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?)

81 Replies to “As Brands Continue to ‘Pollinate’ the Social Web, Expect Corporate Websites to Aggregate”

  1. I think this is an interesting analysis of the “brand mentions” conversation.

    What it misses, and what all brand monitoring misses is that most of the social web conversation is not about brands. Social web conversation is about people’s interests and passions. Sometimes brands are part of that.

    However when you start with the brand, you are missing what matters most – what people care about.


  2. Jeremiah – your observations in this outline (which I really like) really supports much of our thinking as a brand as we develop our social media strategy. Your valuable and knowledgable insight are well respected in our organization. Thanks

  3. I went through CP+B’s new website yesterday and it does a great job of aggregating social media, news, etc. in once place – for both the agency and their client brands. Their website is fully in alignment with your description of aggregation – it’s impressive:

  4. Hi Jeremiah: you are making a very important point. Web pages will increasingly be about the aggregation of social interactions – all web designers need to start thinking this way quickly. And yes, I love the outline format!

  5. Jeremiah – I believe this is a two-way street. Brands have to figure out how to aggregate consumer generated and inspired content on community driven, branded sites and syndicate their branded content out to a variety of sites and communities where their target consumers and shoppers congregate. Also, brands and retailers must work together to make ecommerce a richer experience – videos, consumer reviews, how to’s, new uses, etc… There is a lot of opportunity in this space to both embrace and engage with the consumer while generating compelling and valuable/valued content for the consumer.

    Thanks for the post and for moving the conversation on the evolving social web ecosystem forward.

  6. Jeremiah,
    The risk mentioned by you is absolutely right.We found that tools like Radian6 has some issues with finding conversations relevant to a particular brand

  7. One simple idea for marketers is to encourage their customers to use a shared tag across social media sites when talking about their brands. It looks people have already done this with Zappos using the tag “zappos”. The company can then aggregate feeds from these various sites or link to a service like tagnabit (disclaimer: this is a service we built) to bring all these feeds together:

  8. Thanks, Jeremiah, for providing this visual description of how the corporate social website may look. When do you expect that this will be more mainstream? Three years? Five years? And, yes, for your writing style, I think this presentation format works better. And just a friendly tip for all your readers from a former newspaper/magazine proofreader: if you proof your copy from the bottom up (read backwards) you’ll catch more typos and errors. Why? Because the words don’t make sense so your mind and eyes spend more time on each one.

  9. I think it’s inevitable that corporate websites will eventually aggregate, they will want to be the centralized place for their brand. jgraziani: Thanks for sharing the tip, I will remember that for future reference!

  10. Great post – 100% agree. My company SuiteDialog is already building such a site for a major consumer brand. We are very excited…the expected launch is October 1, 2009 – Stay Tunned. Best,

  11. Agree that organizations will start to include social interaction (from their site & third-party sites) on their website. If folks are interested, here are a few other examples of companies going this direction…both in terms of displaying company & customer’s social activity:

    -Best Buy’s Connect ( is an early iteration of this where all employee activity on social media is aggregated for customers to follow

    -Shift’s social media pressroom concept ( My company, RightNow, is redesigning our press room based on this concept.

    -Skittles ( gave up a LOT of control when they turned their website into an aggregation of social sites…going after an affinity website

  12. Erica thanks

    Yup, I had seen this, but forgot to include it. Now imagine if they aggregated conversations about products on the product pages, or content about the stores on the store location pages.

    The Social Media Press Room (and the Social media press release) is a good example of social pollination

    I take some issue with the Skittles experiment, while certainly groundbreaking (because they were the first) this doesn’t necessarily tie back with people reviewing their products. It’s a unique product so it does relate. Brands don’t need to give ‘complete’ control to the community, but instead frame the discussion and provide a platform for trusted conversations.

  13. Bert, agreed. I was thinking the sharpie blog ( you launched could benefit by aggregating all discussions around the product. The challenge is of course, is ensuring the topics that are brand relevant are there. Will you be willing to support tweets and images from people that are drawing illegal graffiti?

  14. Jeremiah,

    As usual, excellent points. As the brand conversation migrates across the web, companies will need to aggregate and curate those conversations back on their sites in a central place. Thanks for considering Radian6 as part of the solution.

    BTW, love the new outline style.

    @Nallai, Sounds like the difficulty you experienced has to do with setting up the right taxonomy. I’d love to help you with that.

    Warren Sukernek
    Director of Content Marketing

  15. Jeremiah – That is a very good question. I think we have to be careful on our branded sites and will still need to moderate for appropriate content. As appealing as openly allowing content is, we still have to manage the risk side of inappropriate or illegal content and our liability for displaying it. Also, we have to be concerned about misuse of our products that could endanger a consumer. There are many places available for those who want more edgy content, outside of our control, that will cater to the consumer who desires to create or view it. We have developed the site (Uncap Your Creativity) for the Sharpie fan and community. This is a place where they can submit their Sharpie creations for the world to see. It is moderated, but so far we have received appropriate content.

