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The why, where and how of widgets

It seems like widgets are everywhere — on Web sites, on blogs, on Facebook — but how can you turn these portable applications into powerful marketing tools? Four experts weigh in.

Jim Calhoun
CEO, PopularMedia

Everybody is familiar with the con­cept of user-generated content. However, that trendy little catchphrase doesn’t really do justice to the marketing revolu­tion at hand.

It’s not so much about who generates the content, or even what the content is. The headline everyone seems to miss is that users are distributing content.

That’s a big concept that every mar­keter needs to grasp. User-distributed content is one of the biggest digital marketing opportunities to emerge since search advertising came on the scene. But getting users to distribute your content isn’t as easy as executing a search campaign. Your brand’s content needs to be fun and easy to share. That’s where widgets come in.

Widgets are posted on Web sites, social networking sites, or blogs — places where the reader shares a common interest with the author of the page. In this sense, widgets carry the power of a trusted referral or recommendation.

Think of widgets as digital conversa­tion starters. This is where strategy, restraint, finesse and fun come in to play. Figure out ways your brand can help people express themselves, and reinforce the bonds between the reader and the poster. Go easy on the hard sell. It just won’t work.

When marketing through social media, marketers need to understand new dynamics. There is a natural ten­sion between virality and monetization. When you buy media, you can pitch whatever you want to the audience — you paid for the privilege. But when you’re asking people to risk their social capital by sharing your brand or offer with personal connections, they don’t want to be perceived as “spammers”. Overtly commercial messages simply don’t fly.

Keep it fun to post, fun to find, easy to steal — and measure everything. That’s the recipe for success in the world of widgets.

To ensure viral success, keep your widgets fun and easy for users to share

Jeff Malkin
CEO, Razz Inc.

You can’t throw a virtual sheep with­out hitting a widget these days, but why have they become so ubiquitous?

For one, consumers are no longer just passive recipients of media. According to Adonomics, users have installed nearly 13,000 widgets approxi­mately 765 million times on Facebook alone, which shows a clear interest in this industry. With the growth of social networking sites, being a subtle sponsor of viral applications and widgets can be an effective method for promoting your brand.

But is a widget strategy right for your brand? It can certainly be an effective tool when aimed at the right audience, but could fail if the mindset of your targeted demographic is not taken into account. Most successful widget campaigns have been designed around humor and entertainment, and foster personalization. Utility-driven programs have had much less user adoption.

Once you’ve decided that you want widgets, define clear business goals. What does success mean for your com­pany and brand: number of downloads, daily usage, brand recognition? Defined metrics will help to measure success or areas for improvement.

Ideally, your widget concept will have core traits inherent to viral growth. In other words, successful widgets are passed from one friend to the next — not because users are told to, but because they want to share the experi­ence. If a branded application does make sense for your company, keep in mind what will appeal to your audience to further develop brand rec­ognition and user interaction.

There is a wealth of opportunity with widgets and branded applications, but don’t pursue unless it makes sense for your business. Without an effective plan and an understanding of your audi­ence’s likes and needs, chances are that instead of rising to the top of the bunch you will get lost in the crowd.

Widgets appeal to different groups, so you need to understand your audience

Michael Jones
CEO of Userplane and SVP of AOL

The portability of widgets is hugely appealing to marketers, offering a way to get the brand they’re pushing invited into consumers’ personal space — their Web sites, blogs or pages on social networking sites. There’s hardly a more intimate channel for interacting with your audiences.

Widget buzz is rampant, so here are some tips on how to do widgets well.

First, make the code for the widget easy to copy and integrate — so even your baby brother could do it. Frustrat­ed users won’t come back, so test your code in various environments before offering it to users. Remember that MySpace and other destinations may only accept Flash widgets, not traditional Javascript.

Also, make your widget engaging and personal. Successful widgets let the user do something either fun or practi­cal, whether it’s sharing pictures, a con­test or poll — anything and everything social. Offer your widget in various colors, sizes and shapes to appeal to the personalization desires and expectations of social media users.

Continually surprise your audience with something new. A single look, feel and function for a widget will wear out its welcome. Plan follow-on widgets or upgraded functionality, without forc­ing the user to change code. Make your widget part of a larger campaign, not a static event.

Finally, make the widget easy to pass along. Let people adopt the widget from someone else’s site without registration barriers. Offer rewards or incentives for people to pass it on. A “best of” widget works well in this capacity (aggregating the most interesting from your widget user base for others to showcase on their pages). Widgets don’t exist in a vacuum — build and engage in a community, keeping people interested.

Finally, push the envelope. Enable something your users couldn’t do before — or improve upon something they’re already doing.

Don’t wear out your widget welcome – continually surprise your audience

Chase McMichael
Founder and chairman, UnBound Technologies

Facebook currently features more than 24,000 mini applications, or widgets, that focus on everything from sharing political views to dating tips. Widgets have a unique capacity to reach people in a highly personal way. Smart marketers are learning that widgets are the Holy Grail for igniting viral one-to-one marketing campaigns.

Unlike broad-based database market­ing campaigns, next-generation “data-driven” widgets let marketers get much more granular — reaching, for example, not only affluent African-American males 25-50 years of age, but also hon­ing in on those with an affinity for hip hop music and even a particular artist.

There are plenty of ways to build widgets and push them out, ranging from geek-friendly tools to intuitive drag-and-drop widget creators. The chal­lenge for brand marketers is two-fold: to identify the content that will cause people to grab the widget and share it with their friends and to determine who to send the widget to.

Successful widget campaigns make it easy for the user to do something — register for an event, get tips on playing a game or create a video, for example. They also encourage people to share, creating a viral element. For example, voting-style widget campaigns, such as a brand-sponsored “best rap artist” con­test, encourage viral sharing as contes­tants ask friends to vote for them.

Once widgets go viral, they become a two-way communication mechanism that can be used to gather more informa­tion about the consumers who grabbed them and to distribute targeted content to them (making them “sticky”).

Technologies used to engage consum­ers through viral marketing campaigns are improving daily. Success lies in understanding what target audiences are into, so that the associated widget content and offering are stimulating and then identifying those connected individ­uals most likely to share the widget and become a new set of brand ambassadors.

Widgets let marketers “go granular” to target just the right audience

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