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The Year in Consumer Generated Content

The Year in Consumer Generated Content LeeAnn Prescott
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When I stopped to look back at the leading trends in internet usage over the past year, it became obvious that 2005 was the year that consumers took control of the internet. In 2005, consumer generated content became mainstream, thanks to the proliferation of technology that changed how internet users find, share and create content.


Here are five trends in consumer generated content from the last year that will have a profound impact on our internet experience in 2006 and beyond:


1. Social networking comes of age


The cover story on the Business Week December 12, 2005 issue was entitled "MySpace Generation." Indeed, MySpace has become the dominant social networking site for teens and young adults, as well as one of the most visited domains on the internet. Hitwise data shows that in December 2005, it ranked fourth among all sites, and its market share of visits has increased by 846 percent from December 2004 to December 2005. Facebook, a social networking site for college students, has also grown by leaps and bounds over the past year. Clearly college students enjoy social networking in an environment of their peers that is closed to non-students. Other social networking sites, like Hi5, continued to gain ground in 2005.


2. Wikipedia becomes the number one reference site


In June 2005, Wikipedia surpassed Dictionary.com to become the most visited reference site, and in September 2005 it passed the New York Times in market share of visits. Wikipedia's traffic continues to climb despite questions of the accuracy of its content that can be edited by any user. Visits to Wikipedia spiked during key 2005 news events, like the death of Terry Schiavo, the London Bombings and Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. It appeared high in organic search results for these news events, as well as individuals in the news such as Harriet Miers and John Roberts. While news topics are only a portion of the information available on Wikipedia, users are finding it valuable as a comprehensive source of information on current events.


3. Flickr and tagging take off


Flickr, which allows users to post, share and browse photos by user-defined tags, was purchased by Yahoo! in March 2005 and its market share of visits grew by 1,317 percent from December 2004 to December 2005. It ranked number six among photo-sharing sites in December 2005. Visits to Flickr increased significantly during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and when searches for "hurricane katrina pictures" and other related queries skyrocketed, Flickr was at the top of the organic results thanks to its tagging strategy. Other sites that use tagging, such as 43 Things, Del.icio.us, and YouTube have enjoyed significant growth during the past year as users continue to create, tag and find interesting content.


4. Blogs, blogs, blogs


Blogs became the new media buzzword in 2005, and Yahoo!, Google, AOL and MSN have all made some form of investment in blog services over the past two years. Blog creation and consumption continues to grow wildly -- visits to Technorati, the leading blog search site, were up 797 percent from December 2004 to December 2005, and visits to Bloglines, the leading web-based RSS reader, were up 252 percent in the same period. While much of blog consumption happens through RSS feeds, some of the leading blog sites -- Daily Kos, Engadget and The Superficial -- ranked among the top 2,500 most visited internet sites in December 2005. In addition, Google launched a blog search service in September 2005 and Yahoo! News began including blogs in its news search results in October 2005.


5. Video search goes viral


Video search took off in the second half of the year, when Google launched its video search service and iTunes began selling videocasts of TV shows. Higher broadband penetration and smarter devices like video phones and video iPods mean there will be a greater demand for searchable video content in 2006. From October 2005 to December 2005, visits to Google Video increased by 169 percent, and visits to upstart video search service YouTube shot up 873 percent, mainly due to a video of a Saturday Night Live skit called "Lazy Sunday" that aired in December. Video search is as much about finding amusing home video content as it is about finding television and film content, with home videos such as the two Chinese students singing the Backstreet Boys song "I Want it That Way" captivating internet audiences. Both Google Video and YouTube experienced explosive growth when the two videos mentioned above spread through email and social networking sites. Yahoo! Video Search remains the leader among video search services, and its market share of visits grew by a more modest 18 percent in the October - December period.
 


All of the sites mentioned above, with the exception of Daily Kos, Del.icio.us and Technorati, skew toward visitors under 35 years of age. Young internet users appear to enjoy consuming content created by their peers, and feel less of a need to get information and entertainment from established, authoritative sources. The older age skew of Technorati and Del.icio.us indicate that the older generation is also adopting new technology and new practices like tagging with enthusiasm.


The explosion in consumer generated content will continue into 2006, particularly in the area of video, as broadband penetration grows and devices get smarter. As the internet heavyweights (Google, Yahoo!, AOL and MSN) continue to invest in and promote technology that makes it easier to post and search for content, there will be a smaller and smaller divide between content creators and content consumers.


About Hitwise:
Hitwise is the world's leading online competitive intelligence service. Each day, Hitwise monitors how more than 25 million internet users interact with over 500,000 websites across 160 industry categories.
By monitoring more people, more websites, more often, Hitwise provides marketers with timely and actionable marketing insights on how their online presence compares to competitive websites. Companies use this information to maximize the return on their online investment, in efforts such as search marketing, affiliate programs, online advertising, visitor segmentation, content development and lead generation.
Hitwise collects internet usage information via a combination of ISP data partnerships and opt-in mega panels, and complies with local and international privacy legislation as audited by PricewaterhouseCoopers. Founded in 1997, Hitwise is a privately held company, headquartered in New York City and operates in the US, UK, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong and Singapore.



