Next week, on Debugging With The Stars...

We spend a lot of time here at Forrester studying the effects that both Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 have had on marketing and sales. Seems that, with a wealth of resources on the web (discussion forums, blogs, you name it) outside of the control of corporate marketing, companies now have to adjust to the reality that people are talking about you, whether you like it or not. Best to understand these discussions, both as a source of market intelligence, and as a vehicle for getting the word out about your products and services.

The one-way medium
Television has undergone a similar transformation. Back when I was a lad, TV was a one-way medium. You had few choices: only three networks, a handful of local stations, and you watched whatever they happened to be broadcasting at the moment.

Similarly, there was a time when the technology industry felt more like a one-way medium. Vendors felt that they created value (hardware and software), and then transmitted it to the awaiting audience. Companies restricted the communication, as much as possible, to their own sales and marketing channels.

The n-way medium
Today, "television" encompasses a lot more than just what happens to be on the air at this particular moment. We have a lot of choices about when we watch programs, through DVRs, DVDs, on demand transmission, and Web-based viewing.

Just as importantly, we have a lot more information to guide our choices of what we watch. In the old days, we just had the brief blurb in TV Guide, written solely to entice us to watch. Today, we have reviews galore, on fan sites, Amazon.com, and even the official network sites.

We can try before we buy, watching clips on both official sites and YouTube. And, once unthinkable, we can watch entire episodes of TV shows on Hulu and other sites.

All of this works to the benefit of the TV content producers. Social networking, for example, has helped the spread the Twilight craze across the Facebook and MySpace pages that many potential viewers frequent. Web 2.0 also provides built-in market feedback mechanisms, such as Joss Whedon's ongoing, web-based discussion with Buffy fans while the show was still in production.

Growing pains
Of course, the networks didn't embrace this new reality easily. NBC, for example, struggled with the idea of selling their content through someone else's distribution channel, iTunes. The network still feels threatened by two-minute clips on YouTube, instead of seeing them as teasers for advertising-supported or for-pay content available elsewhere.

Still, even NBC has accepted the new reality. Now, you can watch The Office through Hulu, your DVD player, or your Tivo box.

So, too, technology companies are adapting to the new reality--albeit often slowly, begrudgingly, and imperfectly. The big question we hear is, "How do we use this new medium?" The answers, of course, are beyond the scope of this blog post, but there are field-tested ways for "social marketing" to succeed in the Web 2.0 world

Of course, you'll have to acknowledge the new realities. Prospects will want to try before they buy. People are already sharing their experiences with your technology without your permission. Some of the best marketing will happen somewhere other than your own web site, even if you add blogs and social networking features to it, in some reflexive nod to Web 2.0.

Take heart, technology companies. We're now living in the Golden Age of television, when shows like Mad Men and The Wire are orders of magnitude better than nearly anything you'll see in a movie theater. And even if those aren't to your taste, chances are you'll find something else, from CSI to Top Chef, that's definitely worth your consideration. That's the language of consumer confidence that exists because of the changes in the TV market, not in spite of them.