Web 2.0 marketing for businesses: What it can do for you

Microsoft.com Web 2.0 Article
By Douglas Gantenbein
Web 2.0 marketing for businesses

Today’s Web technologies offer richer, more interactive methods for midsize companies to target new audiences and measure marketing results. But you must research the options — and caveats — carefully before jumping into this fast-paced new world of marketing.

 

In Summary:

  • Compared to traditional methods, Web 2.0 marketing for businesses is increasingly flexible and affordable for small and midsize companies.
  • Social networking advertising and blogs, in particular, require that you regularly update the content and concept.
  • Software services that track customer behavior on the Web simplify the task of measuring results.

 

The advent of Web 2.0 characterizes the shift in the World Wide Web from a collection of static sites and experiences to a global space where broadband connections and multimedia applications deliver deeper content and richer interaction between individuals. Some of these Web 2.0 services and companies have appeared out of nowhere to quickly change the dynamics of Internet marketing and advertising. For example, the online video sensation YouTube was founded by two young California entrepreneurs in February 2005; less than two years later it was sold to Google (in October 2006) for $1.65 billion.

 

This is good news for midsize marketers, because new applications such as blogs, wikis, and online video advertising can level the playing field with larger companies, since these tools are far more affordable than traditional advertising methods. Yet, given the wide array of options, confusion reigns when it comes to selecting Web2.0 marketing for businesses.

 

A cool appraisal of Web 2.0 marketing for businesses can help ensure that your company spends its Internet marketing dollars wisely. The overview below provides some of the more popular online marketing methods and how you can take advantage of them.

 

1. Social networking sites

Characterized by YouTube, Facebook, and MySpace, these sites allow people to upload content such as videos or personal profiles. Wildly popular with young people, marketers are starting to invest in social networking advertising. (Microsoft provides the digital advertising technology for Facebook, the second-largest networking site.)

The good: Marketing on such sites helps companies reach a younger, arguably more fickle audience that is beginning to ignore traditional advertising. Unilever, for example, promotes its Axe deodorant on a MySpace page dedicated to what it calls “Gamekillers” — people who interfere with a young man’s efforts to find dates.

What to watch out for: Anyone can set up a MySpace page, but it pays to keep the concept fresh, as Volkswagen learned with its 2005 launch of a profile for a character in its commercials. Already, Volkswagen marketers told The New York Times, the “Helga” profile is losing appeal as other marketers have invaded MySpace. As well, recent reports in the San Francisco Chronicle and other media indicate that members of such sites are becoming disgruntled with the way advertisers are targeting them.

 

2. Blogs

Online journals of commentary and chat, blogs are everywhere on the Web. The corporate world is now using them to subtly market their products or develop a brand image. Microsoft engineers blog about Windows Internet Explorer and other products, for example, while General Motors runs a blog that discusses topics ranging from auto racing to car design.

 

The good: Executed correctly, blogs give marketers a chance to build an informal dialogue with customers. Companies can test new product ideas, for instance, to see how customers react. Blogs are generally inexpensive, too, costing perhaps $2,000 to $5,000 for design.

 

What to watch out for: To be successful, marketers must spend time regularly updating blogs, which makes them a high-maintenance option. As well, blogs must be honest. Wal-Mart posted a blog about a couple traveling across the United States and parking their motor home at Wal-Mart stores. But it was revealed that the blog was a fictional story written by Wal-Mart’s public relations firm, and the retail giant wound up with a major credibility problem. With blogs so common — it’s estimated that 35 million of them clutter the Web — it’s tough to distinguish yours from all the others. Your best bet is to drive traffic to your blog by marketing it through other channels, such as within e-mail newsletters or online ads.

 

3. Podcasts

Podcasts are audio programs that can be downloaded and played anytime on an MP3 player, and they can hold a user’s attention like a good book. Whirlpool, for example, has developed a series of 20-minute “American Family” podcasts that cover topics such as making Halloween costumes or managing a gambling addiction.

 

The good: While not directly “selling” Whirlpool products, the podcasts attempt to give consumers a reason to know and like the Whirlpool brand before they shop for a washer or dryer, says Audrey Reed-Granger, Whirlpool”s public relations director, who creates the podcasts. “These are people who want to listen to good programming while in their cars, or as background when they’re working at home,” she says.

What to watch out for: Since marketers can only measure the number of podcast downloads, it’s impossible to know whether people actually listen to them, warns Eric Weaver, director of strategic marketing for the Seattle marketing firm Girvin.

 

4. Intelligent press releases

These “direct-to-consumer” press releases about products or company services can be written with search-friendly terms and then placed with online news sites that index or “aggregate” them and send headlines to subscribers.

 

The good: A company selling marketing tools or services, for instance, might write releases with terms such as “accelerate sales cycle” to direct search-engine users to company information. Windows Internet Explorer 7.0 will create opportunities in this area, as it has features that simplify subscribing to news feeds.

What to watch out for: News feeds and releases have saturated the Internet, and it can be difficult to make your release to stand out from the rest. Make sure to invest in high-quality copywriting services, so that your press release headlines and storylines are credible, compelling, and appropriate to your customer base.

 

5. Targeted advertising

Search-engine advertising — where companies pay to have their Web site displayed on search-engine results — has been big for several years. But now companies can target their ads within the context of what people are reading online.

The good: Using technology and services from companies such as AdValiant, Touch Clarity, and Pulse 360, for example, a mortgage company’s ads might appear in articles about home improvement or real estate. It can also target ads to readers within a geographic area, such as states where the mortgage company operates.

 

What to watch out for: Most targeted advertising contracts stipulate that the advertiser pays a certain fee per click. In case an ad generates a surge in clicks, be sure to set limits on what you are willing to spend without notification from the marketing company.

 

Measure what you do

Web 2.0 marketing has one great advantage: Technology today makes it easy to measure results. For example, through conversion-tracking services, Web traffic can be analyzed to determine how many site visitors actually do what marketers desire — read about a product, order a product, or subscribe to a newsletter. ClickTracks, one online tracking service, charges $500 for a package that measures basic activity on a Web site, according to the company’s site. For companies posting blogs, firms such as BlogPulse and Technorati can help them track who is linking to a blog site and what’s being said about it.

With so many options available — and most of them priced at a small percentage of the cost of television, print, or radio advertising — experts advise experimenting a bit to determine which method or combination of methods suits your customers. With the right approach, a company can take advantage of Web 2.0’s incredible reach and the opportunity it affords to connect with customers in an entirely new way.

 

A journalist for more than 20 years, Douglas Gantenbein writes often on technology for Microsoft. His work has appeared in Business 2.0, Scientific American, Popular Science, and other magazines.

 

Additional Ingredients: In addition to the core components in a Web 2.0 marketing campaign listed above, a comprehensive approach includes a diverse but essential set of additional factors. This includes search engine friendly blog and website content writing for increased visibility and user interest; RSS (Really Simple Syndication) incorporation for easy exporting of content; Compliant XML sitemaps for inclusion in the search engine sitemap program; Hand submissions to the top market-specific directories with a variety of researched keywords; And finally, the results of the entire campaign should be measured with tracking and analysis reports. Here’s a sample: Tracking Report.