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The Digital Future: SOMA

Posted: October 18th, 2010   |   Category: Blog | Mobile | Open | Social | Strategy | Tools

What’s the Future of Digital Marketing?

In Brave New World, SOMA was the drug that people took to keep themselves in a constant state of bliss.  Little did Huxley know that within a few decades of writing BNW, Prozac and other ‘psychoceuticals’ would come along to cure all of our ills.

The SOMA in this case is substantially different, but it is still something that I’m going to prescribe to anyone involved in the digital marketing and communications industry.  Sorry … I know that’s a bad pun, but I couldn’t resist.

SOMA is short for the following:

  • Social
  • Open
  • Mobile
  • Accountability (or Analytics, for those who like numbers)

Social

I think it’s safe to say that we’ve all heard of this little trend called ‘social media’ and it just doesn’t seem to be going away.

But let’s think about the actual direction that ‘social’ will take.  I think the pendulum will swing in the ‘anti-social’ or ‘clique’ social direction and – just like high school – dorks like me will be left behind as people form into packs and push outsiders away.

There’s nothing new in that, right?  Since the beginning of time, there’s always been the ‘in crowd’.

However, we believe that social will still go through some growing pains.  Facebook and Twitter will experience ‘colony collapse’ as their platforms become boring, broadcast-based and invite uncontrolled and massive invasions of privacy.

As people realize that they’re no better than meat in a butcher shop, they’ll begin to understand that they started out in the driver’s seat and that they have a right to remain in the driver’s seat, regardless of what Zuckerberg and Microsoft want you to surrender in order to flip a few Facebook ads.

Instead, people will have more opportunities to corral all of their personal information, clean up their tracks and start to eliminate the amount of ‘personal litter’ that they’ve cast around the internet in the rush to be social.

Once that starts happening, the social model will do a complete 180 change in structure, where the user decides what information they will allow to be displayed to the public and to whom.

In fact, this reality will kick in as more sites and services learn that when you respect a person’s information, stop showing ads and charge them a small fee, they will remain loyal to the end of time.

Paid social will also kill spam.  A dollar or two as entry fees will go a surprisingly long way to controlling the volume of crap that you get in your in basket as well as putting a cap on spammy clowns that litter Twitter like it’s the Pacific Plastic Bag Swirl.

A critical part of social is the notion that you (ie. mainstream media, corporations, large organizations) are no longer the only ones capable of producing content.  User generated content is a critical cornerstone to social and it’s certainly a force to be recognized if you’re going to succeed with anything related to social.  In fact, ‘going social’ without allowing a certain bandwidth on user generated content will have one outcome:  failure.

Since we are all looking at the last paragraph going ‘well, duh’, I’m not going to belabour the point.  I’ll just remind everyone that the key to getting good user generated content starts with appealing to your influencers.  These are the people that will push your goals out to the general marketplace.

The last thought about social – and it’s a big one – is that colony collapse will be fueled by vertical social networks that can be customized and carved to appeal to very specific audiences.  If you haven’t heard of some of the following, you haven’t really started to plumb the depths of true social networks:

  • Cafemom, where some 20,000 discussion groups are being fueled by new moms
  • Yoursphere, for kids 12 and under
  • ResearchGATE, targeted to more than 500,000 scientists
  • Eons, the social network for Boomers
  • myYearbook, the home to some 25 million teens and youth
  • PotSpace, a site where more than 200,000 heads go to have conversations about their favourite past time

These and thousands more networks will drive marketers mad as they try to find the coveted fishing crowd or dog owners.

The big warning:  if you’re into online marketing and you’re not looking at some of these niche sites, you’re missing out on big chances to connect with what we call “big small audiences”.

Open

The concept of ‘open’ is the big curveball in this discussion.  Most people don’t have ‘open’ on their radar, but then most people have heard of Google’s Android product, right?  Since Google Android is based on an open language and platform, our thoughts are that ‘open’ will become part of everyone’s dialogue within the next few months, years, etc.

Open offers up so much more to the technical and digital marketing community than ‘closed’ or ‘proprietary’ because open is philosophy as much as it is technology.  Open is all about sharing as opposed to controlling.  The idea ensures that you build an engaged audience of influencers, consumers and followers that are willing to share with you simply because your approach to them is open.

But seriously, what does this mean?

Open means that you have to make your site, your content and your products available to user feedback in the most transparent and naked way possible.  The rawness associated with open makes nearly every product manager, CMO and VP squeamish, so we don’t expect rapid change for most larger organizations in the coming years.

However, this is where the web becomes the great equalizer:  those organizations that adapt to open earlier will also gain credibility and attract more followers than those companies and organizations that work behind closed doors.

