Do the great brands drive you to them or do the great brands put themselves everywhere?
The Web used to be about destination. Yahoo! quickly evolved from a search engine to a portal in the early days of the Web. AOL was picked up by Time Warner in 2000 because it was seen as the next generation of destination media. For years, the biggest players online were the destinations. As Social Media gained traction, it seemed like MySpace and Facebook were just the next generation (or next iteration) of the portal - with the big difference being that it wasn't about the edited content but rather about the connections that individuals have to one another.
There are some new, subtle changes happening.
When YouTube allowed anybody to grab any video and embed it into their own site, the world tilted just a little bit. It titled a little bit more when Facebook allowed people to put a "like" button next to anything and everything. It tilts just a little bit further now that Twitter is allowing people to put a Follow button wherever they like and as Google continues to evolve the +1 button. Instead of these brands creating destinations, they're uncoupling their functionality and spreading it far and wide.
It's a new way to look at things.
These buttons all seem fairly innocuous. The functionality is not all that innovative (prior to the Twitter follow button, it wasn't all that difficult for someone to have an icon on their website that linked to their Twitter profile). What's interesting is why these brands are uncoupling and allowing these little bits of functionality to roam free across the digital channels. Maybe Wired Magazine was right and that the Web is dead... as we know it. Perhaps these little transitions point us to a new world where each person has their own platform and it's made up of little buttons, tweets of content and this seamless flow of information that looks much more like an app than a highly commercialized website that is owned by some traditional mass media organization.
Uncoupling the small stuff may be the only way to get big.
There's a logic at play here for YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Google: if it's getting harder and harder to grow an audience by expecting them to come to us, we may be best served to let people do what they want to do - on whatever sites they want to be on - but let's ensure that our brand (and some of the functionality that comes along with it) is a part of the ride/experience. Simply put: if we can't push more people to our domains, let's get our stuff on their domains. The reason this is working so effectively for these brands is because people derive value from it... for now.
Share and share alike.
We (digital media folks) got very excited a while back about the "share this" button. The challenge we quickly discovered was unveiled in the web analytics. The majority of publishers don't see a ton of action from this button. There is both fatigue and too many choices. Imagine a Blog post with fifty different icons under it that allows anyone to tweet it, follow it, like it, +1 it, etc... This isn't an indictment on the recent moves of these brands to add functionality everywhere, it's a question of value that we're going to have to discover together as these brands continue to uncouple.
Is sharing too much of the same thing everywhere going to become annoying and overwhelming?