April 29, 2009, 12:00 AM

Powerful social web communities will define new products, Forrester says

As web technology evolves with more support for social communities instead of separate web sites, consumers will also evolve toward having more input in how products are developed and sold, Forrester Research says in a new report.

As web technology evolves with more support for social communities instead of separate web sites, consumers will also evolve toward having more input in how products are developed and sold, Forrester Research Inc. says in a new report.

Consumers` use of the web as a shopping tool will change along with new technology that will enable them to use a single identity throughout a web environment that will evolve from an emphasis on separate sites to a shared social online experience, Forrester Research says in a new report, "The Future of the Social Web: Portable IDs Catalyze A Power Shift To Consumers."

To keep up with changes, retailers and brands will have to adjust to a new social online environment, the lead author, Forrester analyst Jeremiah Owyang, says in a recent blog posting about the report. "Consumers will rely on their peers as they make online decisions, whether or not brands choose to participate," he says. "Socially connected consumers will strengthen communities and shift power away from brands and customer relationship management systems; eventually this will result in empowered communities defining the next generation of products."

Owyang notes that current online social experience is disjointed because consumers have separate identities in each social network they visit. But soon a new simple set of technologies will enable consumers to bring their identities, including their personal interests in consumer products, with them wherever they go online. "IDs are just the beginning of this transformation, in which the web will evolve step by step from separate social sites into a shared social experience," he says. Owyang adds that this will transform e-commerce, marketing, advertising and customer relationship management applications.

These changes will force online brands to connect with consumers in new ways to remain relevant, Owyang says. He suggests brands take the following steps:
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  • Don`t hesitate. Don`t get left behind by letting competitors connect to your consumer communities before you do.
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  • Prepare for transparency. As consumers surf the web more with their friends, prepare every web page and every product on your site to be viewed by customers and prospects.
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  • Connect with brand advocates, who will sway over prospects and defend your brand against any detractors. As power shifts to online communities, advocates will become more important than ever.
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  • Evolve your enterprise systems, which will need to connect to the social web. Social networks are quickly becoming a source of customer information and lead generation beyond a retailer`s CRM systems. And content management systems will need to support social shopping features.
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  • Shatter your corporate web site. Content will come to consumers, rather than them chasing it. Prepare to fragment a company web site to let it distribute content to the social web. Fish where the fish are.

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