The internet has always been deemed important for it’s ability to shed light on the aspects of human behavior, including consumer behavior. With that said, it’s no secret that the internet has drastically changed traditional marketing practices. Social profile information has been valued for the rich data it provides (demographics, connections, Likes, searches, and post content), which has improved targeting marketing. How did we end up here?
Over the last two decades technology has advanced tremendously. If we take a step back to the late 1990s, the avenues for marketing research were very broad. There were four main types of online communities:
- Boards: Otherwise known as electronic bulletin boards, boards were a way to organize information around particular products, services, or lifestyles. An early pioneer of boards was Google.com’s newsgroup search engine (acquired from deja.com).
- Independent Web pages and Web Rings: These were the early websites on the World Wide Web. Two examples are Epinions (www.epinions.com), which provided an online community for consumer-to-consumer exchanges, and Yahoo!’s Advocacy Listings and directory of Web Rings.
- Lists (Listservs): Listservs were thematically organized e-mail mailing lists (they were organized around a variety of themes, such as art, diet, music, professions, toys, educational services, hobbies). Search engines of lists were egroups.com and liszt.com.
- Multi-User Dungeons and Chat Rooms: These communities were considered less market oriented because they were usually fantasy oriented, sexual, or social in nature. Yahoo! provided a directory of communities.
The online communities that were most useful were ones that had (1) focused information (2) high “traffic” (3) active users (4) more detailed “rich” data and (5) more member-to-member interaction. In this sense, not much has changed, a sites marketing usefulness is still valued by all four aspects mentioned.
As companies began to recognize the importance of online communities, they started to tap into the cross-consumer communication that was taking place. Early adopters of these practices were Cyveillance, eWatch, NetCurrents, and GenuOne and consumer services such as Epinions.com, PlanetFeedback, Bizrate.com, and eComplaints.com. Their reason for picking up on this trend was twofold:
- First, they noticed that consumers were active on the internet. If companies could narrow in on the discussions taking place in online communities they would be able to better inform and influence customers, thereby increasing brand equity.
- Second, companies would have a way of understanding the tastes, desires, and decision making influences of consumers and consumer groups.
To pick up on these trends, marketing researchers would do qualitative research to figure out what questions they were trying to answer, which would allow them to target appropriate online communities, and then learn as much as possible from the conversations taking place.
Looking back on these days, the types of online communities companies targeted seems archaic, but their methodology and purposes have stayed the same. With the advancement of technology we now have the ability to analyze more heavily. The “online communities” of today have honed in on what information is valuable and made it accessible. Marketing has become more specific than we would’ve ever dreamed possible!
-Michelle Rosin (socialnetworkingwomen.org)