IT marketers need to get a grip on consumer-generated media

Last week I did a story for on IBM’s Public Image Monitoring software. The launch of the software, which enables organizations to track what’s being said about them in blogs, reviews, chat sites, podcasts and pretty much anything else you can imagine short of a person’s mind (that’s planned for the next version, no doubt), pretty much cements what we in the IT media and marketing business have suspected for some time now: we’re becoming irrelevant.

Or at least so it seems.

According to a recent Intelliweek study, consumers are increasingly more dependent on the opinions of their peers in order to make purchasing decisions, and increasingly less interested in what the media has to say. In fact, more than 50 per cent of those surveyed said consumer-generated media (CGM) shapes their viewpoints on products.

The industry has known for some time now the traditional methods of marketing – print, TV, radio and Internet advertising, along with media coverage and reviews – no longer holds the same sway with consumers.

But the traditional definition of consumers, which is clearly a distinct entity from the business purchaser, no longer holds either. We’re all consumers, according to Peter Blackshaw, chief marketing officer at Intelliseek, even if we’re buying servers or a fleet of desktops. We all Google whatever it is we’re looking at buying and we’re all influenced by what other users have to say in blogs or in online reviews, or by reports of poor customer service or whatever.

What does that mean for IT marketers? It’s hard to say, and anyone who pretends to hold the answer to that question probably also has a very nice bridge to sell. But there are some obvious implications.

For one thing, IT marketers have to find a way to harness the power of CGM. You can’t think that CGM only applies to gadgets like iPods and new cars. Today’s IT manager wants to know what other IT managers think of your products, and the reality is he or she is not likely to find that out by reading news coverage in trade magazines where a vendor’s PR agency has arranged for the journalist to speak to an approved customer who will say all the things you want to see. Consumers have accepted that particular fiction as fact for many years, but their patience has waned, it appears.

That’s as much of an issue for IT trade journalists as it is for IT vendors, because as consumer acceptance of such relationships declines, so does advertising, and eventually jobs.

In fact, I would venture to say that CGM’s impact has as much to do with the dearth of IT advertising these days as does the seemingly unending dotcom bust effect.

To be honest, I have no idea what the solution is and I don’t think anyone else does yet either. But it’s going to be up to us to figure it out pretty soon.

Kathleen Sibley is the editor of Technology in Government. 

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