I’ve been trying to understand how some businesses really maximize their investments on the internet, while others seem to get less out of a similar investment. My cousin just posted a video, and there was a phrase in the video that made me think. The phrase is:
“There is a social, and a technological, basis for the internets development.”
The strategies that are most successful on the internet are strategies that find ways to connect to both. Intelligent internet programming takes advantage of both the technological AND social facets that contribute to the medium.
An example of the benefit that can be wrung from such a model is Wikipedia. Since its creation in 2001, Wikipedia has grown to include more than ten million articles in 250 languages – written entirely by volunteers. Wikipedia shows what the internet can facilitate: letting the consumer/user do the work for you. Letting the consumer do the work for you is not an appropriate answer for every product, or every brand, but it is something to keep in mind in attempting successful internet investment.
One company that really won from buying into this concept is Facebook. Founded in 2004, the managers of Facebook were open with their source code, allowing outsiders to develop applications for use on the site. Rather than limiting Facebook users to what the company itself could offer, Facebook allowed users to make Facebook what they wanted it to be. MySpace, founded in 2001, and in 2004 the largest social networking site, did not release its code.
In 2006 MySpace was still the largest social networking site, but in April 2008 it was overtaken by Facebook. MySpace recently launched a Developers Platform, allowing outsiders to create for the service. Well see whether or not that effort is a barn door closing.
Recognizing the Facebook/MySpace lesson, shortly after releasing the IPhone, Apple released the source code, facilitating user-created applications. Apple has NOT released the code for ITunes. This is an example of a necessary judgment call on the part of the company about whether or not letting the public do the work for them will hurt the brand/product/company.
Business people are used to finding 1:1 ratios. “I buy this many ads, this many people will be influenced.” And for the most part that still holds true. On the internet its, “I get this many clicks, this many people will be influenced.” Traditional advertising methods still apply, but when deploying old methods you can only expect 1:1 returns (at best) in new media. To capitalize on the new technologies, businesses must learn to integrate the social basis for the internet’s popularity into their campaign/message development process.
Traditional marketing is like hitting a ping-pong across a table. Whether youre really good at it or not, unless you really suck, the ping-pong crosses the table. But unless youre really gifted, the ping-pong wont come back to you. You hit it once, you need to go pick it up, or get another ping-pong. New media allows another option.
Many companies are trying to take advantage of user-generated content (as Wikipedia, Facebook, and Apple do), but are under-estimating the necessity of creative engagement with that concept. From t-shirt design to community calendars, application design to dance contests, it seems clear that for new businesses, or new forays on the internet, offering an opportunity is no longer enough.
Copyright Robert Bettmann, 2008 (but hey, this is the internet – it’ll probably be stolen anyway.)