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The Brave New World of the Engaged Web

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It goes without saying: The Web is very different from what it once was.

CNN and other "old media" stalwarts such as NBC, ABC, and the New York Times are no longer the top-ranked, most highly trafficked websites. Now, the darlings of Web 2.0 and beyond are Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Twitter.

It's clear that Web habits are changing fast. In terms of clicks per minute, the world's attention is dominated not by traditional content-based sites but by a set of radically different, interactive, community-based tools and services.

We no longer use the Web just for browsing, we use it for doing: posting videos, creating content, sharing things, and connecting with people and organizations.

Welcome to "the Engaged Web," a new world where passive websites have been replaced by engaging Web applications and where visitors have become users. That new world has three important implications for marketers:

  1. You've got an exciting new universe of opportunities for engaging today's Web user.
  2. Your users expect richer, more-rewarding experiences; anything less is dull.
  3. If your Web applications don't meet users' expectations, users will find some that do.

The Engaged Web takes some of the best Web 2.0 applications of the past few years and recasts them, blending new user experiences with enterprise applications such as customer relationship management (CRM).

Those applications, when managed effectively via a content management system (CMS), can be combined and used in concert to engage key audiences. The result: surprising commercial returns, ranging from serious new revenues to delighted customers who become involved with your brand.

So, What About CRM?

In the recent past, while your users and Web developers have been having fun with Facebook, YouTube, and other social-media sites, your IT staffers have been hard at work developing a CRM system that would revolutionize your company's sales and marketing processes.

The good news is that they succeeded. The bad news is that once they saw the power of CRM, they also saw the need to connect it to everything else in your organization.

Most marketers have come to the same conclusion. A standalone CRM system is a blunt instrument. It requires a user to opt in or a salesperson to type in some contact details, which means the people who end up in the database are already fairly well progressed along your sales funnel.

But think how much more powerful CRM would be with Web 2.0 behind it. A Web-app user can become a CRM contact without any manual processes.

Ultra-Web-savvy marketers are doing great experiments with social-networking platforms, community forums, and the like. The lead-generation pros among us are making great strides with email-based demand-automation campaigns, and the sales-driven guys are fine-tuning into an enterprisewide communications platform.

The problem is that those things are not interconnected in a meaningful way.

Web 2.0 provides us with good personal data that we can use to inform our marketing decisions; email marketing enables us to send out some fantastic offers and relationship-building bulletins based on those ideas; and CRM enables us to capture a bunch of useful insights from the resulting activity. But none of that is truly automated.

Now imagine a world where the user-generated content of a Web 2.0 app could inform the personalization settings for a visitor's website experience and your email-automation campaigns, and where the resulting click-through data could be used to manipulate the target user's website experience—with all that activity and information being made available to your sales teams via your CRM system.

That may sound too much like a marketing "tick list" from heaven, but it's exactly what companies such as Adidas, Red Bull, Monocle magazine, and Tui AG  are doing to turn passive websites into dynamic, personalized Web experiences that drive new sales relationships and trigger new marketing interactions.

Each of those brands is using new technology to embed Web 2.0 and community functionality within their sites, and to repurpose the resulting user-generated content as important relationship "feeds" that can be used to drive other dynamic marketing channels, such as email, Web-page personalization, and CRM-based campaigns.

That technology is transforming the way they do business and the way they design and develop their new online services—and the key to it all is a state-of-the-art CMS.

CMS for the Engaged Web

From an architectural perspective, the focal point for all that great Web-marketing activity is your website. It's where your users sign up, create their profiles, generate content, and participate in discussions.

It's also the place where your CRM system will capture all that insight; and it's the springboard (or landing point) for all your lead-generation campaigns.

With next-generation CMS technologies, you can create more engaging, timely, and relevant user experiences by mixing up your controlled and published CMS-based content with dynamic user-generated content and forums that are driven by your social-networking community.

Content editors can repurpose and reseed their website content in key community forums as part of a single editorial process, and send personalized email "update" alerts to relevant community members as part and parcel of the same publishing exercise.

Moreover, you can serve personalized and adaptive Web experiences to new site visitors by establishing which company they're from and presenting them with the content that's most relevant to them, based on a set of predefined personalization rules.

For example, a visitor from GlaxoSmithKline would want to see pharmaceutical-related case studies, and visitors from Ford would like automotive-based case studies.

In the brave new world of the Engaged Web, you can be more assured that your campaigns will net the best possible conversion rates.

Via access to comprehensive Web-analytics data and easier ways to analyze campaigns and landing pages individually, rather than entire websites, you can track campaigns in real time, learn what is resonating with your customers, and take action at just the right moment.

You can even monitor "live" site-visitor traffic to see how your customers navigate, where they spend the most time, and where you lose them. That behavioral information can be invaluable to your marketing efforts and your sales team. And, that type of monitoring can even be done from an iPhone, so no time is lost.

It's all about building a smarter technology platform that's capable of harnessing the best of Web 2.0, CRM, and other demand-generation applications, and bringing them together in one highly adaptive website experience for your users.

The returns can be dramatic, and your customers will be more loyal to you—and not your competitors—because of it.

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AJ Harring is president of EPiServer US (, a provider of platforms for web content management, online communities, and digital marketing.

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  • by chris marentis Thu Dec 17, 2009 via web

    very good post...and thought provoking. We all know change is coming! Key is people are not using lists that have right now with very simple tools they have right now. Even though new web 2.0 apps will make the exchange of customer info easier, we have very robust systems for all kinds of follow up triggers and such that are not being used. The net is if you are not a business doing this stuff today the odds are you will not do it as it continues to evolve. Let's get started!

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