Monday, June 15, 2009

Forrester’s Lofty Vision for the Social Web

Wondering what social networking will look like a few years hence, or how it will impact your business or brand? Then look no further than the recently published Forrester Research report: “The Future of the Social Web.”

The report, penned by social media guru Jeremiah Owyang and team, provides an ambitious vision for the social Web and lays out a roadmap for its evolution starting with the birth of the commercial Internet in the mid-90s.,7211,46970,00.html

After reading the report I’m convinced that if even half of what Forrester predicts is true, it portends dramatic changes for both how people will experience the Web in the near future and how they will choose to engage (or not) with brands online.

According to Forrester, the social Web has grown (and will continue to grow) through five “eras” of evolution:

  1. The era of social relationships – starting in the mid-1990s this era involved basic community sites like AOL and social tools such as forums, discussion boards, blogs, etc.
  2. The era of social functionality – the period in which we currently reside where our social experiences are moving beyond just “friending” to include richer sharing experiences and interactive applications (like Facebook apps), but with the inherent limitation that peoples’ social experiences are, for the most part, limited to the sites they are visiting at any given time.
  3. The era of social colonization – starting later this year as a result of the growing adoption of universal authentication technologies like OpenID, individuals will be able to surf the Web without leaving their preferred social networking platform in a way that will allow them to bring their network along for the ride.
  4. The era of social context – starting sometime next year as these new authentication technologies become universally adopted, sites will begin to recognize people’s personal identities and their social networks. This will enable much more robust and personalized social experiences and will result in the social Web becoming the core of most people’s Web experience.
  5. The era of social commerce - here’s when, at least according to Forrester, things will get interesting. As a result of the increasing personalization that social destinations will offer, people will be more willing to share personal information with sites in exchange for more valuable and relevant experiences. The result – a self-fulfilling virtuous cycle that will further expand the influence and scope of the social Web as it becomes more meaningful and useful.

Implications for Brands and the Traditional Advertising Model
This evolution will have deep and lasting effects on brand management and advertising as we know it. Already, numerous studies show that advertising is not considered credible and that the opinions of friends and peers are far more important in terms of informing and influencing consumer attitudes towards companies and brands.

By putting even more power in the hands of consumers in terms of when, and under what circumstances, they chose to have brand interactions, it’s hard to see how this trend won’t continue the declining credibility of advertising. Brands, in response, will be forced to shift their focus to building and managing online communities and advocates as a way to get their message out and build equity with consumers.

For brand and advertising managers the message is clear – start thinking now about how you’re going to cultivate these communities and advocates in the future because it’s nearer than you think.

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