With 2007 in full swing, here are our predictions for the rest of the year to come. In prior years we have given you a mix of business and personal lifestyle predictions, but this year we're sticking to just the online marketing world.

We busted out our omniscient crystal ball, and this is what it told us:

10. Social networking will get more and more niche. Social Networking has blanketed the news for the past 18 months because it works. YouTube and MySpace have built loyal communities through entertaining user-generated content and great tools for communicating with other like-minded people.

However, Social Networking is going NICHE. People use specific tools to connect, recommend, rate, and communicate within their niche groups. For this reason, there are many types of Social Media now and there will be five times this many by the end of next year:

  • B2C: MySpace, Facebook, Gaia, Friendster, Second Life
  • B2B: LinkedIn, Jigsaw
  • Search: Digg, Delicious, Wink, Technorati
  • Shopping: Wists, ThisNext, Woot
  • Expert Communities: Blogs, Wikis
  • Mapping: Geosearch
  • Video: YouTube, TurnHere, Splashcast
  • Images: Flickr

9. Viral campaign Web sites will have a purpose. Over the past couple of years, I've been forwarded hundreds of quirky sites that are experimenting with viral marketing and have no further purpose whatsoever. There are no calls to action or indications as to why these sites exist.

A few examples of pointless viral sites: Patron's SimplyPerfect, eROI's WearShortShorts, and CareerBuilder's popular Monk-e-Mail. Next year will feature more substantial viral campaign sites, like Philips's ShaveEverywhere, PassportToFlavor from Kettle Foods, and Snakes on a Plane.

8. User-generated content will be a component on most new Web sites. Many companies are just starting to realize the great potential of Web sites with user-generated content that enable customers co-create with their brands. Ultimately, allowing users to post their stories through text, images, and video helps to build community and long-term brand loyalty. In short, it works, and companies large (Diesel-U-Music) and small (Dunderdon Workspace) will employ this strategy much more frequently next year.

7. Email marketers will demand more strategy from their marketing agencies. From the client-side email marketer's perspective, there are only minor differences between the top email marketing software platforms. Email marketers will demand to know more advanced strategies for their email programs by asking questions like these: How does this email render in the default settings of the different email environments (AOL, Yahoo, Gmail, Hotmail, etc.)? What content shows up above and below the fold on the email preview? What content and call to action will really resonate with my target audience? How can I be a resource and still convert click-throughs into qualified leads?

6. Great content is king. Quality content is more important now than ever before. Each of us receives dozens of email newsletters daily. There are over 100 million viewings daily on YouTube. One in twenty visits on the Web is to a social networking site where new content is generated every second. There is a glut of content, and it's only going to get more crowded.

The key point worth noting is that the few companies providing great content are huge winners because of all of the online and offline marketing channels that work together in a sort of crescendo effect, amplifying the messaging of well-positioned brands. Word-of-mouth spreads so much faster than it used to through blogs, iTunes, YouTube, MySpace, Web sites, and online press.

Fans of the TV program "Grey's Anatomy" can convert nonbelievers because the content of the show is good enough to keep them once they've heard about it. The opposite holds true of "Snakes on a Plane," which had a huge online following but bombed at the box office because the content sucked. Keep this in mind when strategizing and implementing your next viral marketing site or email campaign.

5. Most successful companies will become media companies. Microsoft became a media company when it began its blogging program a couple years ago. The lawyers lost and marketers won; revealing the inside scoop at Microsoft was virtually the only thing that has healed the company's battered reputation.

More and more companies are starting their own blogs, helping them to become more relevant and newsworthy to a greater audience within their niche. Blogging has essentially forced companies to step into their customers' shoes and provide them with more industry knowledge and news rather than simply ramming products down their throats.

4. The Democrat majority in Congress swings the tide of online marketing. Marketers will push the envelope far more aggressively in 2007 now that the fear of death by Republican firing squad has been reduced. Moral depravity will run rampant in advertising, and the largely Democratic online marketers will revel in the end-result of their twisted creative brains.

3. Greater integration of video into all Web sites. When I last visited the homepage of CRM juggernaut Salesforce.com, I was immediately struck by how quickly the video flash piece engaged me. Video is not just for TV and YouTube anymore. The ShaveEverywhere site proved that the use of video within viral sites is hugely engaging and effective in converting sales.

We will see many more large, medium-sized, and small businesses integrate video into their primary and campaign Web sites in 2007. One trend we will likely see will be an increase in the use of "webisodes," 3-5 minute daily or weekly video clips that entice users to come back to sites for more all-Web programming.

2. Email mantra: list segmentation + relevant content = improved results. eROI published an email study in early 2006 showing a direct correlation between smaller, more relevant lists and higher open and click through rates. Instead of sending all emails to a Main List of all of their contacts, marketers are starting to segment their lists into product categories, service categories, press lists, webinar lists, etc.

Marketers who fail to take the extra hour or two to do this list segmentation every 3-6 months will see continued email list fatigue and a resulting drop in performance. Emailers will learn that content needs to focus less on selling a product and talking at recipients, and more on talking with recipients. Updating email content and starting a conversation will be more important than ever as people move toward seeing their inboxes as sacred places that they don't want violated by one-way advertising messages.

1. Thoughtful, cause-related marketing is the biggest winner in 2007. Pay attention. If you do this right, you will put your company on the map—and make the world a better place. This may just be the best business advice you get all year: Ask your coworker, your department, your entire company what one nonprofit they want to support—and throw a lot of energy behind it. Better yet, co-create a new program or new event with an existing, reputable nonprofit, and you'll see that your employees, customers, and prospects, as well as your kids and your spouse, will help you take this cause, and indirectly your company, to the next level.

The best example of this is a brand we used to take for granted: Dove. Dove launched "The Campaign for Real Beauty" and let the fact be known that the company no longer simply sells soap. Dove is now so much more than a set of commodity products. Dove sells real beauty; natural beauty; non-superficial beauty.

The Campaign for Real Beauty Web site features a one-minute film that shows the transformation of an average-looking woman into a strikingly gorgeous supermodel. Only by seeing this process can we truly comprehend the illusion of what are, essentially, fabricated dream girls.

The beauty of this site is that it doesn't end with just awareness of the problem. It launches immediately into an actionable item for 8-12-year-old girls to sign up for Dove's real beauty workshops. The workshops teach girls about the importance of identifying beauty within themselves in the pre-teen years, before the peer pressure to be like the mythical supermodel drives them to anorexia or bulimia.

A couple of years ago, eROI began its own partnership with Portland-based nonprofit, Friends of the Children, by co-creating an event called Friends Art Fair. In just two years, the event has raised $55,000 and has garnered 2.5 million media impressions thru email marketing channels, print media, and media sponsor KPTV Fox 12 News.

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Ryan Buchanan is the CEO of eROI (www.eroi.com).