In a recent white paper titled “The Future of The Social Web,” Forrester’s Jeremiah Owyang predicts the social web will morph through 5 different stages over the next 5 years, wreaking havoc on the way brands market. In his summary, Owyang states:
“Today’s social experience is disjointed because consumers have separate identities in each social network they visit. A simple set of technologies that enable a portable identity will soon empower consumers to bring their identities with them — transforming marketing, eCommerce, CRM, and advertising. IDs are just the beginning of this transformation, in which the Web will evolve step by step from separate social sites into a shared social experience. Consumers will rely on their peers as they make online decisions, whether or not brands choose to participate. Socially connected consumers will strengthen communities and shift power away from brands and CRM systems; eventually this will result in empowered communities defining the next generation of products.”
Portable Social Networks
Consumers will still use Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and such, as they do today. What’s different is that OpenID, Facebook Connect, and similar capabilities will enable consumers to traverse the web, and have their networks flow with them.
The implications of this are potentially profound, given that ~50% of consumers now belong to at least one social network. And even more important, these “portable” social networks will bring data and knowledge that is more trusted than the content delivered via traditional marketing contact points.
Changes Due To Social Network Portability
Owyang points to a number of important changes which will be driven by portability:
- Social networks such as Facebook and LinkedIn will aggregate member activities and preferences and sell or leverage this data with brands
- Consumers, using OpenID or Facebook Connect, will be able to expose all or portions of their personal and network information to the web sites they visit
- Web sites will be able to use the personal information enabled by OpenID or Facebook Connect to personalize consumers web experiences
- Consumers will visit web sites and know to what extent the site has been frequented by their community, what their community thinks of the site, product or service, etc.
- Social communities will feed data and insights about web sites, brand experiences, product and services, etc. to members on an as wanted basis.
- Search results will account for user preferences, habits, as well as the users social network preferences
My interpretation: Social communities will play an increasingly important, and perhaps even dominant role, in the future. Brand Marketers are going to have to rethink how they organize and market their brands. This is because the future social web will make “portable” the opinions, insights and knowledge of friends — which all research shows is much more trusted than virtually any other information source–as consumers travel the web and interact with brands, products and services.
Implications for Marketing
- Social Network Segmentation — Segmentation will potentially move from traditional demographic, usage, or needs based schemes to social networks. Not necessarily the group of friends an individual belongs to, but the aggregated set of individuals that tend to be like them based on habits, practices and preferences.
- Focus on “Amplifiers” — Influencers will become more important because they will be omnipresent. Word of mouth theory posits that 10-15% of any population are “amplifiers”–consumers with unusually large social networks who also are on the leading edge of sharing new information. These amplifiers will become portable and follow their non-amplifier friends and inform them as they travel the web. The future social web will enable marketers to identify these amplifiers and develop programs to interact with and influence them.
- Personalized User Generated Content — Consumers will be able to see what their social network — either their immediate network or people like them — think of a given store, product or service, wherever they go on the web. Thus, user generated content will become more personalized–and more impactful. Marketing organizations will need to develop new tools to influence and monitor this new content.
- User Experience Personalization — Consumers will come to your website, along with a wealth of information about themselves and their network. Brands can use this data to personalize the experience, recommend products, etc. Brands which fail to take advantage of this opportunity will be at a disadvantage.
Owyang is quite bullish in predicting all this will happen in the next 4-5 years. Personally, this feels a bit aggressive. But, there’s no doubt that if the world above materializes, even in 10 years, marketing will be a far different place than today with far reaching implications for how brands market themselves. The time is now to begin thinking through the implications of social network “portability” and how the Marketing organization of the future should be designed in response.