By Yann Motte, CEO of Webjam
The phenomenon that is social networking presents a unique opportunity for online advertisers to connect with consumers like never before. From Bebo to Friends Reunited, online social networking has conquered social groups of all types, firmly embedding itself in modern life.
Using this cultural shift in online habits for marketing and advertising purposes has now become the holy grail for online advertisers and marketers alike. But how can you infiltrate with advertising what is regarded as personal space without alienating the user?
This question has forced marketers to re-think their view on online advertising, and try to find a solution which benefits users, advertisers and publishers alike. However, there is a new kid in town which claims to provide the answer, and looks set to revolutionise online advertising - the widget.
So what is a widget? Widgets are mini applications that can be embedded into webpages, and provide a useful service to the user. From providing newsfeeds, to generating words of wisdom on Facebook pages, widgets have quietly worked their way into the make-up of online social networking.
Not only are they tolerated by users, but they actively seek them and most important of all - trust them. Advertisers are beginning to realise the huge opportunity this presents. By their nature widgets are viral, making them the ideal vehicle for online advertising and brand building.
Their interactivity takes it above the static banner, providing brands with the opportunity to interact with their audience within a comfortable and familiar environment. The key to its success is the exchange – consumers get a fun game or useful widget and companies get brand exposure.
The success of the exchange has led to the commoditisation of widgets, driven through mass-market platforms like Facebook and emerging standards like OpenSocial which allows applications to be interoperable with any social network. What makes widgets different is that the power stays with the consumers. Widgets were initially created by developers for fun, but more and more they are appearing on behalf of brands.
How they get discovered is now linked to their reputation, whether quantitatively (most used widget) or qualitatively (best rated widget). Their popularity is not based on the brand but how many times they are sent virally to other users - in other words through word-of-mouth.
Finally, consumer themselves, not even developers or web-savvy users, will be more and more able to take over widget creation from each other. There are already websites which offer replication features allowing users to copy and paste, then amend widgets, modules or even entire pages. This opens new ways for brands to let their potential audience digest and maybe repackage the message as they recommend it to their network of friends.
Today, widgets are being used as a medium to support advertising, either by sponsoring them, or serving ads within their message. This is just the first step for the widget economy to take-off and test the effectiveness of viral marketing before consumers really understand the power they have in rating, recommending or even creating their own widgets, and developers realise that there might be a willingness to pay for some of their coolest applications.
Big players are testing various strategies, from controlling all ads within widgets like on MySpace - to letting developers try out different types of monetization such as Facebook, or simply giving tools to all players like Google did with the OpenSocial Standard.
Under the cover of offering applications to the masses, Google is making a shrewd move: if widgets are the future of ad format, influencing if not controlling their format is actually about building the next ad delivery system.
By building OpenSocial and offering to host applications, Google is simply letting developers upload their applications on a serving mechanism, like it does today with advertisers uploading ads in Adwords. The same can be said about Facebooks apps: it is first and foremost a tool given to developers to reach an audience which brands will pay heavily to reach.
In the highly competitive internet industry, the race is on as the major players try out various options to nurture and harness the power of the widget. As the industry manoeuvres itself, the good news is that for the first time it is consumers that will be benefit directly from the ads, sorry widgets, served to them.
By either choosing them or receiving them from people they trust, consumers will get relevant advertising in exchange for useful applications. Everyone’s a winner!
Top tips for widgets:
1. Create useful applications that model what friends do naturally – share information, experiences and laughs
2. Plan out how to make your application viral
3. Get feedback from users once you launch
4. Remember it’s about communicating, NOT advertising
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