Harnessing the Power of Web 2.0 Technology

The incorporation of social media and other Web 2.0 technologies is critical for effective Web marketing in today's softening economy and competitive online marketplace. As the online experience evolves from the traditional search for information to interactive brand experiences, companies must successfully leverage social media in order to differentiate their brand, enhance consumer awareness, and engage their customers.

There's no doubt that the phenomenal growth of social media networking has changed the playing field for online marketing over the past few years. In March of 2008, 6 out of the Top 10 sites were social (YouTube, Live.com, Facebook, hi5, Wikipedia, Orkut), while none of these cracked the Top 10 in 2005.

The individual use of social networking has grown exponentially in nearly every demographic over the last two years. Currently over 37% of the US adult Internet population and 70% of teens uses some form of social networking at least once a month. And this storm isn't slowing yet - industry analyst eMarketer predicts that the total social media audience in the U.S. will grow by 46% over the next four years to 105 million in 2011.

Even more impressive than the surging popularity of social networking is its power to actually sway consumer opinion. Studies show that social media has a strong and direct impact on brand reputation - according to JupiterResearch, online social network users were three times more likely to trust their peers' opinions over advertising when making purchase decisions. With 57% of Internet users belonging to a social network, businesses must effectively plug into the online community to stay ahead of their competitors.

Despite this surge, it's difficult to succeed in social media marketing without well-defined goals and a clear strategy. It is notoriously difficult to quantify the value of social networking initiatives, so it's important to utilize them intelligently, with specific objectives and measurement.

The onslaught of information across communities simply won't translate into results because it takes more than information to change behavior. Successful social networking strategies must concentrate on relationships, not just technologies - they must cultivate trust while making connections between consumers and the brand more interesting, more varied or more frequent.

It's more important than ever before for companies to utilize the power of social marketing in their online marketing strategies. With clear strategies that have specific and measurable objectives, social networking can help nurture relationships with present and potential customers while enhancing brand awareness and loyalty across the Web.