Hitmetrix - User behavior analytics & recording

Interactivity is Net’s Edge Over Other Media

In this column, I’ll finish discussing my three favorite things about the Internet with, in my opinion, the medium’s most important element-interactivity.

Without interactivity, the Internet’s power is limited to the look of print, the sound of radio, and television’s ability to show moving pictures. But technology and the Internet make possible interaction that television, radio or print advertisers can only fantasize about.

Those of us who work online every day need to step back and consider that which is easy to forget: the powerful duet of interactivity and creativity.

People want to interact with the Net. It’s visceral, tactile and visual, and they want to make an impact. The industry verbiage is telling. Print has readers, radio has listeners and television has viewers. But the Internet has visitors.

Visitors have a voice. They connect and stay as long as they feel connected – and usually not a minute longer. Radio and television lull the audience into passive listening/viewing, which is practically impossible online. The terminology – surfing, searching, seeking, chatting – is replete with active verbs.

Engaging visitors in events such as real-time voting or live chat is a way of making them part of a community. If the question makes them think about why they came to your site, or what they might want to do there, even better.

Don’t go overboard with technology unless it supports the message or purpose of your site. Streaming video is easier on the eyes than text, but I think we can get too caught up in rich media. Some visitors don’t have the technology to enjoy streaming audio and video in all its glory, and – more than technology – visitors crave interaction.

One way to engage visitors without putting them on the defensive is to interact with them right off the bat while allowing them as much anonymity as they wish. Surfers aren’t necessarily primed for self-reflection. Have them answer a couple of quick questions, ideally without requesting an e-mail address, name or other identifying factors … yet. Visitors who initially interact with the site in some easy way are more likely to ultimately fork over the personal and demographic information you crave. But be patient.

Take them to the place on the site that meets their needs. At the eyescream site, we get personal right up front. “Aah, so now you want advertisers on your Web site,” leads visitors to a site profile hot sheet, which they can immediately forward to eyescream. Alternatively, “Psst … want a targeted online ad campaign?” leads, naturally, to our client hot sheet, where visitors can request more information on eyescream’s services.

You can be much more targeted about it, from asking their weight and height (anonymously, of course!) and creating an online clothes model for them, to style preferences such as “casual” vs. “hip.”

Keep it fun, but relate it to your larger goals. While games and gimmicks are a cool way to lure visitors, retention suffers if they never take them to deeper information (or even bother to find out what they’re seeking).

On the other hand, something such as Victoria’s Secret’s online fashion show can be great publicity – provided your technology can handle the response. Your imagination is the limit. Let them draw a picture, dress a mannequin – go a little crazy.

More than any other form of marketing, interactive allows you to build relationships. Once you’re past the customer-courtship phase, concentrate on keeping the relationship fresh. Whether that means sending visitors targeted and helpful direct e-mail, greeting them personally each time they enter the site, or providing loyal customers with a mechanism for sending special offers to their friends and colleagues, it’s all built on encouraging them to interact with the site first. Of course, this is all based on what type of information each visitor is willing to submit. If they sense the information will be used in their best interests, they’ll bite.

Continuing the discussion by rewarding them for the effort makes the experience even more interactive and establishes your value. Even if it’s low cost to you (a newsletter, gift ideas, etc.), make it something that makes their lives easier. They’ll remember.

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