I attended O’Reilly’s Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco of March 28-April 1 (approx. 2k attendees). The conference is billed as something that “showcases the latest Web 2.0 business models, development paradigms, products, and design strategies for the builders of the next-generation Web.” The conference was broken up into the following tracks and topics:

Tracks

Topics

Development

Analytics

Social Media

Browser

Marketing

Cloud

Strategy & Business Models

Enterprise

Product

HTML5

Big Ideas

Mobile

Performance

Startups

Real-Time

Findings/Summary

Most of the sessions I attended were in the development and social media tracks, though the topics ranged broadly. Out of the 40+ sessions, interviews, and talks I attended, I distilled a few key trends that wended through the conference:

HTML5 is the technology of the future for commerce. And it’s here now.

The conference contained a number of sessions that were specifically targeted to give web developers’ insight into the language and tools that will influence web development in the HTML5 era. Except that the HTML5 era is already here. Even though the specification is far from complete, all the major browsers are implementing HTML5. If your site doesn’t, it’ll look sooooo 1995. On top of that, talks about plug-ins for video and other technologies (notably Flash) were strong presences in the content, showing how they are viable and relevant in an HTML5 environment. Companies as diverse as eBay, ModCloth, and Zillow showcased new HTML5 features and experiences. The developers that were there were keen to know the details about HTML5 and what’s in store in the future. Tantek Celik offered two well-attended sessions about HTML5, Adobe provided a packed session with information about how they’re positioning Flash for HTML5, and as the editor of two of the specs that are grouped with HTML5, I ended up being pretty outspoken in one breakout session, Controversies of HTML5, also hosted by Tantek Celik.

Customers are already using social media to talk about, rate, and promote products. Ignoring this marketing segment is disastrous.

Especially in regard to discussions around a brand but applicable to any online presence, customers are chin-deep in social media. Whether through Yelp, Angie’s List, Facebook, your company’s customer comments on the webpage, Delicious, or any other number of resources, the world is already talking about you, your product, and your business. You need to—at the very least—listen to that conversation and—at best—steer the conversation toward the messaging you want out there. And once we decide that social media is the correct tool for a certain pillar, then the real work begins:

·         What's the organizational structure around community?

·         How do you begin to listen to what’s already being said about that brand/topic?

·         Can you understand what the community's talking about organically and without preconceived bias?

·         Who sets the editorial calendar for interaction?

·         Can you plan the editorial calendar far enough in advance and yet be nimble enough to handle sudden needs?

·         Do you disclose the individuals involved to the public?

·         What’s the blend of announcements to general schmoozing?

·         Who sets the rules for language and tone? How do they differ from “official” outlets?

Using objective metrics and other goal-setting criteria is critical to successful use of social media; however, finding good objective metrics is slippery at best and solipsistic at worst.

There was no question that there are many services available to chart metrics around social media. Laura Cooney’s talk and others highlighted some of the major players, and the point was driven home when it was announced—during the conference—that Salesforce.com had acquired Radian6. But there was considerable debate—in the sessions and in the hallways—about what those metrics can and should be used for. What is the correlation between followers and successful community management, for instance? Josh Elman, of Twitter, gave an apt analogy when he said that “If you don't get metrics right, you're like a leaky bucket, losing potential customers.” His recommendation—which was echoed by the majority of presenters—is that simple metrics yield simple results; fine-tuned metrics yield fine-tuned results. You really have to know the fine segments of your social media audience and track behaviors specific to them in order to be able to mine insightful data. (What’s happening with product X this week and what are the trending hashtags for customers 25-40 years old?) Trying to use broad metrics for social media is even worse than using broad metrics for web content. It’s as fallacious as saying, “I have a billion readers. My content must be good.”

Perhaps none of these themes will strike anyone as real news, but the near-religious zeal with which these tenets are being adopted and embraced should give us pause. The companies that participated are far from small or behind the curve. Attendees were from companies such as Microsoft, O'Reilly, Adobe, PayPal, ZD Net, FaceBook, Twitter, Modcloth, LinkedIn, Hipmunk, and Quora. To me, this conference was a startling admonition that not only are those of us already adopting HTML5 and social media on the right track in pursuing these facets of customer relations and communication, but that we need to continue to be the leaders in advocating both social media and HTML5. If we do not maintain a leadership role, others are poised to do so.