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Don't Believe the Digital Hype (at least not all of it)

Posted on 5.31.2013

The Web is definitely bigger and certainly a heck of a lot faster than when I started out as a newbie Web worker nearly 15 years ago. Somehow, however, it feels as if it’s a less meaningful experience and (certainly) at times, a less honest one. Perhaps it’s the development of a more cynical side of me, but I don’t believe the hype.

I’m still surprised, of course, at how creative and intelligent people can be. I’m dazzled, captivated, engaged and, sometimes, even energized by brands large and small and the information, data and products they create and publish that answer and solve complex questions.

With the “real-time” nature of the Web, however, even digital media veterans are easily distracted. Perhaps the dial-up speeds of the past provided an opportunity for users and Web workers to collect their thoughts between page loads, resulting in fewer bad decisions, more conscientious communication and thoughtful analysis. So why, even with greater access to information and more powerful technology, are we still quick to believe the digital hype? It can take many forms, be it a specific traffic source that always provides a good experience for advertisers, or that certain types of software can consistently provide a positive and more engaging experience for users or increase efficiency.

It seems, at least from my vantage point, that Web and digital media workers spend far less time focusing on whether we’re having genuine, meaningful interactions, or if the information and products we consume and experience are rooted in little more than hype. The demand for immediate results makes it easy to believe what’s in front of us, but Internet professionals need to analyze the information and data to know for sure that the decisions they make today are the right ones for their enterprises tomorrow.

I cut my digital teeth in some aggressive topic forums and message boards back in the digital day. What I learned from spending my Internet time in and around those virtual places was that brands and individuals were rewarded most (more loyalty, more engagement and, seemingly, more conversions) when their participation was genuine and meaningful, honest and transparent. But it’s not enough just to avoid advocating the hype (as a publisher or marketer); to be successful, you also must refrain from believing it.

The performance marketing space has always been one that the entire Web seems to look down its virtual nose at and sometimes for good reason. While the vast majority of affiliate marketers are fine, upstanding Internet professionals, there remain a few that continue to abuse the model. Two well-known affiliates (Shawn Hogan and Brian Dunning), who eBay is claiming bilked them out of millions of dollars using nefarious tactics like cookie stuffing, are the latest accused perpetrators of fraud in the performance marketing space.

But where were the advertisers? Were they too busy buying into the hype and inflated promises of “quality,” calmed by the sufficient volume of clicks and the occasional conversion, to notice that they might have been the victims of fraud? Did they buy into the hype?

Today, thanks to all those edgy real-time technologies, brands and users alike, are drawn more toward the quick click and the quick buck than the involved experience and the slow and hard-earned dollar. They shun involved communication, opting for self-directed Q&A and support desk platforms. While there’s no denying these systems save money, and users are having positive experiences with them, there still seems to be less true engagement now, and as a result, there is less trust and loyalty. Without trust and loyalty, what hope do you have of ever obtaining a conversion?

We’re mesmerized now by each meme from across the Web, each new software offering and website metric, but they don’t always move us, our campaigns, our projects and our enterprises forward. Do you create and publish meaningful experiences, or simply more and faster experiences? Take time to question the information and data you receive, and you’ll avoid the hype and the negative consequences of it, and position your digital enterprise for success.

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