A paradigm shift is happening in the already frenetic world of the Internet as Web 1.0 morphs into the next generation. No longer is the Internet user passively consuming whatever the authorities deem appropriate for the masses: In fact this citizens’ revolt manifests itself in the 48 million Americans who now contribute to the content of the Internet. Today, the communications vehicle that was formerly the domain of corporate America and the 4th Estate has evolved into a sounding board for its consumers and subscribers. The revolution has begun: Web 2.0 has been unleashed.
The differences between the first generation of the Internet and Web 2.0 are remarkable not only in the technological advances such as the widespread dissemination of video content, interactive components including blogging, contests, and wikis, but in perhaps most amazingly, in the pure democratic, egalitarian nature of the Internet itself. Easy to use tools enable those from eight to eighty to publish web pages of their latest vacations, or contribute to message boards on how to be a better grandmother, providing a two-way experience on the information superhighway. People are creating, discussing, inventing and promoting their passions. And considering that a web page from an average citizen takes up the same space on a computer screen, and is accessible by the same number of people as the home page of the New York Times, it really is democratic.
Social Media is bottom up, interactive and collaborative communications characterized by freedom of expression. The old media is out of favor with fewer and fewer people believing in the authenticity of their stories. In fact, when Anna Nicole Smith died in March 2007, news of the Iraq war, the crisis in Darfur, the continuing plight of Hurricane Katrina victims, and all the other real news was put on the back-burner as CNN and other cable news media devoted the vast majority of their reporting on a former playboy bunny/drug addict in order to get ratings. The news media, pressed by corporate greed, has sold their souls to the corporate devil. So in my opinion, the disintermediation of the regulatory authorities and the overthrow of the publisher are warranted, if not overdue.
What does this mean to the marketer, the advertiser who pays to place his advertising message in the traditional media spaces? While recent studies conclude that Tivo is not significantly affecting the number of advertising viewers in the television world, there is a fall off in newspaper readership and sister websites that negatively impact marketing dollars expended in these realms. Public relations professionals and marketers need to heed the lessons learned before the disintegration of trust in advertising follows the demise of the news media.
Word of mouth (WOM) and “linky-ness” have replaced “sticky-ness.” Engagement is the 21st century measure of brand loyalty. These days a company builds communities by interacting with their consumers. Like an old fashioned fan club where writing a letter to a celebrity was rewarded with a signed 8×10 glossy, the 21st century consumer wants to be rewarded with insider-tips, the chance to test market products before their release to the general public, or having one of their own videos featured on a corporation’s website.
Power of the Individual
In this brave new world of Web 2.0, the individual rules supreme. In 1993, New Yorker cartoonist Peter Steiner quipped, “On the Internet nobody knows you’re a dog.” Today the intelligence of the aggregate public is able to sniff out a poser: Corporations cannot simply create a viral marketing phenomenon. Only an authentic voice can succeed on the grass roots level, in the weeds as it were.
The “Dell Hell” story described by McConnell and Hubba in their book Citizen Marketers shows what can go wrong when an individual is mistreated by a multi-billion dollar corporation. In this case, the individual was a popular blogger. So when citizen Jeff Jarvis revealed his huge unhappiness online, a goliath was forced to its knees. One man’s campaign resulted in $100 million dollar upgrade to the Dell customer service division. Now that’s a pretty loud bark.