Getting Started with Widgets

As digital marketers strive to deliver value and meaning for consumers, the widget is increasingly becoming an essential part of the overall marketing mix. Brands, content publishers and just about everyone in between are discovering entertaining or useful opportunities to launch branded applications for their customers. Nike, InStyle and UPS among others have all created widgets to connect with customers in a way that is direct, sharable and interactive. (We even relied heavily on a widget strategy for promoting singer songwriter Martin Sexton.)

Bob Garfield writes in AdAge that the widget fits nicely in the post-advertising age, and quotes Contagious Magazine's Jessica Greenwood who says that, "the widget's value is 'like a basic unit of utility. The marketing becomes part of the product."

But how does a brand figure out where to start with widgets? For that, I turned to Justin Thorp, Community Manager at Clearsping Technologies, whose widget platform earned 332 million unique visitors worldwide in October. Here is Justin's take on where to begin:

When should a company consider launching a widget strategy?
I think the question is, “When should a company consider widgets as part of their overall communications strategy?”  If you’re publishing any type of content online, you need to develop a strategy for how you’re going to get your content in the hands of existing and potential users.  Because they’re portable and can move all over the Web, widgets are a great mechanism for doing this.  We recommend widgets for content publishers who want to extend their reach beyond their domain and who hope to reach the hard-to-reach user on the Social Web.

What are some of the building blocks of a good widget strategy?
First, like with any good user strategy, you have to understand your audience. You have to know what kind of content they’re going to find compelling and/or useful.  Secondly, you need to get your widget out there.  Whether it’s through viral sharing or paid distribution, get people using it. Lastly… and this is becoming increasingly important in today’s world of tight budgets, publishers and advertisers will want to track their widget.  See where it goes and how users interact with it. This will help you iterate, make the widget better, and thus get even better engagement. It will also prove the ROI of your resource expenditure.

How does a company make the transition from thinking about traditional advertising to a new approach through widgets? 
There first needs to be a certain level of realization of the extent that people are spending their time in online communities and social networks.  According to ComScore, 67% of all Internet users are on Social Media sites. Users are sharing their experiences, likes, dislikes… they’re sharing their lives with each other.  Due to this hyper-connectivity, you’re seeing word of mouth advertising becoming a prominent driver people’s behaviors.

Next, you have to realize that spending all your time trying to divert a user’s attention from online communities and social networks to your site’s content are impractical and unaffordable.  If you want to peak the interest of these users, you need to setup a table in the middle of the virtual town square and start passing out samples.  Widgets are a great way of getting pieces of your content right into the hands of your users where they exist today.

How do you decide between entertainment or utility? Is there a hybrid?

Different content produces different results.  It all depends on what you’re trying to achieve.   People love to share video but chances are I’m not going to look at it more than once.   On the flip side, chances are that I’m not going to be sharing the Washington Post headlines widget all over the Web but I’ll definitely be looking at it everyday.  One widget is going to receive high virality and low long-term engagement and the other will receive low virality and high long-term engagement.

What kind of metrics matter the most when tracking your marketing efforts through widgets?

Typical Web sites are measure through things like views and unique visitors.  These metrics are great but because widgets travel around the Web, you need to keep your eye on things like from where is the widget getting grabbed or where the widget is installed.   Once the widget has been installed, how often is it getting interacted with or used? 

Desktop or web-only?

The online world is very fragmented. There are so many different mediums (desktop or Web) and communities (Facebook, MySpace, Friendster, etc.) on the Web today where people are spending their time.  It’s hard to really choose any one place.  We really encourage companies to embrace a multi-platform strategy.  Figure out how you can get your content out to the most users for the least amount of cost and effort.

How do widgets need to improve?

Publishers need to do a better job of making it obvious that certain pieces of content are shareable as a widget.  They make the sharing functionality blend in so much with the content that the user can’t distinguish how and what they need to do. This makes it hard for the widget to really establish the level of virality that you desire.

What's next?
Technology, like Clearspring’s widget distribution platform Launchpad and others, has made it really easy for new publishers to connect and make their content shareable into social destinations.  On the flip side, there needs to be work done to make it more standard for new social destinations to receive content.

As people look for ways to stay better connected with their communities, we’ve seen a rise in the creation of new niche social networks and online communities.  They too need to be able to receive shared content but due to their small numbers often get passed by.  Many marketers and publishers have moved beyond investigating widgets and have accepted them as part of the media mix.  Going forward, you can expect widget creators to become more sophisticated about using their analytics data to know what generates viral activity and to use that information to build and distribute more compelling widgets. 

Ryan Moede

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Posted in Article Category: #Strategy
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