For the past 15 years, websites have been the prevalent digital modus operandi for businesses, however, all of that changed in 2010 with social, mobile and applications becoming mainstream. As these digital technologies continue to fragment, it has become increasingly difficult for brands to manage and monitor their online presence across multiple markets, let alone understand and act upon the opportunities that are available to them.
‘The Splinternet’ is the term we’ve been using to describe this effect where the internet is being segmented into walled gardens; walled gardens that are being created around users, either through subscriber or device driven communities. The two biggest examples are Facebook and new apps that have been created for the mobile community, such as Flipboard and the many gaming apps that come integrated with something like Apple’s Game Centre. The Splinternet is affecting the internet as we know it, creating a number of challenges for agencies and technology players alike who wish to continue to reach users moving forward.
The following top five considerations are underpinning the strategies and decision making process of technologists and agencies like ourselves that are navigating this new world.
How can you be made aware of what’s going on in this world? How can you watch, protect and react to your own brand and product challenges? We are seeing a lot of paralysis out there, with large organisations understanding the significance of the impact and growing momentum of social media, but with no clear insight on where to start and what to do. The tools now available and the strength and importance of the communities that are in conversation about your brand should not be ignored or underestimated.
The first part of any organisation’s strategy should be to gain an awareness of what’s going on within these communities. This is not necessarily just about listening, it should be focused on trying to make sense of what’s going on and where, and putting the right framework in place to monitor this new world without having to watch it constantly. Creating a model that monitors and makes sense of the Splinternet is the first step towards easing the paralysis, from which a defined strategy to deal with this new world can be created. Once you know how users are responding, you can create a strategy around them to amplify your reach and begin the process of engagement.
Once you have reached this level of awareness, there is temptation to jump right in. However, you need to be careful as social networks are great for building relationships but they can be even better at ending them - it’s like the Wild West out there. If you’re good - or lucky - you can prosper, but it’s essential to create a framework to facilitate your engagement in this world.
To do this, look at how do you control your brand’s real estate and keep track of what’s being said. How many Facebook passwords do you have and who has them? What happens if they get lost? Who’s keeping track of what’s being published? Is it effective and how do you monitor it? The list of questions is endless. Now multiply them by every territory or company in your group with all those eager social network engagers and you have a growing nightmare.
Governance is beginning to become a consideration, but it is something that needs to be acted on early before it’s too late. For many businesses, policy is not enough and tools are required to ease the transition into social success. Until recently, however, these tools didn’t exist and so to address the awareness and governance challenges, we developed an innovative infrastructure that overcomes both.
3. Penetration and engagement
How can you reach users within this new world and close the gap between domain based investments, such as .com websites that cost a fortune, and a Facebook page set up in minutes? How do you penetrate these walled gardens and reach the users and communities within?
How do we target our advertising in this space and how do we operate our tools in this space? Take Facebook, its pages are one of the fastest growing areas to have come out of the Splinternet era, but how do we take their potential to a new level by building Facebook apps that integrate with existing content or business systems. Once your awareness and governance tools are in place, this has to be the next stage of your thinking and strategy.
It’s a complex process – pages, apps and content all need to be managed – so to discover that there is a tool being developed that facilitates this will be music to many ears.
4. Connecting intelligence (making sense of it all)
The one thing the Splinternet is enabling us to do is connect intelligence. Even through walled gardens, communities are providing a level of information and human behaviour understanding that so far has not been seen on the web. This is resulting in product and brand strategies informed by the likes and dislikes and content generated by the web 3.0 and 4.0 generations.
Whilst crowd surfing has been long talked about, we are now able to listen and connect the intelligence with the cloud to truly target brand messaging. But to really understand the community, you need to understand who the members are and how they behave, how active they are, what the size of their network is and whether they are mobile. Once we understand this, we can interact with them in the most appropriate ways, such as triggering engagement with an upset or happy customer, either automated or through a real customer services representative.
The Splinternet is also starting to enable what we call device and application convergence. Whilst desktop and mobile will remain the top targeted devices in business, at home it’s a very different story. Smart televisions (TVs) and tablet devices are big game changers that are forcing the convergence of media. For example, the very latest smart TVs are bringing together smart remotes and mobile apps with the TV experience.
Media channels can also be converged with social, with on demand or live TV programming closely integrated on one screen. This convergence provides the most exciting after-effect of the Splinternet, as it’s the biggest opportunity to date for brands to reach into the world of above-the-line targeting. You can find out who your potential customer is in real-time and connect with them instantly whilst they consume a particular media.
So, whilst the Splinternet effect has changed face of digital once again, freeing and restricting us simultaneously, there are steps that every brand can take to make sense of and interact with those in this new world.