    I honestly feel there is enough innovative and creative content that the majority of consumers will be amazed with that fits within the appropriate use category.

    Graffiti is an interesting subject as great graffiti art is now selling for very high dollar figures. Graffiti artists are becoming famous and are highlighted on shows like CBS Sunday Morning. I believe placement of the graffiti is the concern, not necessarily the art itself. Will be interesting to see how the culture around this art form evolves as practitioners become famous and “legitimate” and their art draws more mainstream attention – An example being Kaws (

    The Sharpie blog and new community site are definitely resonating with our consumers and fans so far. The trick will be continuing the relationship into the future and evolving it beyond static content to more interactive, real-time content. There are definite challenges in that evolution, but we are enjoying the journey.

  16. Timely post…and yes, I like the new outline format & takeaway, very easy to scan/process.

    For me it’s interesting to think about in terms of where a company is in its engagement with social media. For larger, more established brands or younger more embedded in social/tech there’s more out there to aggregate now. Other companies have more work to do–whether in terms of providing products/services that spark social conversation in the first place or by participating in social themselves–before aggregation can provide any value.

  17. Great information from you as always. The new format is helpful because you share so much in a short space that it can be dense to comprehend.

    It’s interesting to see which tools, tactics and strategies corporations are choosing to use (and not use)in branding through tools where people aren’t hanging out looking to be pitched, but are looking to connect with people with similar interests. Watching the difference between companies embracing social media to build relationships versus mostly broadcasting their perceived greatness is a dance that seems to evolve weekly.

  18. Good post, Jeremiah. Aggregation of social content is something we’ll continue to see more of. The Sharpie Uncapped Gallery – – is an example of that, although it appears to be aggregating content (such as Flickr photos) that users have intentionally designated to be part of the campaign.

    Aggregating and displaying content that mentions your brand is the first step; giving some context to it and discussing/highlighting that content on the corporate website also needs to happen.

    For example:

    * Beer brand has page that aggregations mention of company on Twitter, Facebook (when updates become more public), blogs, etc. But in addition to just a reverse-chronological aggregation (potentially information overload with no context – not very helpful), there could be something like a tag cloud to indicate what other keywords are coming up again and again along with mentions of the brand. IdeaStorm-like tools could be used as well.

    Alongside that aggregated area, a community manager/corporate evangelist could be highlighting those mentions — the good and the bad — to demonstrate the brand is listening and taking action.

    e.g. “Of there 1,524 Twitter mentions of our beer campaign in the last 24 hours, the three suggestions that come up again and again are x, y, z. Here’s what we’re doing with your recommendations …”
    “We’re loving the 340 photos of our beer that you’ve tagged on Flickr over the last week. Here are a few of our favorites.”

    This means an increasing need for community managers who can 1) put the aggregated mentions of a brand in context 2) highlight most important/best content 3) talk back to the community.

    Bryan | @BryanPerson

  19. Communities are certainly gathering steam on the web and I think you are hitting the point of why. People like to be “a part” of things, not simple the audience (or worse, the “target”).

    Clever and confident companies are getting smart about leveraging this aspect of human behavior. However, I will agree with you and a couple of comments–finding a good solution to aggregate this pollination with integrity and relevance is going to be a challenge.

  20. @Bert DuMars hits on another important ingredient of the curation process: moderation. This doesn’t necessarily — and shouldn’t — mean filtering out mentions or comments because they’re negative, but rather removing illegal or inappropriate content.

    Look at all the hashtag spamming/hijacking we’re seeing now, and imagine calls to action for sex sites, making a million dollars overnight, etc. appearing on an aggregation page on a brand website. There should be some consideration for removing this content *before* it appears in the aggregated stream.

  21. Bryan, Bert

    Interesting, good point about the curation process, by the right community managers. What’s not mentioned is the community in some cases may end up curating the content on their own through reputation or voting tools.

    Brands are already starting to put “digg” like websites on their corporate areas, see “Best Buy’s Idea X” Now imagine if this evolves to the aggregated content sources.

  22. This is a great thread, one we have certainly been thinking about as a web content management provider . The curation process is an excellent point and I agree with Bryan that this does not mean filtering out the negative. From a CMS perspective once content (tweets, images, etc.) have been aggregated in the repository it is a matter of pushing it thru a workflow and applying new attributes like what product or solutions is are these mentions associated to. From here we can then re-purpose these snippets in several context.

    Taking this a step further. Once theses pieces of earned media have been aggregated companies can begin testing which sources account for the best returns by using tactics like mulitvariate and A/B testing to help answer questions like “Will people who don™t use twitter be influenced by tweets?” If not then you can make sure to filter their experience.

    Knowing which sources of social media are the most influential to customers is also tremendous insight for refining how and where you engage in social media

    Good stuff as always Jeremiah.


