What Does The Expansion Of Digital Identities Mean For The Future Of Online Businesses?

At one point, it had become far too easy for people to tune out advertisers and ignore brand building efforts into which millions of dollars were invested. All they had to do was switch channels. But today, with social media and all the other platforms that the internet offers us, businesses have begun to engage with customers in ways that are enjoyable to them.

Traditional brands, whose demise was being predicted, rose up to the digital challenge and are keeping their businesses alive. The Print Media is a classic example of this. The New York Times just launched its Paywall system through iPad, to increase revenue through its online subscribers. It has spread its digital wings in many innovative ways. Now, a brand that I used to connect with, for a few hours in the morning and didn’t think about after, goes with me wherever I go. I check my twitter feeds every hour and NYT is there with something new for me, I subscribe to the NYT channel on Youtube and watch at least a video everyday featuring their extraordinary film critics or journalists. 

Booking some Facebook time 

In an interview with Business Insider in the year 2010, Mark Zuckerberg said, “Everyone has an identity that they want to express and friends and family that they wanna stay connected with. And it has grown from that original six-thousand-person student body to more than and friends and family that they wanna stay connected with. And it has grown from that original six-thousand-person student body to more than 250 million people across the world.” Online media like Facebook, with some 500 million active users, is an unprecedented opportunity for marketers. They help you engage with people in ways that was never thought possible before.

I found Target’s 2010 Facebook charity campaign particularly exciting. What they did was this: Through an online Facebook contest, Target allowed Facebook users to vote for a charity of their choice. They created a Facebook App called “Super Love Sender” and the idea went viral, Target donated 1 million to a charity chosen by a majority of Facebook users. They were probably giving that 1 million away anyway as part of their Corporate Responsibility Program, only now millions of people were talking about it.

Digital Identities, at one point, was thought to be all about setting up a website; ‘increase/leverage your web presence’, they liked to call it back in the day, circa 2006. But then came Blogging, Youtube, Web Applications, Social Media, the iPhone and the world of digital possibilities for businesses simply exploded. 

iPhone Applications can offer a boost to your digital identity. For instance, Barnes & Noble is one of my favourite bookstores and I began to use their site online to order books from.

Just when I was thinking about going in for the Kindle reader, Barnes & Noble announced its new iPhone application! Now I can read 2 million books on my iPhone and support the bookstore I grew up buying books at. 

Stay alive online… forever

To me, the Amazon/Barnes & Noble example is an interesting debate in what digital identities can do for traditional businesses that are competing with new, often aggressive, online businesses. A clever extension of your digital identity can help your market share grow even in the face of stiff competition in the online world from ‘upstarts.’

It is no doubt that a vast majority of digital tools emerged, or were created to build personal digital identities. Like Facebook, as the film ‘Social Networking’ has widely popularised, was created to help young college students find dates and network, Youtube was a platform for dorky youngsters to upload and share their videos online (as it turned there’s dorky youngster in all of us!), blogging was all about self-expression, all these digital tools have turned into rich, vibrant opportunities for marketers.

As I see it, it is also a way to engage with the customer like never before. For example, customer feedback was obtained through either email or the phone before, now, while updating my status on Facebook, I could just go to say, the Dominoes Fan Page and tell them they suck.

Dominoes’ ‘The Pizza Turn Around’ campaign last year was all about listening to customer feedback and creating a brand new Pizza. I requested for a crunchier Pizza base and now, I like the new pizza, so I went back a few days ago to the fan page and wrote on the wall, ‘Hey guys, your new Pizza rocks!’ All this, while uploading pictures of last night’s Pizza and Beer party on my Facebook profile.

Making the crowd work  

Crowdsourcing has turned the online world into more than just a place for your business to establish its digital Identity, acquire customers or manage customer relationships. With online discussion forums, Q&A webpages like Wiki Answers or YahooAnswers, people were already leveraging the vast pool of intellectual and creative talent that the internet offers in the form of its users. Businesses went ahead and used this as an opportunity. Many have questioned if Crowdsourcing is effective for customer service, and the jury is still out of that one. But one form of Crowdsourcing that I see working is ‘Ideasgora’, essentially the combination of ‘Ideas’ and ‘Agora’ which means the market place in Greek. Here, by using crowdsourcing, companies can get their customers, potential customers and just the digital-world-at-large to design or conceptualize a product for them. 

The BMW Innovations Lab is attempting to better its telematics, online services and driver assistance systems through crowdsourcing, users visit the website, sign into the BMW innovation Lab page and tell the company exactly how they should do this. Netflix threw open a challenge for groups to improve the the accuracy of predictions about how much someone is going to enjoy a movie based on their movie preferences. In 2009, they gave away $1M dollars to a group of users who created the “BellKor’s Pragmatic Chaos”.So, if you’re amazed by how Netflix knows what you want to see next so well, you have crowdsourcing to thank!

I think digital identity has long outgrown its standard definition, which is an electronic representation of a real-world entity. What do you think should be the new definition? Or is there a new term altogether for what businesses are doing online these days?