As Brands Continue to ‘Pollinate’ the Social Web, Expect Corporate Websites to Aggregate

Brands are pollinating the social web with easy-to-share features like Sharethis. As conversations splinter across the web, brands must prepare to aggregate those same conversations on their corporate website. As a result, the trusted conversations will centralize back on product pages.

[Trusted conversations have fragmented to the social web –shifting the balance of power to communities]

Social Pollination: Brands Currently Spreading to Communities

  • Why: Brands are trying to let their corporate and social content spread to many different communities in Facebook, Twitter, Email and others.
  • Examples: Any blog post, press release, or product page that encourages readers to share the content to other locations.   Any brand created Facebook fan page, flickr account, or Twitter account.
  • Risks: Letting content spread to other locations causes some angst, as brand managers now must monitor content and discussions elsewhere on the web.  The command+control mentality of “our corporate website is central” no longer holds true as people can share content using browser features like social bookmarking tool Delicious, or sharing links in Facebook.
  • Vendors: A variety of tools have appeared such as sharethisaddtoanyaddthis and others.  Incumbent players include: email, Facebook, Twitter, and Delicious that encourage content to be shared within those communities.

[To regain trust, corporate websites will look more like a collection of real-time customer discussions –not just product pitches]

Social Aggregation: Corporate Websites to Centralize Discussions

  • Why: Conversations and content have fragmented and distributed on the web, as a result, corporate websites are generally irrelevant.  Expect brands to start to centralize these discussions on or near their corporate website in order to bring trust and relevance back to the corporate website.
  • Early Examples: There’s a few examples that we can start to analyze, they include:
    • Any corporate blog that frequently discusses recent topics or industry news is a manual version of this.
    • Early examples include Sun aggregating technorati blog mentions of any product to their product pages –even if it’s negative. I’m having a hard time find that example now, they may have removed that from their website.
    • IBM’s hosted thousands of developers at a conference called Impact. They aggregated event tweets in this twitterfall.
    • Zappos aggregates all Twitter mentions of it’s brand on this aggregation page.
    • Perhaps the most mature example is Kinaxis, a supply chain management software company, has aggregated news of it’s industry at Manufacturing Central.
  • Future Deployments: Expect brands to at first create a lightly branded version of these discussions, on the topics of industry, or around mentions of any product.
    • Data and Content: The aggregation will need to pull in data and either sort by recency or relevancy or other prioritization pattern like Techmeme.
    • Location: Brands will likely create a seperate site or microsite for events or products that does this, as they get bolder, expect them to aggregate direct on product pages.
    • Branding: At first this will be lightly branded, but then will soon integrate directly with look and feeld or corporate site as this mainstreams.
  • Risks:  Brands will have a difficult time finding all the relevant content.  Secondly, while it makes sense to filter out off-topic, spam, and hate speech, the natural tendency will be to filter out negative reviews.  Expect there to be customer backlash as their complaints are not publicly aggregated on the corporate web pages.  Internally, expect social advocates to battle with brand preservationists who don’t want negative reviews on product pages.
  • Vendors:  A variety of vendors will appear to serve this need:
    • The toolsets have not yet emerged, however we should expect a series of startups to appear that offer this or spinoffs from Friendfeed (a logical first mover) and eventually a form of a Facebook embed.
    • A second set of players could be any of the aforementioned pollinators (sharethis) and potentially listening vendors like Radian6, Buzzlogic, or any data house like Technorati, Delicious or Get Glue (read my take).
    • Community platform vendors and CMS vendors like Vignette, Interwoven, Documentum with social features will likely launch modules or features that provide these aggregation pieces, or partner with the above.
    • Expect innovative agencies like Federated Media who conducted ‘sponsored aggregation’ of “Exectweets” for Microsoft to pioneer this with brands and technology partners. Update: CrispinPorterBogusky is already experimenting

Today, brands are trying to keep up with consumers as they self-connect to each other on social sites.  Clearly, many companies aren’t even ready to participate with communities where they already exist, so only a few sophisticated companies will be prepared for this next future evolution of corporate websites.  Don’t expect aggregation in the advanced forms I suggested to happen till brands are mature in the era of social colonization (read more about the future of the social web), so expect some time for true case examples to occur.

(Also, I’m trying out a new writing style, this time in outline form to break out a set of ideas. Was this helpful?)