Get Off the Highway

Exit to Downtown Tampa on I-275 northbound
Image by Silvar

“…the information superhighway… will link everyone at home or office to everything else—movies and television shows, shopping services, electronic mail and huge collections of data.” New York Times, 1993

Yes, communities and conversations are missing, but it was a pretty dead-on prediction. Two decades later the dream has become a reality, including Hulu, massive shopping sites like Amazon, wikis and yes, social networks connecting them all. Millions of people have developed an “information highway system” that is quite amazing.

At the heart of this system is the interstates, massive social networks with tens of millions, even hundreds of millions of people, providing billions of links — exits if you would — to destinations throughout the internet. But contrary to the memes of the day, these interstates like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are not the destination. You have to get off the highway to engage on a deeper level and build a community.

Perhaps the metaphor is unfair. Certainly there are great groups, fan pages and communities on Facebook (perhaps the I-95 of the social world), Twitter and LinkedIn. Yet in the end, their streams end up being link referral networks to outbound destinations.

Invariably, no one lives on the interstate, and rarely do they eat at the rest stop. They leave to do things. They exit to a read blog, play an application, see a video, participate in a community, read a web or news site, or even to go search. Either that, or they eat bad food (ah yes, those rest stops. Cracker Barrel, woo hoo!).

Consider that the top medical site in the healthcare sector is WebMD. Newspapers? New York Times or the Wall Street Journal, anyone? If you want PR or advertising data you go to the PRSA, AdAge, or a plethora of great blogs. Parenting sites like BlogHer, etc. have a leading share of their audience. Over and over again, no matter the interest or profession sooner or later one must exit the Interstate and get onto local roads to find what they want.

“Mass social media” approaches that are completely Facebook, Twitter and/or LinkedIn centric fail in that sense. While these networks are almost necessary from a participation standpoint, differentiation from them with a unique content offering for interested stakeholders remains the way to carve off a unique brand presence. It’s back to the Origin of Brands theory and owning a special part of an idea market that resonates with your community.

Communicators should keep in mind that they still want to be a destination. Without their own site and ability to converse with and engage stakeholders, they miss the opportunity to build community, strengthen search, and create calls to actions for ROI purposes.

10 thoughts on “Get Off the Highway

  1. This is a valuable post at a time when brands are seriously discussing transferring budget and focus to social networking sites like Facebook. Or even forgoing a website for a Facebook page. How people can forget the potential downfall of NOT creating strategy that positions their site, bog or community as the end destination escapes me. Your post provides a timely reminder.

    • Isn’t this AOL all over again? Hope you had a fantastic weekend. Thanks for your comment and your readership.

  2. Considering the internet and the interstate highway were each built in response to the Soviet launch of Sputnik, more observations should be made comparing one with the other. Your logic that a business devoting all attention to one website is no different than traveling the entire length of the highway at the same speed. Variance is important to avoid boredom and being passed.

    • Good point. And if you don’t vary and develop, what was fresh and new becomes stale. Hope you had a great weekend, Ari.

  3. A) great post. B) My son (he’s 12) is reading over my shoulder and saw Cracker Barrel and wants to know if you like Cracker Barrel or not. He’s obesesed with Cracker Barrel ;) (and c, thanks for the link love to my post on Socialfishing!)

  4. Geoff –

    Yes, sometimes the side roads bring the most value. Speaking of getting off the highway .. do you remember the idea I told you about 2 years ago ..a social content destination for single women 40+? Finally launched it .. ironically on Valentine’s Day .. All The Single Girlfriends. We have over 20 Gf (girlfriends) who are sharing slice of life girlfriend-to-girlfriend talk. We’ll see where the road takes us .. but already it’s turned into quite an adventure!

    • That’s fantastic news, Toby! This is what it’s all about. I love it when conversations go into a deeper, more relational bond. I am sure there will be great adventures ahead.

  5. Great points Geoff. Facebook and Twitter have their place, but they are merely diversions from where you’re really going. I had a conversation last week where the business owner was complaining about people being stuck on Facebook and never exiting to go to his site. When probed about what is different about his site than Facebook, he said he replicates all content there, making his site a wasteland for accidental visitors who find him via search. Big mistake in my opinion.

    • No doubt! If you don’t give them something to come to your site for why would they come at all? It’s like hitting the Cracker Barrel on Main St. instead of the rest stop. Great example, Phil. Hope you are doing well.

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