Mobile

I finally caved in a few months ago and bought my first smart phone.  I bought the Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 phone that has the Google Android operating system.

I feel like I’ve gone from stone and chisel to cursive writing.

Many of you might be surprised by this admission, given my positioning as a ‘digital practitioner’, but I resisted mainly out of irritation with the high costs that Canadians (and most North Americans) are subject to when subscribing to wireless services.  The transfer rates are lousy, the cost is excessive and the service in general is poor, but I finally put all of that aside and made the commitment to wireless since this is an essential part of what we do.

Of course, now that my bitch-fest is done (for the moment), let’s talk about why mobile is such a critical aspect (or will be) to everyone’s digital lifestyle.

It comes down to personal example.  A couple of weeks ago, I was in Toronto and had to find a specific location.  No problem:  my phone immediately connects with Google Maps and I can map out a route from where I am to where I’m going.  However, I also didn’t have the phone number for the destination.  No problem again:  I just dialed 1-800-GOOG-411 and got what I needed.

I also had to entertain my son for about 20 minutes, so I downloaded a free game app and let him browse the LEGO site for a few moments.

Finally, in between conversations with my family, I needed to stay up on a few social updates and my email.  Again, no problem, as I had everything with me via my phone.

Of course, many in my circles that might be reading this are rolling their eyes wondering at my child-like awe of the tools available, but many other people that I work with have not even thought to buy a smart phone and all I can say is that they don’t know what they’re missing.

The reality is that mobile is quickly becoming an essential part of everyday life.  As marketers, we need to find creative ways to be there.  As publishers, we need to respond in innovative ways to consumer demand for applications and instant services.  As consumers, we need to speak with our feet and let publishers know that they must respond to our demands or risk losing large chunks of audiences as people move to publishers that have adapted to the mobile environment.

I know a lot of this seems very obvious, but think about how many mainstream Canadian publishers you have on your iPhone, RIM or Android and how much content you’re getting from them compared to other sources.

The parting thought:  one in three teens send up to 100 text messages per day.  I’m nothing compared to these power users and the common knowledge amongst digital practitioners is that the age of the big screen is over.  Enter the 2.5″ screen for communicating with tomorrow’s audience!

Analytics

The word ‘analytics’ is a bit of catch-all and could just as easily be titled ‘Accountability’.

Analytics provides us with the tools to track, record, optimize and analyze all of our digital activities.  In fact, analytics (or accountability) represent the critical turning point for digital marketing, simply because we have numbers and they don’t.

That said, the whole arena of analytics is going to have to get a whole lot better, with an emphasis on the basic everyday knowledge base.  Right now, analytics is seen as a field that’s for the bean-counters or the propellerheads.  The geeks in the group.

These days, everyone from the president down to the the billing clerk should have access to analytics (either as admin or users, depending on the needs) and should be able to tell a story about what’s happening on their site.

Training budgets for analytics need to open up so that more people are using these extremely powerful tools.  And when they do, the odds are very good that the analytics platforms will be forced to get better because they’ll have to respond to the needs of a much wider and diverse audience, and not just the few digital marketers who log in once a month to generate snapshot reports.

to tie it all together and in reference to the other three components of SOMA, analytics will be the point of focus as everyone tries to understand the impact that their efforts are having in the marketplace.  Platforms like Google Analytics will have to accelerate their offerings to include levels of analysis of social interactions and mobile connections.

The Other A:  Applications

I won’t expand on this one much because I think it’s safe to say that the future of mobile rests with the development of applications.  The three major mobile platforms (Android, RIM, Apple) all rely on applications as a means to create engaged audiences, but also as a way to generate new revenue.

As mobile usage goes up, applications will be the engines that drive the mobile universe.  Publishers, content providers, companies, governments and non-profit organizations that don’t have a presence in this universe will get lost.  Even small companies and retailers need to get in on this game so that they can leverage foot traffic and create unique value propositions for people who are in the general vicinity of their location.

Summary

The world is entering a Brave New World of digital communications and we enjoyed applying an acronym to the drug that fuels the state of euphoria in this ground-breaking novel.  SOMA – Social, Open, Mobile, Accountability – tells us so much about the digital world and it also offers up a reminder to all marketers that they should think in these terms when building plans.

However, the big warning that comes from the book should also be applied to our current situation.  We need to be fully aware of the externalities related to the digital industry – rare earth metals from violent areas of the world to go in our phones, environmental damages from all of the digital hardware and junk that we’re tossing out every two years (if we’re lucky) and the growing potential for sickness as a result of excessive mobile usage – and not blind ourselves to their costs.  If we do, we’re not going to get very far and that would be a shame.

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