Last week I had the honor of speaking at ad:tech Chicago. My fellow panelists and I discussed the growing importance of widgets (and other flavors of social media, by extension) during a session, “Widgets and Applications — The New Media Network.” Led by our moderator, Chris Duskin, Omniture senior director of product marketing, we quickly defined the space and then proposed a framework of best practices in four key areas: content, distribution, measurement, and optimization. While it’s impossible to distill an hour-long panel discussion into a short column, I’ll do my best to share some of the key points. Our full introductory presentation can be found here at SlideShare.
After an intro to the topic and panel from Chris, I opened the discussion with some thoughts about why the space is getting so much attention lately, centered on a theory of evolution in advertising. Advertising 1.0 was all about shouting loudest and most often. We relied on intrusion and interruption to connect with consumers. The digital manifestation of that was banners and buttons and whatnot, all aimed at driving traffic to your site.
As consumers gain more control over media experiences and the advertising that goes along with them, that model becomes less effective. So we began a shift to advertising 2.0, which trades the intrusion for conversation. If 1.0 was about buying attention, 2.0 is about earning attention by creating great experiences and providing value. In a sense, advertising 2.0 turns marketers into street musicians who must hone their performance and their content. They have to be so good and so relevant that random passers-by will choose to stop and experience the content. The digital manifestation of this is strategies that aim not to drive traffic to your site, but rather, drive your site to the traffic. It’s not about putting your entire site out there, of course. Rather, it’s about finding the right experiences from your suite of assets, and getting those out there in the right places. This shift from buying attention to earning attention is not entirely new. Some of the best TV spots ever produced have embraced this philosophy and produced extraordinarily compelling content. But not everyone held such high standards. Some were spoiled by the interruption model, producing less than engaging spots, and relying on the buy to drive results. That’s the kind of work that’s no longer effective, online or off. And it has driven focus back to a critical need to create great content and experiences that people will seek out rather than try to avoid. Widgets are one of many ways that this shift is beginning to manifest itself online.
Combine several different flavors of things that can be called “widgets” with all the buzz and hype, and it can be difficult to know exactly what people are talking about. So we continued the discussion by laying out some important definitions. Many different models exist, including custom-branded widgets developed by a marketer. Sonya Chawla, Slide.com general manager, contrasted that approach with case studies of how some clients leveraged integration with an existing widget (and with built-in audience) to achieve success. Ben Pashman, VP from Gigya, further helped to define the space by drawing some great distinctions between widgets and applications. (See the slideshow deck for details.)
A key additional distinction came from an audience question — where do desktop widgets fit in this whole ecosystem? Not to oversimplify the response, but Ben had a great answer, suggesting that the distinction goes beyond the obvious fact that desktop widgets are installed at the operating system level and can operate offline, while Web widgets live embedded on Web pages. He described desktop widgets as mostly utility-based and Web widgets as much more about entertainment.
The panel seemed to agree that developing the right content is a critical part of the success equation, and that it’s all about finding a unique piece of value that a brand can provide to the audience. Carnet Williams, CEO of Sprout, further suggested that empowering the consumer to customize the widget remains an extremely powerful way to build a connection. Sprout is introducing a new platform that puts powerful widget creation tools in the hands of the consumer, allowing them to take a core piece of functionality and mold it to an incredibly personal experience.
Content may be king, but the panel universally agreed that praying for a viral miracle was not the right approach. “Viral marketing” is often perceived as the go-to tactic when budgets are small. Reality is, viral and social media programs, including widgets, require as much care and feeding as any other marketing program you might embark on. Truly viral hits that take off on their own are the exception, not the rule. Promotion, distribution and nurturing are absolute keys to success. You create the right content, and then you’ve got to tell your audience that you’ve done something of interest.
We quickly ran through a variety of key metrics typically used by widget marketers. The basics generally include quantitative metrics such as views, installs, time spent, actions/interactions, and post-view actions. Everyone agreed that metrics vary by client and should be tied back to a program objective. There was further discussion around leveraging qualitative metrics to complement and supplement the wealth of numbers available. Listening closely to what people are saying about your brand can help you plan a social media program, optimize your existing program, and evaluate the program ongoing.
Lastly, and related to the measurement piece, we discussed the importance of looking at a widget not as a static thing that you create once and set free to live forever in that form. Rather, a widget is dynamic — pulling the latest info from an RSS feed, or adapting to viewer preferences either actively or passively. In this sense, a widget is not unlike any other kind of digital campaign — a flexible, nimble piece of content that can be centrally managed and dynamically updated, affording incredible power to those that manage and maintain their programs closely.
Social media, or what my agency refers to as Social Influence Marketing — and widgets as a subset of that — have been getting a ton of buzz lately. It is as radical a change as any thus far set in motion by digital. If the passion, enthusiasm, and case studies discussed last week are any indication, then “social,” unlike some digital marketing buzzwords that have come and gone, seems worthy of the attention.
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