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Online Marketing Paradigm Shifting As Social Networking 'Silos' Get 'all Busted Up'

May 24, 2008
I used to work for a non-profit collaboration in the toughest areas of one of Canada's biggest cities. I worked with a great team of people from six different social service NGOs to bring governmental and non-governmental information and services to youths in areas where there was precious little knowledge of the opportunities that were available to them. We did it by face-to-face contact, meeting youth in their local neighbourhood or housing project and trying to help them build connections out to the larger community. Great idea. . . . Great people. . . . Great job. . . . Great vision!

The industry "buzz-phrase" in the non-profit sector was the same as it is in many large corporations, where employees can become isolated and what they are working on - their efforts and ideas - are trapped and do not make it out to the broader audience within the corporation. It was referred to as "breaking down silos".

Well, welcome to the emerging paradigms of online marketing - whether you are an entrepeneur, small business or large firm. One of the clearest emerging paradigms we are witnessing in online marketing are social networking giants like MySpace, Facebook and Google breaking down the silos which kept information about their users from users on other social networking sites. In the last week all three sites have announced moves that will allow their users to share their information, user profiles, contacts across the wider net.

Advertising Age columnist, Abbey Klaasen, writes on May 12th that recent moves by Google et al. to facilitate distribution of their users' profiles and digital footprints across web domains,"signify that sites such as MySpace and Facebook are open to the idea of moving their user data and social connections to the broader web," Welcome to "silo-busting", Web 2.0 style.

I recently read, and agree, that we are living in the most creative times ever. It's not a time, necessarily, of individual creative geniuses like a Monet, a Keats or a Rachmaninoff creating great works and letting the creative products speak for themselves as an audience coalesces around the product. (Don't forget, Vincent Van Gogh, one of the greatest painters and creatives our culture has ever produced, did not sell a single canvas during his lifetime.) Rather, this is an interactive creative era in which the audience themselves are more and more creating the product - whether it be the photos put "out there" on Flicker.com, the information on a Squidoo.com user's lens, or just the creative assembling, re-assembling and reviews of creative information and product that is already in the digital ether, be it in one's del.icio.us bookmarks, your Google's FriendConnect files, or the simple 'thumb-ups' or 'thumb-downs' that are just a click away from any of us on Digg.com.

This shift to online "silo-busting" by social networking players like Google, Facebook and MySpace creates unique challenges and opportunities for online marketers who wish to take their marketing efforts beyond traditional branding and sales pitch efforts. As Google moves to implement changes which will allow it to monetize its crown jewel, YouTube - the ultimate, user-friendly vehicle for the would-be creative in all of us, which requires only a mobile phone and an internet connection to almost instantly post creative content online for an audience's consideration - look for this paradigm shift to gain ever more momentum. Google CEO, Dr. Eric Schmidt has quite clearly said that streamlining YouTube and figuring out how to make money from the site in the process is Google's top priority for 2008.

Small businesses whose clientele increasingly come to them as a result of their online footprint and the growing tendency of users to utilize Google's and Yahoo!'s local search capabilities, as well as online giants like Amazon that funnel traffic to their products from anywhere in the world, will all need to figure out - and are figuring out - how to make the emerging creative capabilities of their clientele work for them in expanding their client base, rather than trying to jealously guard "their" market share, as in days of old.

"Listen up, marketers!", Ms. Klaassen writes. This paradigm shift, and the opening up of the interactive Web 2.0 marketplace, "means more consumers talking to each other across the web, and it means discussions around brands are no longer siloed to a single platform or network." (Again, I run across the old, familiar buzz about "silos".) This will be a challenge for companies and individuals operating under the old 20th century, silo-building paradigm, when client information and lists were jealously guarded for fear of industrial or commercial espionage.

One of the greatest marketing flops ever was the introduction of a new-formula for perennial soft drink favourite Coca-Cola back in the '80s. The people at Coca-Cola had put the "cola" in colas over a hundred years earlier. Corporate feet dragging and the siloed isolation of key players from Coke drinkers at Coca-Cola's corporate campus in Atlanta nearly imperiled the most successfully and globally advertised product ever. Only reluctantly did siloed executives at Coke realize their folly and hubris, hurriedly reintroducing their tried-and-true "secret formula" as the now-familiar "Coca-Cola Classic" just in time to save the most successful brand in marketing history. (Is anyone at MicroSoft reading this and contemplating the reintroduction of "Classic XP"?)

Silo-busting in this most creative of all eras will not only give marketers and retailers the opportunity to avoid such folly, but will allow them to collectively gauge the sentiments and ever-more rapidly evolving tastes and ethos of not only their audience, but the audience of consumers formerly cloistered in broken-down silos strewn across the digital landscape.

Funnily enough, before I had my stint as a silo-buster bringing needed information and services to challenged urban youth, I was a corporate lawyer. (I know . . . . really weird career path, if you can even call it that.) In that corporate/legal milieu, the strategy always seemed to be to keep your cards close to your vest - keeping a wary eye ever on what "the other guy" was doing - while closely guarding the information about your strategies, visions and initiatives, and carefully parsing what information it was that you or your client wanted to let slip out. Some of the biggest players and clients were individuals and companies I had never heard of, and I liked to think that I kept myself fairly well informed about the social landscape.

Today, such mentality is, at best, a rear guard action by executives and lawyerly-types who have power - and information is power when the medium becomes the message, as Marshall McLuhan so presciently suggested decades ago. They won't keep that power of information long if their efforts are narrowly focused on how to hold onto that information for themselves. It is like trying to hold water by squeezing it in your fist. It doesn't work.

Forward-thinking online marketers who have a better "feel" for these transcendent times and the potential of emerging new digital paradigms - whether that be local search, mobile search, social media marketing, or whatever the next emerging vehicle will be that enables users and visionaries to adapt and get information to people and people to information. These are the online advertisers, creative thinkers and visionaries that will best survive and flourish in the era of silo-busting.
About the Author
For information and news about online marketing, visit www.wolf21.com or call us at 1-888-756-2444 to build your company's online profile and optimize your online marketing capabilities in both North America and the U.K. . . . "If your competitors are eating your lunch, we are probably doing their online marketing."
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