have to participate with relevant commentary, provide useful information, be entertaining, and help drive social interaction. It's not about offering WoW Gold for sale. It's about the joy of networking. " They do this by focusing on lifestyle, relevancy, and participation. They let potential customers decide to buy or not based on corporate values and community involvement as much as quality service, products and price.
Your competition understands the opportunities offered by a networked world and are moving to take advantage of it. The good news is that on the social media marketing front, it is still early days. Strategies are still being developed, few “best practices" exist and experimentation is the norm. The only bad strategy is to sit on the side lines and not participate.