As 1,400 new gTLDs launch in 2014, digital marketers should pay attention to how gTLDs will impact consumer use of the Internet, particularly in social media. Big digital companies such as Google, Amazon, and Microsoft made bold moves in the gTLD space with numerous applications, but social media titans like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Pandora, eBay, and others did not apply. Apple was on the gTLD applicant list, but only with its stalwart main brand, Apple.
Will Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and Apple have an edge over Facebook, Pinterest, Pandora, and others? You may be asking, "If it's so important to social media, why didn't big social media companies apply in the first place?" The most likely answer is that these companies are so focused on mobile platforms and evolving their business models to meet Wall Street demands that they didn't see the new gTLD platform as engaging as others.
During the application period, we didn't know who was going to apply or how many applications there would be, let alone how many brands would apply. But now we see half of the world's top brands have applied. Google applied for 101; Amazon for 76. With 1,400 new top-level domains transforming the landscape in 2014, could that have been a tactical error in the social space?
Time will ultimately tell. Some critics argue these new TLDs offer nothing different from the .com environment and will only confuse consumers. Others suggest apps will take over the web in navigation eventually, regardless of the new gTLDs. Still, the gTLD platform for a technology-based company does offer something new and exciting for consumers: a closed system for these brands to use for data mining and intelligence, niched platforms with a new nomenclature to browsing, a new level of market leadership, and authenticity that could transform how consumers think of websites in the digital landscape.
Anytime change occurs, opportunities emerge for new players. So perhaps the bigger question for social media marketers is, "Will the gTLDs be a catalyst for new social media communities to emerge within these big generic platforms or even within brands?" For example, many people may feel the current social media platforms are diluted or saturated and want something more focused to their lifestyle. Can new social media companies emerge in .moms or .families, .horses, .tennis, or .style? Within these categories, could social networks emerge totally focused on what matters to people in those social networks? Could American Express build a social network of entrepreneurs within .open? Likewise, will Amazon seek to build social networks within its portfolio of .book, .author, .pin, .video, .tunes, .smile, .kids, .joy, and .like, to name a few. Or, will Google do the same in .lol, .fyi, .rsvp, .family, .film, .VIP, .kid, .team, and .wow? What about .republican, .democrat, .motorcycles, .run, .shopping, or .wedding? While these same opportunities exist in .com, much of the primary Internet real estate in .com is taken. Each of these big categories of gTLDs represent niches of potential social networks just waiting for the next entrepreneur to explore in the next generation of the web.
If .com becomes less cool as a result of the new gTLDs and being in a Google or Amazon top-level domain provides more business advantages, the impact could come quickly in a world where early adapters and fast followers transform industries at an accelerating pace.
For all marketers, the convergence of social media, mobile, and the web is more prevalent than ever. Future strategy is not necessarily to favor one over the other, but to take a holistic approach using each platform for the unique value it provides to consumers. Social is a way to connect with likeminded people and foster relationships, which are conducive to these categorized top-level domains. Mobile is on-the-go access to what you need in a niched, targeted platform, which will continue to be in demand. And the web will still be important as an anchor to digital strategy, particularly as smart TVs and fiber optic cable make it more attractive to hook up the flat screen on the wall at home to the Internet and use web browsers for a richer experience than apps alone. GTLDs provide an enhanced version of the web platform with a few more bells and whistles. All of these digital assets also provide crucial data analytics and intelligence to transform the user experience and businesses' ability to respond to their needs.
While digital marketers are not paying a lot of attention to the gTLDs yet, social media experts shouldn't discount the impact of the launch of those 1,400 new top-level domains into the digital environment. It is a breeding ground for new entrepreneurs to imagine and think differently with more options available than in the gold or "old" standard of .com. If anything, the innovative and imaginative should start thinking, and the establishment should pay attention.
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Jennifer Wolfe is founder and president of Wolfe Domain, a gTLD digital brand strategy advisory firm providing comprehensive guidance to global brands, interactive agencies, domain registrars, and legal counsel representatives on establishing a holistic gTLD name-anchored brand strategy for the next generation of the Internet. As a forward-thinking, accomplished, award-winning attorney and executive leader, she also serves as managing partner of their affiliate law firm WolfeSBMC, specializing in advising on intellectual property and brand campaigns and new media law. With a depth of entrepreneurial savvy, brand knowledge, and legal expertise, Wolfe brings a unique perspective to creating holistic generic top-level domain (gTLD) name-centric brand strategies that effectively bring cross-functional teams together and serve as a catalyst for business innovation.
March 19, 2014