As marketers, virtually all of us have incorporated social networking and Web 2.0 strategies into our communication plans. Although some are just now getting comfortable with these tactics, others are already looking toward the horizon for what’s next. Web 3.0 is coming quickly and it will potentially put the trust we’ve built with our consumers at risk. To effectively realize the full potential of Web 3.0, we must protect and foster that trust as a sacred commodity.
Although still ambiguous, some describe Web 3.0 as an enormous social network that connects information instead of people. It will ideally allow for incredibly complex queries that provide results based on your likes and dislikes determined through past Internet usage.
WebMD’s founder Jeff Arnold and talk show host Dr. Mehmet Oz recently introduced the new site Sharecare which exemplifies the potential Web 3.0. As somewhat of a Facebook-meets-WebMD, this new health care platform allows consumers to ask questions directly on the site and receive answers from physicians from top institutions such as Johns Hopkins and “Knowledge Partners”. The paid sponsorship line-up includes inaugural partner, Dove, who will provide insight on skin care.
With Dove clearly labeled as a sponsor, we assume that today’s discerning consumer is able to recognize that sponsors are paying to provide content, thus allowing the consumer to make appropriate purchasing decisions based on that knowledge. However, as we move down the path into Web 3.0, such recognition may become increasingly more difficult. Marketers will be able to seamlessly integrate themselves into the user experience, making it harder for consumers to objectively discern between information and advertising.
There are two key implications of this Internet evolution: privacy and trust. Privacy has emerged as a priority consumer concern in the digital age. One marketing misstep sparks widespread consumer outrage. Not only do consumers want to feel secure that their payment information won’t be accessible to others over the Internet, they also want to feel they haven’t been deceived by the marketer. Building trust, therefore, is critical to achieving the necessary transparency to create a positive consumer experience. While Web 3.0 may open up scores of opportunities for consumers as the Internet increasingly serves as a “personal assistant”, we can’t forget the importance of the reaching consumers on a personal level.
Web 3.0 will rely on technologies far more complicated than can be discussed in this venue, and the “personal assistant” that it could become is in some ways just a series of scientific formulas that spit out results. Consumers are inherently leery of an entirely automated process. In order to trust, consumers must know that a marketer is speaking to them personally. Recognizing this, Sharecare has successfully leveraged the traditional WebMD model and a social networking platform that creates a dialogue between consumers and trusted physicians and institutions as well as marketers. As the site continues to develop and expand its Knowledge Partners, it is critical that consumers don’t feel that marketers are preying on them in a time of weakness, thus making it imperative that Sharecare maintains enough transparency that consumers can trust the site as a valued information source in addition to a trusted purchase influencer.
So, let this serve as a cautionary message to marketers for the future. Sharecare has led the way toward Web 3.0 wisely. Web 3.0 presents a host of unprecedented opportunities, but in pursuing them we must remember the adage that attention, like friendship, must be earned. Ultimately, we must remember who we’re serving and earn their friendship through that service.