Takeaway: Web vs. social web

There is no longer a distinction between what used to be referred to as the social web — Facebook, Twitter and other social sharing sites — and the traditional, information-gathering web. Consumers are now using social media to make purchases, interact with brands and connect with friends in one place.

Everything a user does online can potentially be viewed by millions of people who have the ability to share, comment and criticize the content, creating a social community across different platforms and countries. This is a scary thought for companies that don’t have technologies and strategies in place for monitoring and engaging with their consumers online. People expect to read relevant content via their platform of choice and most importantly in their preferred language. Companies can only do this if they know enough about their consumers. There are companies that do this really well, such as Amazon, while others struggle with the concept of personalizing content. Whether we like the idea of it or not, Big Brother-style consumer monitoring is here to stay. Companies need to invest in technologies that will allow them to identify what people want, and when and where they want it. This doesn’t need to be as complex as it sounds. Several solutions on the market allow companies to create and publish content, monitor the effectiveness of it and gain a better understanding of the customer journey, all from one integrated platform. For those who assumed social media was a passing fad, the last few years have taught us that companies that don’t recognize its importance are in danger of losing customers and sight of brand reputation.

Relevancy starts with localization. Although it sounds obvious, the ability to understand audiences requires understanding their language. As soon as content is published, it is global and accessible by users in every corner of the online world, but it is frightening how many companies still think “English first and everything else can follow.” With the explosive growth of the web and social media sites, consumers expect to read content in their language and in real time, or they will look to competitor brands. The modern-day consumer seeks information from multiple channels, including e-mail, social media, mobile, online and offline sources, so in order to have an impact on their decision making, companies need to map their journey so that they can respond proactively. This means that a holistic approach to marketing is required.

 We are all busy people and expect to be able to share and engage from a single platform, but as the online world grows, we need to remember that the majority of consumers don’t want to pick up a phone and talk to you. They will more likely go online and tweet/post/blog about a brand experience. This is not to say that companies should abandon traditional tried-and-tested methods of communication, but rather that they need to embrace a multi-channelled approach where one channel will feed into another, maximizing the number of touch points they will have with end users. Most brands operate in a pretty saturated market, all fighting for space and attention. If a company’s website isn’t socially enabled with share buttons, for example, it is missing out on free promotion and a chance to engage with a new network of people who might just be their new brand advocates. The introduction of share buttons can influence a consumer’s buying decision and encourage him or her to purchase one product over another. The new customer-centric approach to engaging with consumers requires that companies enter into a two-way dialogue with them, listening and understanding their requirements through the use of analytics data, web forms and feedback mechanisms. Gone are the days of sending thousands of people the same content through a mass mailing system in the hope that somebody will find the communication of relevance.

According to a study conducted by Nielsen, American internet users spent 53.5 billion minutes on Facebook during May 2011. Imagine how much money companies are losing if they don’t have a social presence or, perhaps worse, have a social presence but aren’t investing any time in monitoring and engaging with their audiences.