Monday, June 7, 2010

Three Digital Trends That Can Impact Business

By: Derek Howard

Trends are funny things. They can slowly smolder, building momentum or flash brightly with a quickness only to crash just as fast. But occasionally, something gains enough ground to stay with us. The trick is knowing the difference. We’ve all, at one time another, jumped on a fad that we thought was going to be the next big thing only to laugh fondly (and a little embarrassingly) after it fades. One fad that has become a major player in the world today is the Internet. Once the purview of only the tech savvy, the Internet has become the playground for, well, everyone- a digital hang-out for all.

This playground has become pervasive. These days, the digital landscape not only impacts society, it defines it. Smart companies are taking note of this fact. If your customers are interested in something, it pays (literally) to know what that something is. Tracking and following trends online can really help a business to connect with its customers in a way that can be less intrusive than standard marketing. With finite money and time, a big part of that is knowing what deserves your attention.

At a recent TAG (Technology Association of Georgia) Enterprise 2.0 Society meeting, guest speaker Jeff Hilimire gave his insights on these digital trends. Hilimire is the chief digital officer for Engauge Digital and heads their digital innovation group- basically it’s his job to watch trends within the digital world. The three digital trends he focused on particularly were Facebook, lifestreaming and checking-in/social gaming.

Facebook, as Hilimire put it, is “the elephant in the room.” These days, it seems hard to find people not logging onto this juggernaut on a regular basis, and the hard data backs this up. The site has over 400 million users and continues to grow. According to Hilimire, a company’s Facebook page could be more important than its website. So why should companies care about Facebook? Well, for starters, the average user spends more than 55 minutes on Facebook at a time. When you compare that to the average time a person spends on a single webpage (about 56 seconds), it’s obvious which has the greater chance for exposure. Plus, Facebook is a peer-centric site. People tend to trust and listen to information from friends more than faceless companies. Facebook lets companies gain that face by offering tools such as “recommend” and “like” plug-ins. These can allow companies the chance to interact with their customers in a relaxed and effective manner. However, the whole peer-centric nature of Facebook can be both good and bad for businesses. Because so much information is shared so quickly and easily, one bad review could blossom quickly. But this kind of forces companies to produce better products. As Hilimire noted, good social media will not fix your bad company or product.

The next trend he spoke of was something he called lifestreaming. “People are getting comfortable broadcasting their lives,” Hilimire said. Blogging, uploading photos and videos, Facebook status updates, etc. - these are all part of a developing trend where people are laying bare their lives in the digital world. Just like companies, people have brands. Lifestreaming is kind of a way for them to stay relevant. Businesses can look at this the same way. Hilimire suggests that companies view lifestreaming as portable content. If you pay attention to all this freely given consumer data, your business could create content that matches and therefore attracts your customers: syncing your brand with the consumer’s brand.

Lastly, Hilimire spoke briefly about the trends of checking-in and social gaming. Check-in sites, like Foursquare, allow users to “check-in” to places they visit, such as restaurants and hotels. The relevancy to businesses is promising. Basically, its location-based marketing and some experts are claiming it’s the next big thing. Companies that are taking advantage of these sites are using rewards and promotions to connect with their customers. Social gaming is all about people playing games online where they interact with other people, usually friends and family. The number of players and the amount of time they play is impressive. One example is Farmville, the most popular app in Facebook’s history. Farmville boasts 90 million players world-wide- that’s a lot of possible customers all connected by the same thing.

Digital trends are becoming more and more important for businesses today. Companies should follow their customers. If people seem really excited about a site or tool, it’s a good idea to understand why. However, understanding the why is not always easy; sometimes it requires looking beyond the trend itself. One of Hilimire’s key principles says it best, “Don’t look at the finger, look where it’s pointing.”

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