Mar 042010

I read a good post the other day from Caroline McCarthy of CNET. The post was about market consolidation in the social aggregator space:

Social-network feed aggregators–FriendFeed, Socialthing, Plaxo’s Pulse–have been part of the dizzying array of Web apps ever since it became evident that the average Internet user was using more than one of these nifty social-media services and just might want to have them all in one place. But they’ve been on the way out for some time: FriendFeed sold to Facebook, and Socialthing to AOL, both brands buried within their sprawling new owners. And earlier this week, another small start-up in the space, the well-regarded Streamy, announced that it had closed its doors; one co-founder departed for Facebook, the second for social-gaming powerhouse Zynga.

As I was reading, it struck me that this kind of application consolidation was happening beyond just the aggregator niche. And, that’s how Caroline closed her piece:

If anything, the overzealous explosion of social aggregation start-ups a few years ago is a sign that even in the urgent, someone-else-will-beat-you-to-it climate of the Web, sometimes things will just shake out over time.

So what does this have to do with b2b/b2g PR and online marketing? I believe this is a positive development because it establishes the playing field. When online consumers establish “winners” in specific online niches, it allows for more focus on strategy and business objectives rather than a focus on tools and tactics. Or at least it should, I should say.

Last year, I spent a lot of time counseling clients on where their audiences congregate online and on a long list of emerging tools to reach them. Now, as Caroline described in the aggregator space, the leaders have emerged decisively. Facebook is THE social network, LinkedIn the king for business and Twitter exploded onto the scene and continues to expand its uses and analytic tools. Every client obviously will have more specialized communities of interest — the Ning community Software Testing Club for one of our clients, for example. But increasingly, the online terrain is being established.

And that means we can spend more time talking about WHY the client is doing social media. Many of our clients want to produce qualified leads and/or use social media to support large deal capture. OK, we’ve built a methodology for that now with recognized brands. Some want to use for customer service, some to support internal comms and some to demonstrate thought leadership. All are good reasons, and they often reinforce each other.

But many companies are still confusing the tools for the strategy. Check out this excellent post from Shannon Paul, and the 50+ comments it generated — my comment is somewhere amongst that long list.

Of course, the role of the communications professional will always include informing the client of new applications that could support their PR program. But those are and always will be just tools. Never use them until you can articulate how they support the goals of the organization.

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