As you read this, millions of individuals are working under their own volition to create a new Dewey Decimal System for the internet. In the process -- perhaps without even realizing it -- they are laying the groundwork for a new contextual online advertising paradigm called “Tagvertising.”
The consumer phenomenon is called “tagging” or “folksonomies” (short for folks and taxonomy). Tagging is powerful because consumers are creating an organizational structure for online content. Folksonomies not only enable people to file away content under tags, but more importantly also share it with others by filing it under a global taxonomy that they created.
Here’s how tagging works. Using sites such as del.icio.us -- a bookmark sharing site -- and Flickr -- a photo sharing site -- consumers are collaboratively categorizing online content under certain keywords, or tags. For example, an individual can post photographs of their iPod on Flickr and file it under the tag “iPod.” These images are now not only visible under the individual user’s iPod tag but also under the broader community iPod tag that displays all images consumers are generating and filing under the keyword. As of this writing, Flickr has more than 3,500 photos that are labeled “iPod.”
Tagging is catching on because it is a natural complement to search. Type the word “blogs” into Google and it can’t tell if you are searching for information about how to launch a blog, how to read blogs, et cetera. But using del.icio.us you can bookmark this page or subscribe to its RSS feed. Then, everyday you will find the latest interesting links consumers are finding and sharing about blog marketing. Now imagine you run a blog marketing consultancy and you want to advertise to users who follow these tags. This is what’s we’ll see this year as tagvertising takes hold.
Already, large and small sites alike are getting on to the folksonomy train. They are rolling out tag-like structures to help users more easily locate content that’s relevant to them. For example, The Guardian, a U.K. newspaper, last week added tags to its news blog. Metafilter, a popular community weblog that anyone can contribute to, also recently incorporated free-form keywords that writers can use to categorize their posts. The larger news sites, particularly CNET, may not be far behind.
Of course the big search engines have tagging on their radar as well. Yahoo recently purchased Flickr. Furl, another bookmark sharing site, was absorbed by LookSmart. Ask Jeeves now has tagging. And Amazon invested in a site called 43 Things that lets people tag-based build wish lists. They might even be the silver bullet search engines need to deliver truly personalized search results. When this happens folksonomies and tagvertising will usher in the next great advancement in contextual advertising.
Here are three ways in which tagging will create new opportunities for marketers. Some are applicable today while others are on the horizon in the near future:
- Although tags are far from perfect (they generate a lot of false/positives), marketers should nevertheless be using them to keep your finger on the pulse of the American public. Start subscribing to RSS feeds to monitor how consumers are tagging information related to your product, service, company or space. These are living focus groups that are available for free, 24/7.
- Folksonomy sites can be also be carefully used to unleash viral marketing campaigns -- with a caveat. Marketers should be transparent in who they are, why they are posting the link/photos and avoid spamming the services
- As tagging grows and the search engines begin adding this feature to their sites, Google and Overture will allow advertisers to buy keywords across certain tags. Watch for this later this year.
- Last but not least, one or more entrepreneurs will launch a tagvertising network that facilitates a keyword buy across all sites that use folksonomies.
Steve Rubel is Vice President of CooperKatz & Company, a New York City public relations firm, and author of the Micro Persuasion blog. He evangelizes the application of blogs and RSS in traditional public relations campaigns and runs the firm’s new Micro Persuasion practice.