New currents beget new buzzwords. In 2008, the “conversation” will certainly march on, but I’ll put myself out on a limb and predict we’ll see more than a little correction and a reality check on our sometimes overly romantic exuberance over Web 2.0.
Realistically, getting it right with consumers in the age of consumer control is no cakewalk. Facebook (of all sites) is learning this the hard way with the Beacon backlash, and Unilever Dove’s campaign is experiencing it via elevated transparency around the perceived discontinuity between Onslaught-centered self-esteem messaging for women and edgy Axe-brand messaging targeted at men.
Next year, we may well find troubleshooting our brands is as big a deal as promoting our brands (this is a big theme in my upcoming book, “Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3,000“). In that spirit, I humbly offer my 2008 buzzword and buzz-phrase forecast:
- “Search moptimization”: Yes, that’s “mop,” as in to clean up. This is the increasingly common, if not essential, brand practice of attempting to clean up negative search results against general or specific brand-related queries. For many brands, particularly in the consumer electronics category, hostile CGM (define) is beginning to fill, even dominate, the organic search shelf, a zone that we all know has an unmistakable impact on the awareness and trial of new products. For many brands, the mopping process can take two to three years (often longer) and heavily depends on operational and product, rather than marketing, decisions. Dell, for example, still has lots of “search moptimization” to clean up Jeff Jarvis’s two-year-old mess, though it’s worth noting its customer service blog and IdeaStorm initiatives have already helped mop up or reroute some of the venom.
- “Wombagging”: This exercise tries to protect, or sandbag, your brand from negative or undesirable word of mouth (WOM). This could include anything everything from buying negative keywords on search engines to putting videos on your Web site featuring your CEO begging for patience and forgiveness. For some companies, wombagging might even include employing staffers in defense of bad buzz. But again, all this falls into the defensive branding arena, not outright promotion.
- “Friendiligence”: This will become very popular in 2008. It involves the extra layer of due diligence on friend requests on Facebook, MySpace, and all the me-too social networks popping up here and there. Friendiligence will also dial up as marketers oversaturate the social networking space with fan sites and more. Is this a real friend offer, or is it spam? Trust me, we’ll all ask harder questions, and some friend lists will start to shrink.
- “Converstations”: Brands now have multiple entry points for meaningful dialogues or conversations with consumers. These are essentially converstations. Brands fully immersed in CGM or social media may have dozens of conversations, from the consumer affairs interfaces and toll-free numbers to the corporate blog. They all matter, and every brand manager should know his or her converstations.
- “Social mediation”: This is the process of rethinking or renegotiating certain advertising, marketing, and communications practices as a result of user backlash. What took place with the Facebook privacy backlash was essentially social mediation, and Facebook’s own groups served as the third-party arbitrator between disgruntled users and Facebook (the company and policymaker).
- “We-bargaining”: A close cousin of social mediation, this is a bit more centered on brands and companies seeking peace, appeasement, or a lesser sentence with consumers when they screw up (particularly with viral, WOM, or CGM campaigns). It’s a tough exercise, because it typically pits a brand against the wisdom of the crowds. Richard Edelman did a very good job of we-bargaining after the controversial Wal-Mart blog incident last year. He was open, forthright, contrite, and resolved to fix the issue.. So, too, was the CEO of JetBlue when he posted his apology to YouTube.
- “Greenlashing”: Woe to the marketer who over-claims or over-promises benefits on the green front. The market’s just too transparent. Sites like TreeHugger, now owned by Discovery, are part of mainstream consciousness these days, and smaller green skeptics will vet out a green imposter faster than you can say “carbon neutral.” As the number of do-good green blogs increases, you can expect even more greenlashing about brand missteps in this area. Mya Frazier of Ad Age deserves credit for firing the first big warning shot against marketers’ bows on what she calls “greenwashing.”
- “Shamsparency”: Don’t get busted buying shills or engaging in unsavory activity. Just don’t do it, or the forces of shamsparency will catch up with you. It happens all the time, and firms in the CGM monitoring space (like my own) make it easier to uncover the imposters. My recommendation: avoid this term at all costs, and write the WOMMA ethics code on the whiteboard 30 times.
- “Credlining”: Credlining is when consumers sift the good from the bad, the credible from the discreditable, and publish a scorecard accordingly. When protesters of Facebook’s Beacon feed effort started posting lists of Facebook’s advertising partners, credlining was in play.
- “Facelifting”: This is the process of taking a hard look at traditional conversational touch points (“contact us” pages, feedback forms, surveys), and slapping on a friendlier, more empowering face that the usual run-at-all-cost one. Brands must think harder about the sincerity and believability of the invitation. How do you make consumers feel important and valued?
- “Blog groveling”: This is the already-getting-old process of sucking up to bloggers and key influencers to try, test, or sample your new product or service. Usually it involves hokey headlines, repetitive phrases, and an unmistakable hint of desperation.
- “World War 2.0”: Face it, the battle lines are calcifying around Web 2.0. Ambiguity reins supreme on “Who owns the conversation?” and “Who owns the influencer?” Sure, we all talk a mean game of cross-functional harmony, but war’s already erupting between the brand and IT departments, the PR agency and the digital agency, and, most important, consumer affairs and everyone else. Did I forget to mention legal? Top executives, meanwhile, fancy pitting one against the other in the impatient name of just getting it done. Expect to hear much more about World War 2.0 in 2008.
- “MicroTubing”: This is what’s happening in TV and video development. New content forms are proliferating and appealing to smaller audiences. Small publishers, even mom-and-pop players, will continue to make inroads into the video publishing zone, many getting snatched up by brands and publishers for ongoing content.
- “Lipsmacking”: This is process of talking trash about brands, services, or goods, usually with a digital trail.
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