I'm looking at the work of a potential non-profit client now. They have a fine website: recently redesigned, it has intuitive navigation, good e-commerce and a design that projects elegance. The client is staffed with some fantastically-creative people and the web team is obviously skilled. Yet despite all this, the website itself feels oddly static. With the rise of the real-time update streams being popularized by Facebook, Twitter and FriendFeed, users are becoming accustomed to a constantly-changing flow of pictures, videos and new snippets. Even actively-maintained websites seem locked in languid stupor in comparison.
Last month Facebook redesigned their advertiser-supported "Pages" to integrate them more closely with individual user profiles. I never liked the old Pages. I found that they tended to get a lot of attention when they were first announced and then quickly fell out of attention. The new Pages support status updates, videos, a Wall and the kinds of dynamic, interactive "streaming" features we've come to expect with the new Facebook. Not surprisingly, the redesign is an attempt to give advertisers better access to individuals. From Techcrunch:
The implication for advertisers is that the new design is going to be great for spreading their messages far and wide--reaching two to four times as many people! No doubt, that is true. Monitoring a stream of constant updates encourages communication because there is always something new to talk about and it has a feeling of immediacy. It does lower the barrier for interactions and makes it easier to connect with people one or two degrees sway from you, but who are brought to your attention because someone in your immediate circle just reacted to something they did or said online.
Over the next few years, we're going to see official institutional websites become less important. They will cease functioning as the only point of web interaction between businesses and customers and will become merely the official storefront. The main "conversion goal" of these retooled portal sites will be to drive interactions onto the third-party social networking sites.
The goal of most websites is to extended the interaction with the visitor beyond this one visit: we seek to sell them a product, join our mailing list, buy tickets to our event or subscribe to us in a news reader. Facebook is quickly becoming the most important email list and news reader. If it continues to innovate (and borrow ideas from innovative competitors) it could quickly become a major commercial portal as well. As its adoption rate climbs within the ranks of our target audiences, it becomes an effective way to extend visitor relationship and build more intimate brand identities.
This will change company's interactions with customers, who will start to expect and then demand real-time interaction. This can take many forms--status updates, calendars, videos--but the emphasis will be on immediacy. The style will shift from slickly-produced mass marketing to a one-on-one responsive back and forth. Smart marketers will think less in terms of selling and more in terms of relationship building. Analytics and constantly-rolling A/B tests will give us a near real-time gage with which to measure the success of these relationships. The recession is bringing a new urgency for measurable results and might actually help shift corporate and non-profit budgets away from high-price opinions and toward this new style of social-network-mediated marketing.
The carnival barkers have been claiming a "Web 3.0" is around the corner ever since "Web 2.0" was coined. But if Facebook replaces email as the main way corporations interact with customers, and if Twitter continues to evolve into a real-time search as important as Google, then I think we'll find ourselves agreed that a major upgrade milestone has been passed.