Money and the Mob: Pitching Web 2.0

On February 24, hundreds of people gathered in New York City’s Union Square for a massive pillow fight in the name of good, clean, communal fun. The event was reminiscent of the flash mob craze of a few years ago. Crowds would seem to spontaneously gather to complete a task — collectively discuss the virtues of a rug in a Macy’s department store, or break into applause for 15 seconds — then disperse before anyone knew what hit them.

Offline, events like these cause quite a stir. Picture the online equivalent: thousands, even millions, of Internet users gather to participate in some predetermined act. Those on the inside seem privy to some colossal secret that outsiders can’t begin to grasp; they’re part of an exclusive club, the admission price of which is unknown.

This is how the majority of your clients view Web 2.0 (define).

With blogs, social networks, CGM (define), and brand democratization, the Web’s next generation can be intimidating, particularly to traditional marketers who have only scratched interactive media’s surface. Just when they’ve come to terms with conflicting interactive marketing concepts like investing in both elaborate rich media creative and unadorned search engine text ads, here come media planners with talk of leveraging the consumer participation that the new Internet cultivates (or, rather, cultivates the new Internet).

Certainly, some are quicker to identify with the opportunities than others. It’s our job to sell those others on what makes the newest offerings worthwhile. Pitching plans to invest in sites born of Web 2.0 takes a unique approach.

Content vs. Community

One factor influencing media planning and buying has always been site content’s value. If the content is good, the audience is likely to be loyal. If we’re lucky, that loyalty can be transferred to our clients by association.

Sites that might be considered part of Web 2.0 have far more to offer than content. Their real value lies in their audience. A portal like AOL can draw millions, but how many are just passing through on their way to checking e-mail? The Internet users that social networks, blogs, forums, and wikis attract are dynamic, opinionated, and influential — the very people who fuel viral campaigns and boost credibility and sales through word of mouth. Loyalty’s still a factor, but instead of being loyal to a site due to its content, consumers are more apt to be loyal to an advertiser — and to let everyone know it.

Control Issues

Web 2.0 is largely about facilitating user control of the Internet through improved usability and features that encourage outside collaboration. This extends to CGM and consumer-created ad content, but it also affects media planning and buying.

Now that Internet users are accustomed to having more power over the Web, they aren’t as tolerant of some marketing tactics we got away with in the past. Push-marketing techniques of old (e.g., list-rental e-mail campaigns) are being replaced with new pull strategies (e.g., user-initiated video, paid search). The shift may be hard for traditional marketers to grasp, but it’s a positive one.

The original mob mentality was all about mindless destruction. Feeding off each other’s anger, people torched cars and broke windows (think villagers going after Frankenstein’s monster). The modern mob is about a collective intelligence (define) — getting together online to connect with like-minded consumers to foster a sense of community.

The result is a new type of media and a new type of Internet user. Learn how to work with both. The rewards can far surpass those of a communal pillow fight.

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