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Widgety Goodness: Widgets and Social Media – WTF?!

Today’s ‘Widgety Goodness’ conference in Brighton brought together some in-the-know folks and some much-needed clarity to the hoopla that is social media and widgets.

Organised by the good folk at Snipperoo (the widget platform people), it cleared a lot of excess fluff from my head. Top of the agenda was a BIG question…. what are widgets and what are they good for?

Well, I have a good handle on this now, so if you need to know, then read on…

From a practical perspective, Alex Bard of youminis, gave the best explanation of widgets that I’ve heard to date.

According to Alex (and I’d agree strongly), widgets are used by people EITHER as:

‘Stickers’

or

‘Utilities’

A ‘sticker’ is the kind of thing that you slap on your Facebook or MySpace profile in order to look cool – like a widget for your fave band. It sits there for everyone to see and says ‘Hey look! I reeeeally dig this thing!’

A ‘utility’ is more useful. It’s something you use in order to get something of value. For example, a widget for iGoogle or Netvibes that gives you feeds on the news or sports stories that you care about. Or, another example that we’re all probably more familar with might be a plug-in for the Firefox browser that enables you to control your iTunes.

To make a broad, reductive statement, sticker widgets tend to be used a lot by teenagers and dumped quickly when the next big thing comes along… whilst utility widgets tend to be used by folks who have a specific need or interest. Utility widgets also tend to have a longer shelf life (because they’re more useful).

Further, sticker widgets tend to live on social networking platforms (ie, my Facebook profile page), whilst utility widgets tend to be embedded in the applications we use day-to-day (eg, my Mac operating system interface, Windows, my browser, etc – in other words in places where I live / work).

Interestingly, as social networking platforms begin to take a stronger hold of our lives, we see utility widgets popping up here too. As people spend more and more time ‘living’ in Facebook (that’ll be me then), they also see value in embedding helpful things in it – so that they don’t have to leave one app to get a piece of info from another.

I’m paraphrasing Alex on all this, but I think this definition is useful. (Thanks Alex, great speech!)

As I’m a consultant, I thought I’d turn it into a special on-the-fly Velocity ‘Stan-o- Gram’ (Stan, my business partner sees the world in these types of charts, and we know they really help everyone to ‘get it’ quicker ).

Here it is:

A topology of widgets and social media

So, what’s the point of all this stuff and why should we care as marketers?

Well, if you’re selling sugar water or Spice Girl lunchboxes, then you really ought to get in on the action with ‘Sticker’ widgets. This side of the chart is very viral. So, find a 14 year old influential sneezer-user, encourage them to attach your widget to his/her social network profile and just stand back. If your brand and your widget rocks, then their friends will probably be bowled over by how cool they are and go copy them. Bingo – a new meme is born. The impressive Ori Soen from Musestorm had some interesting case studies on how his tech platform has helped brands do this kind of thing.

If you’re not selling sugar water, and are in the more sober business of B2B, then think about how you can use all this widgety stuff to become a utility.

To my mind, this is a big big opportunity for smart companies to pick apart the value of their products and services and get them to people in new ways. For example, if you’re a firm that needs to relay time sensitive, high value info to business customers, then build a Facebook or iGoogle widget and go give it to your most important users…. they’ll then pass it on to their friends, and hey presto, you have a new outlet for your brand/services/information. On the other hand, don’t even try to build a sticker style widget because the chances are your customers don’t think you’re THAT cool. (Think about it, if you hand out free badges at trade shows do you think people wear them when they get home!?).

So…

‘Sticker’ widgets are fab in B2C where the budgets and the bets are big, the trends fast, and the payoffs large.

‘Utility’ widgets are great in B2B (and B2C) where the value of your content is high and your users are (probably) niche but extremely engaged and energized… because your stuff helps them do their jobs/live their life better and they’ll be grateful to get their hands on it and pass it on.

In other words, sticker widgets may work for you if you can establish a ‘cool’ factor. Utility widgets will only work for you if you can establish a real value in your content.

Either way, lazy marketers need not apply because it takes some figuring out. Whatever you do, IBM will never be cool, and I’ll never expect to get ‘utility’ style content from Coca-Cola.

Anyways, that’s my view (thanks to Alex). What do you think?

(Meantime, next up will be a post on what we as marketers need to do in order to make this stuff work effectively… inspired by another slam-dunk pitch from our friend Will McInnes of NixonMcInnes. Watch this space…)

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3 Responses to “Widgety Goodness: Widgets and Social Media – WTF?!”

  1. Will McInnes

    I agree that the ‘stickers’ and ‘utiliities’ was actually a really neat, simple and helpful way to distinguish between the two.

    Also – loving the illustration Mr W, good use of ‘multimedia’!

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