  23. Love the new format.

    Really excited about the thoughts!

    Would love more thoughts on the curation process, touched by several commenters. Moderation (in the sense of filtering out illegalities and the like) is clearly part of it, but so also I think is some higher order curation I can’t quite pin down. There’s a place for general brand-touching conversation, but there’s another place for community interactions of higher quality and focus. Wikis, FAQs, and commentable documentation do a good job of driving the community contributions into quality content; what can we do to achieve the same for other parts of the corporate presence?

  24. First off, definitely like the new outline-type style, I stay keep with it!

    Typically brands have been a few years behind consumers in terms of their use of social media (and really any emerging trends). So your synopsis is right on as we are seeing more and more people moving to more of a lifestreaming model. People expect to be able to contribute content from anywhere on the web, and brands will soon follow suite.

    I think we’re many years away from this though, as it’ll take a while for companies to start testing out this new space because GASP there is no way to directly measure the full effects of it against ROI and measurable sales. This economy will not help big companies move toward this new model, unfortunately.

  25. Good point, Jeremiah. There’s certainly value in curation by community as well. So maybe it evolves community curation + editorial/content creation from community manager alongside.

    Lots to think about here.

  26. This review of social web strategy for corporate sites really hits a shining note for me. I’m looking for ways to convince my company that their site is no longer the center of the universe, but can gather intelligence and leads by engaging advocates on other social sites. This raises interesting and somewhat scary questions about the role of corporate webmasters like myself – how to transition to a more outward-looking role, pulling in content rather than pushing into a pile and hoping for the best…

    And the list format rocks – I’ll cite you in my plan, promised!

  27. Wondering how aggregation could work for companies that experience long-term and ongoing challenges implementing their own technologies now, in their core product/service lines.

  28. As always very interesting and some great comment as well. A Dilbert cartoon from this week raised the issue of negative customer reviews

    There are so many things we can do now online I find it frustrating for me as I’m about to inherit an eight year old B2B corperate site which I may be allowed to reskin before 2012, fun fun.

  29. Good post, Jeremiah. I like the format.

    I think many companies will find the type of aggregation you describe attractive, once they figure out that by collecting all relevant content (including negative reviews) and making it available in a convenient, easily navigable and searchable way, they’ll once again make their own Web sites the “go to” destination for information about their products.

    Honesty matters here a lot. If they filter out too much and turn the site into pitchware + positive tweets, they’ll lose credibility. If they’re more open and inclusive and limit filtering to scurrilous content, then their aggregation will prove genuinely useful. Web site traffic should increase, and customers will appreciate the brand’s helpfulness and honesty.

  30. Great post as always, Jeremiah! You really do spoil us with so much great content.

    I gotta tip my hat to Bob Duffy… he has been saying this for at least a year. Way to go Bob!!

  31. Love the article and still figuring out how do i integrate it in my blog and share it with my clients

    These corporates are so worried about any negative feedback.
    But in the long run they will understand that there isnt a way around not involving consumers.

  32. Webmasters have less control over social media than they think. Large companies who try too hard to control their brand may find themselves left out altogether. Social media requires personalization IMO.

  33. Jeremiah – really interesting blog post and extremely relevant to the work we do at OgilvyEntertainment as it relates to how we work with our clients to produce branded content and manage syndication. It inspired a blog post for our own audience @ Thanks for the inspiration – we’re big fans.

  34. Jeremiah,

    Your points here are very well-taken and very relevant to a huge number of organizations. The mass distribution and “sharing” of content can certainly improve visibility, but when companies can truly harness their community and tap into the wisdom of their crowd, there is tremendous benefit.

    Your post inspired one of our own at eCrowds.

    We make a SaaS content and community management system (currently being offered for free) that allows organizations to effectively tie social tools (comments, ratings, idea exchanges, forums, etc.) to their website content to effectively aggregate and harness brand/product-related discussions.

    Here’s an example of an eCrowds-powered community:

    Thanks you for your continued wisdom and insight, I’ll continue to follow your posts.


  35. Jeremiah,

    As an employee of a company taking first steps in the direction you describe, I found your piece unusually insightful and informative. Many of the steps you describe we’re in the process of making (for instance, we’ve got a rather sorry and random collection of blog and twitter aggregations) – and to be able to see a framework in which others have done the same and what the future is likely to hold is incredibly useful.

    – Freddie

  36. Thanks for another great post Jeremiah! I think aggregation on micro sites creates even more segmentation on the web (which I guess is necessary for brands). Right now I think the simplest and best forms of branded web aggregation is presented on Facebook Pages. For B2C businesses it’s not only ideal because FB gives bands the tools to aggregate web content but also because they can leverage the numbers of the community. Here is an article on how brands can use Facebook Pages

  37. Jeremiah – your observations in this outline (which I really like) really supports much of our thinking as a brand as we develop our social media strategy. Your valuable and knowledgable insight are well respected in our organization. Thanks

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