Search: Digital Future

Monday, 22 December 2008

The Digital Year in Review – and 2009 Trends

2008 was a great year if you worked in the digital industry. So many advances in technology, huge leaps forward in the numbers of people connected to the Internet and using high speed broadband to access content and a rock solid acceptance of digital (mobile, Internet, email, search, social media) by the general public – in fact, if you’re Generation Y, you’ve never known anything else. Below are some of important things we learned throughout 2008 and a few of the trends we should see in 2009.

The maturity of search marketing
There’s a lot of talk about moving marketing dollars away from traditional media into search marketing during times of economic uncertainty. This has been validated by two things – Google’s revenue figures and the persistence of Microsoft in trying to buy Yahoo!’s search business. Google’s numbers speak for themselves. As for Yahoo!’s search business – while Microsoft might have gotten some strategic things wrong in the past, I wouldn’t want to put my money at risk by betting against Microsoft this time around.
The move to search marketing is very simple. If you think about search marketing as a direct response channel and not for its branding potential, the reason is clear – search marketing is about sales. Search marketing for a lot of companies is the most effective way of growing sales. This isn’t true for all industries (particularly FMCG, where search is the most effective drive-to-web strategy but not direct sales) but it’s where companies in the IT, professional services, travel and automotive industries are putting their marketing budgets. This was the trend in 2008 and this will only increase in 2009 as budgets need to be harder working and more effective.

The rise of social networks.
2008 saw the rise of social media – Facebook becoming the dominant player, MySpace narrowing it’s focusing onto music and movies, Friendster leading South East Asia and Bebo being bought by AOL.
Facebook has long been the darling of media and the public, despite skirting dangerously around privacy issues a number of times this year. If you look at a lot of the social networks, they are now becoming surprisingly similar – a person’s profile, user generated content, third-party applications and often a wayward business model. This can be directly attributed to Facebook’s success and popularity with its audience.
Social media is very popular. OgilvyOne Singapore released a report titled “Can Brands Have a Social Life?” that focuses on social media in Asia. It identifies a staggering 456 million people in Asia (of a total Internet audience of around 571 million people) who are engaged in social media activity. Admittedly, this is more than social networks, including blogging and other social interaction, but the numbers are extraordinary.

Social Networking going mobile
The Japanese had a whole new perspective on social media. Mixi and Mobagetown, two of the leading social sites in Japan, are attracting tens of millions of people who are accessing their services through mobile devices. While other countries such as Singapore and Hong Kong have over 100% mobile penetration (i.e. there are more mobile devices than the country’s population), use of data services and applications is still in its early stages. Japan leads the world with its sophisticated mobile market and it will be really interesting to see how Mixi, Mobagetown and other mobile-focused social media help shape the social media landscape. It feels like only a matter of time before one of these players’ moves onto other mobile-savvy markets in Asia and across the world…

Blogs as buying guides
Asia is really driving the proliferation of blogs and blogger activity. This is particularly seen in Korea and China but is becoming more common across the world. This of itself is not the big issue because people have always wanted to express themselves. The major trend that is starting to affect marketers is how blogs have been inadvertently commercialized and used by consumers as buying guides. Consumers trust other consumers much more than they trust brands, so it’s no surprise that blogs are now being seen as buying guides for new products and services. The automotive industry is a great example of this – once you’ve done your online research from the brand’s website, compared prices on a few different websites, many people are now going to blogs to see “real world” experience. Does the car drive well? Does it breakdown often? How does the automotive company deal with complaints? These questions are no longer being answered by call centre staff or showroom personnel but by real people and their blogs.

The year of the job seeker.
With the doom and gloom of the current economic downturn one of the unfortunate trends is that more and more people are now facing unemployment. With so many people facing an uncertain future and a lot of people losing their jobs, 2009 will be a great year for the job classifieds sites (think Monster.com, JobsDB, ClassifiedPost, SEEK, etc.). Job classifieds sites make the majority of their revenue through job ads, which will decline, so these sites will have to evolve or die out. The savvy job boards are already working on talent management tools, interactive CVs, career content and other tools that will help candidates better promote themselves. These sites will have a huge increase in site traffic and if they are clever in working out ways to commercialize this increased audience or monetize their job seeker toolkits.
For the same reasons, there should be a significant increase in the use of business social networking. Recently LinkedIn.com release a new batch of tools – introducing networking groups, applications (similar to Facebook) and other features that allow business professionals to connect and network with each other. LinkedIn.com is now posing a legitimate threat to online job sites and print classifieds simply because it allows people to connect and network in a much more interactive way. 2009 should be the year LinkedIn.com and other business-focused social networks come into prominence.
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