I had the distinct good fortune to attend Jeremiah Owyang’s presentation at the Webcom conference here in Montreal. The web strategist and partner at Altimeter Group addressed a packed hall of e-marketers, IT companies and web developers about the future of social media.
His points were compelling. He used the 1999 Cluetrain Manifesto as a point of departure, a groundbreaking call to action which argued the Internet would reverse the trend towards mass marketing and restore human-to-human conversations in business practice.
Owyang isn’t entirely buying that. His vision of the future of social media — and the Internet as a whole — involve increased automation of conversation that “sounds” human. Soon, he says, we will all be spending some time talking to bots. We already do, whether they are automated call answering services or machine-generated Twitter feeds.
Particularly interesting to me was his vision of the future of websites. He points out that most organizations integrate social media by linking to them, which means sending traffic away from your site to your Facebook landing page, Twitter feed or YouTube channel. Some sites have cottoned on to this and aggregate their feeds from those channels back onto their own pages (see our Social Sphere, for example).
But ultimately, according to Owyang, websites will customize their content to each user. You’ve probably seen one like this, if you’ve ever signed on to a third-party site using your Facebook or Twitter account. Take the travel site TripAdvisor, for example. When you sign in with your Facebook credentials, the content aggregates all the information from your network of friends. You can see where they’ve been, read their reviews, peruse their recommendations. So the TripAdvisor site you see will be different from the site I see. This is the logical endpoint of web 2.0.
What does this mean for our clients? Most organizations and companies are still in the first or second stage of web development (according to Owyang’s list, at any rate). If they are using social media, they are mostly visible as links at the bottom of their website. These organizations are still challenged by overall social media strategy development – linking their use of these powerful communication tools to their mission, goals and objectives. How to use these sites to transform prospects into leads? How to turn cold calls into warm calls. How to convert visits into sales?
The next step is effective content development. Many organizations never develop parameters for this, so the messages they put out can be a bit hit or miss. Tweets and LinkedIn updates aren’t always directly linked back to the overall goals. Material may be compelling or not, germane to company mission or tangential. Managers and employees may be unclear about what exactly they should be saying, and this can be either so overwhelming that nothing good gets put up or (worse) inappropriate content is released.
The future of the web is very compelling, and I will continue to follow Owyang’s predictions with interest. But for the vast majority of government organizations, small and medium-sized enterprises and non-profits, the priority is thinking about right now.
That means assembling a thoughtful, effective strategy, optimizing resources, linking content to defined objectives and tracking returns. For those working in the real world, this vision of what’s coming can serve to inspire and innovate while we help them along the first steps on an exciting journey.