The only secret of Web 2.0 marketing you’ll ever need

For as long as the term “Web 2.0” has existed, I have resisted using it. My reason? I’ve repeated it often: When a term means anything, it means nothing. And for as long as it has existed, Web 2.0 has meant whatever was trendy during that period of time. The only thing that all those who have used it can agree on is this: Web 2.0 is not like those startups that tanked back in 2000.

Here’s the only secret
you need to know:
The web is a place where
people with shared passions
form communities
around those passions.

To show you how difficult-to-define the term continues to remain even at the end of 2008, a huge section-heading article appears in the Wall Street Journal (and today called, “The Secrets of Marketing in a Web 2.0 World.” However, before getting two paragraphs into the story, the writers had to insert this caveat:

“But first, a more basic question: What is Web 2.0, anyway? Essentially, it encompasses the set of tools that allow people to build social and business connections, share information and collaborate on projects online. That includes blogs, wikis, social-networking sites and other online communities, and virtual worlds.

OK. Read back through that and tell me again: Why is there a 2.0 behind the word Web? That’s not Web 2.0. That’s the Web. There was a time when I would have continued this rant and pointed out that everything that is in that definition was around long before many of those words we now use to describe them were first uttered.

However, I’ve stopped that type of rant. Why? Well, one is simply a marketing decision. At Hammock Inc. my colleagues and I are in the business of helping clients build stronger relationships with their members and customers. We help our clients use traditional media like magazines and new media like everything mentioned in the Wall Street Journal’s list. We help clients understand blogs and build wikis and online communities and share information.

If potential clients would like to call these things Web 2.0, then I’m happy to call them that, also. If they want to call them social media, that’s fine also. If they want to say social networking or, my favorite, conversational media, then any of those work for me. If they want to call them, “all that crazy stuff on the web,” then ditto.

In other words, if the Wall Street Journal wants to write a giant story about the need for companies to get a clue about Web 2.0 marketing, I’m here to say that I run a company that is in the business of helping marketers do just that. Call me. Let’s talk.

However, my real point is this: It’s not about the tools nor is it about any “secrets” that are listed in the Wall Street Journal today. All of these technologies are merely platforms where people — real live human beings — can express themselves in all of the nuanced and chaotic ways we do in the real world. But today, we can all do it with thousands more people in real-time.

The only thing different today is that these platforms and networks of expression, knowledge and connections take away the comfortable myth marketers used to have that customers are not people, but metrics with names like reach, frequency, eyeballs, click-throughs, ratings points, etc. Communicating with real people who have a platform is not something one used to learn in college (they do now, but not in the classroom) or on-the-job. It’s scary for the kind of people who read the Wall Street Journal.

Here’s something I know as a fact: You’ll never learn the secrets of Web 2.0 marketing by reading an article. Or a web post. Or a thousand articles and web posts. Of course, you know that. Because you know that you can’t learn how to drive a tee shot like Tiger Woods by reading a thousand articles.

The web — and all those things the WSJ today calls Web 2.0 marketing — are about a place you cannot learn by reading, researching, analyzing or lurking. You’ve got to go live there. You’ve got to participate. You’ve got to try and be willing to fail. You’ve got to learn how to talk without using metrics.

The web is a place where people with passions form communities around those passions.

Don’t think you’re going to impress them by creating your own communities. Go live there, among their communities.

That’s the secret. Now go drive a tee-shot.