The rise of the expressive web

As a living thing powered by billions of people, the web is constantly evolving and currently one thing above all others is emerging. It’s a trend we’ve been talking about with clients for a while, it’s the rise of what we’re calling the expressive web.

According Techcrunch, Pinterest just hit 11.7 million unique monthly U.S. visitors, crossing the 10 million mark faster than any other standalone site in history. It is one of the top 10 social media sites in the world.

Sites like Pinterest, apps like Instagram and Foodspotting are challenging original titans of the web like Flickr and Youtube in a serious way. They’re offering an altogether more sensual and collaborative type of social platform that provides people with greater opportunity to express themselves, in new ways, that’s proving highly attractive.

Four main drivers are powering this shift.

1. The expressive web creates extra value
We’ve laid the basic groundwork of the web, basic communication’s a threshold, so what now? Reveling in the sensuality of rich, interactive content feeds into a basic Maslow desire for advanced self-expression. Increasingly people are finding their voice, that voice is creative and wants to be expressed.

Smart brands will enable this and make it part of their culture. We see this in the general shift towards co-creation, too. As the web becomes more democratic, its users also want to become more compelling by seeking out and adopting content platforms that are built on co-created expression.

2. Masses of data makes socially powered curation attractive
Two years ago when we were saying to brand managers that brands of the future will need to be good at curation, many of them didn’t understand what we were saying. Now, reputations can be rapidly built, and brand associations can be recast by good curation skills. Curation as a sense-making skill is only going to increase in demand. Platforms like Pinterest, and Storify that make it easy are becoming big winners because of this.

3. Rich content contains more information
Ever since the logo was identified as a cool shorthand, a body of scientific evidence’s been amassed about how much information is conveyed by ‘the pretties’. Analytic types may gasp, but a good image contains substantially more information than the equivalent in words or numbers (up to 20 times more information in fact) which goes some way to explaining the popularity of the infographic.

Interactive features, responsive web design, sound effects all create what we’d call a ‘visceral’ reaction. A moment of interactivity that fires synpases has engagement potential and is also expressive.

So while words will always be around, the web’s giving us a whole new way of communicating in cool shorthands and it this has big implications for information architects and content managers.

4. Doing a job is harder these days, being expressive’s an antidote
In fact, 225m people in Europe don’t have a job at all. Those that do have full plates and can be pretty stressed out. It’s a sideways issue perhaps, but the expressive web is providing an alternative to traditional spoon-fed entertainment that enables escapism and self-discovery in ways which are just as highly accessible but where the user is in control.

The expressive web is therapy. It generates ideas and sparks the imagination. Another reason that explains people are taking to it in such numbers.

For marketers this is a very big deal. It’s a signal that, thanks to the social web, the essential nature of communication is taking a turn and it’s demonstrating how the quality of the co-created user-experiences becoming key performance indicators.

IBM’s Global CMO Study shows around 70% of chief marketing officers are unprepared for the explosion in data and the social web that the expressive web intersects. Many of them are in organizations with legacy structures finding it hard to turn around the way they do things.

As sites like Pinterest show, the expressive web has just ramped up the communication challenge a notch. It’s making it even more important that communication isn’t being seen as boring or difficult to use. It’s asking marketers to think about the way they define and serve up content in a fundamentally different way.

The expressive, artistic, web is the high touch equal-and-opposite to high tech functionality. It was never not going to happen. Are we prepared to make the most of it?

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