LeeAnn Prescott is senior research analyst, Hitwise. Read full bio.

Programmatic


Duh. It was hard to read an industry article this year that didn't in some way reference the overarching trend toward programmatic buying and other forms of marketing automation. That said, the tones and takeaways of those articles varied greatly depending on the writer. "Programmatic" has simultaneously been heralded as the savior and destroyer of the "art" of marketing. Ultimately, it's simply progress -- the same type of progress that so many industries before us have seen.


Native


Like programmatic, it was hard to skim an industry event agenda this year without the word "native" jumping off the page and punching you in the face. Love it or hate it, think it's new or not, it's where the money is going. The same publishers who decry it in editorial commentaries are offering it on their own sites.


Unlike a lot of marketing buzzwords that come and go, "native" has actually hit the mainstream. (If John Oliver does a 10-minute segment on it, it's mainstream.) That means we're likely to be stuck with the term for at least a while longer.

Wearables


As we knew it would be, Google Glass was just the silly, silly-looking start. All eyes now are on smartwatches. And because it's a trend among consumers, it's a headline among marketing publications. But how brands begin to play in this deeply personal space is still very much up in the air. Until someone figures out that logical brand play, we'll ferociously devour news about new devices and speculate as to where the future of mobile marketing is going.


Responsibility


Corporate social responsibility. It's not a new trend. It's long been a part of big-business human resource documents that no one reads. But this year, more so than any before it, marketers have realized that doing good is simply good business. As such, we're seeing a rise not only in marketing efforts related to philanthropic causes, but also in entire business models built around the concept of benefitting the world while bettering the bottom line. (Just look at companies like Warby Parker and TOMS.)

Selfies


Where consumers go, marketers will follow. In 2014, people couldn't stop taking selfies. Even more so, they couldn't stop saying "selfie." It's a fun word -- selllllffffffiiiiieee. Anyway, it's no surprise that brands this year got onboard the selfie train. That train itself is long enough for me to write an entire article on it. (Oh wait. I did.)


#Hashtag


If it didn't have a hashtag, it didn't exist this year. Increasingly, hashtags are simply how people choose to categorize their online lives, and it's a natural way for brands to participate in the common social speak -- while also enabling them to effectively monitor the reach of their efforts. Marketing hashtags are so prevalent at this point that they're now earning their own awards categories.



Content



Content marketing. You can't escape the term. Again, like native advertising, it's not new. But this is bigger. Much bigger. Content marketing is marketing. But if you repeat a term enough and people buy into it, it's easier to garner both budget and respect for it. That's what's happening with "content" right now, just like social before it. Content marketing agencies, specialists, technologies -- you know how this goes. We'll hang our hats on "content" until a similarly all-encompassing trend swoops in to take its place.  

Instagram


You could swap in a handful of other words here, but I think "Instagram" epitomizes the continued strong trend toward social visuals that marketing has seen over the past 12 months. Compelling imagery has always been at the heart of advertising. But today, those images aren't necessarily originating within agency walls. The most effective marketing visual today might be the one that a teenager just snapped of her recent coffee purchase. Or newly polished fingernails. Or most coveted pair of shoes. The trick now is finding and harnessing the skills of these social photographers.


Mobile-first


Strategies aren't just "mobile" now. They're "mobile-first." And it's about time. It means that when marketers think about a given component of a campaign, they consider the experience of the phone and tablet users up front, rather than as an afterthought. That said, while "mobile-first" is an increasingly easy approach to take with new initiatives, most brands and agencies have to confess that there are still a lot of legacy campaigns and marketing platforms out there that have yet to adapt for the mobile mentality. They're easy to spot but often hard to replace.


Attribution


This ties in part to another term that probably should be on this list too -- big data. But unlike big data, attribution is a more manageable concept -- albeit a tricky one. But this year, even marketers who have no idea how to achieve proper attribution across channels at least knew they needed to pretend to be figuring it out. The C-suite is no longer content to throw money at multiple digital channels and assume that, somewhere in there, good things will happen. No. They're starting to ask smarter questions. Is our social media spending really moving the needle? What if we increase our paid search spend instead? Where are the conversions really happening? They have questions. To date, many of us have not had answers. Attribution is complex -- just like a customer's path to purchase. But we can't hide from it any longer.


Drew Hubbard is a social media and content marketing strategist and owner of Foodie Content Studios.


On Twitter? Follow Hubbard at @LAFoodie. Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.


"Blurred action from car at high speed" image via Shutterstock.

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