Widgets are the new ads – but they aren’t ads

I see too many brands that are approaching social media marketing and widgets, in particular, with the same kind of paranoia that prompted many companies to put up websites at the dawn of the web: everybody else is doing it – therefore so must we.

With 40,000 widgets developed for Facebook alone over the last year, it’s already too late to stand out by merely having a widget.

Yet brands are creating their own ‘me too’ widgets. They’re afraid to be left out as they’ve been told that widgets are the new ads. That’s correct – they are the new ads – but why think of them as such? Ads are shallow and by design, one-way and ephemeral.

If you ask me, creating widgets with the goal of engaging the user once or twice and spam their friends, is about as forward-looking as putting radio on TV. But hey, Howard Stern & Imus found that to be worthwhile too.

So, I’m not going to say that it’s a waste of money – it’s just a waste of the medium, channel and audience attention.

When done correctly, widgets can be the Holy Grail for online branding; they have the potential to forge a long lasting bond between brands and consumers. But for this to happen, widgets, basically, need to be useful or entertaining over a long period of time, in a way that reinforces the brand promise. At the same time, media and production costs, analytics and success metrics need to reflect a longer time ‘campaign’ ROI perspective.

Now that sites like Facebook had put their foot down on application spam, it actually possible that useful, meaningful widgets can raise to the top of the popularity scale. Widgets now have to make sense, not just noise.

Coming up with the right formula for all of this sounds like work (and it is – I’ll save you the details for a future post). But it’s a task that marketers and their agencies should undertake as their number one online branding task. Anything else is radio on TV.

Speaking of mixing mediums - did you see the news today about NBC acquiring The Weather Channel for $3.5BN? Could it have anything to do with the fact that Weather Channel’s Weather.com web properties and widgets generate more revenue than the TV properties? (At least that’s what I’ve heard anecdotally.) What I do know is that more people went to Weather.com and other Weather Channel Web sites in November than they did to ultra-hot social networking site Facebook. How about them apples?

That’s a testimonial to what a brand with a long-term online value proposition to consumers can achieve.

- Vidar

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