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As a follow-up to “The Shrinking Divide Between Media and Communication” (yeah, the post is all about Web 2.0, and the Web 2.0 bubble is probably about to burst but one thing at a time here, okay??), today we’re going to look at a quick round-up of five Internet trends to watch for in 2009, and how to apply them to your business to stay ahead of the curve in the new year.

Without further ado, let’s begin our countdown!

1)    The Rise of Local Search

With smart phones everywhere and more and more people relying on mobile GPS to find their way around town – whether to grab a bite, see a movie, or hit the dance floor, local search is becoming the smart way to get your business in front of the right consumer – one who is actively searching for your business, products, and services – and the renewed focus placed on geo-targeting by major search engines proves that.

As consumer spending continues to dwindle, what can small businesses like dry cleaners, hair salons, and specialty retailers do to compete? Advertise in the search engines and target customers in your area. It’s that simple. With less people willing to spend and more people spending less, your primary goal during times like these is to get customers to your establishment, rather than the competitions – but they have to know how to find you first.

2)    The Prevalence of Online Video

YouTube is old (but still good) news, Hulu’s popularity is on the rise, and marketers have expressed a renewed interest in viral video as a way to compete in a saturated market experiencing a decline in demand. The idea here is to have a purpose. If you can figure out ways to help your clientele, or at least engage them, you’ll be far better off – and if you can engage them over time, you’ll benefit.

A smart way for small businesses to incorporate online video into their website is to get their customer involved. If you want to build some loyalty to your brand, get customers to help you do that! There are few better ways to connect with clients or customers than by getting happy ones to speak on your behalf.

3)    Creative Reigns Supreme

At many companies, marketing budgets are one of the first to get slashed during times of economic scarcity, but smart companies will take heed before getting rid of one of the most important elements of any successful online venture. In the absence of a live sales person, storefront, or customer service rep, striking creative is what differentiates you from the competition and makes people want to give you their money.  If your website lacks good design, consistent messaging, or an overall sense of unity, oops. People won’t understand, and they will take their business elsewhere, to a competitor who knows how to shine.

Don’t get intimidated by businesses with larger marketing budgets or more experience advertising online. As long as you have innovative thinkers on your team and the resources to make your vision a reality, sit in a room with your best creative minds and brainstorm. Toss around ideas, and don’t be afraid to look silly. The most unlikely ideas are often the ones that end up making money, so stay open-minded.

4)    A More Personal Web

This is a no-brainer. If you haven’t noticed the trend towards personalizing the online user experience (see iGoogle, LastFM, etc.), you’re living under a rock. That or your business has done so well you’ve retired and moved to the South of France. For all others, pay attention: web users and clients (and humans in general) want to feel special. Make that your goal this coming year.

While applying the personalization trend to your business’ online presence requires some serious innovation, the overall absence of personalized client experiences on the web will make the smallest touch seem like you’ve written a sonata in their honor. Give your clients and customers access to an Intranet if you haven’t already. Ask them to install an app (not a cookie – they get cleared) on their system that personalizes your website based on their preferences and profile.

5)    User-Generated Content

“Omg, that’s so five years ago!” Sorta. The idea here is to take the YouTube phenomenon and apply it to your business model. As discussed in #3 above, clients and customers are your best sales tool, and as long as you are doing a good job, you should be able to harness those success stories into user-generated advertisements.  The great thing about this tactic is transparency – you don’t have to spin a tangled web of half-truths to get a happy customer on board to blog for you, write an article or testimonial, participate in a case-study, or produce a video sharing the ways in which your company has helped theirs succeed.

It might seem scary to approach your bread-and-butter with a request for a favor, but you’d be surprised how willing people are to go out their way to say ‘Thank you’ for a job well done. Don’t be shy. Find one or two enthusiastic, friendly, and psychologically astute people on your team to approach your clients and customers and ask them to create content for your website. For those daring enough, you may even want to create a vertical web property where clients share their experiences by creating authentic content.

Hope you enjoyed these 5 tips! See you next time!


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