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Get Folksy With Folksonomies

Steve Rubel
Expert Author
Published: 2005-01-16

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One of the most important social media trends to watch this year is the increasing influence of tags, also known as folksonomies.

According to Wikipedia, folksonomy is the collaborative categorization of user-generated content using simple tags. Folksonomies are wildly popular on Flickr, a photo sharing site, and on del.icio.us, a social bookmark site. However, it doesn't end there.

Technoratitags_1Increasingly you will see many sites adopt tags to create more structure around user-generated content. Just this week, Technorati launched a tagging mechanism for blogs. Here's their Apple tag, for example. In the months ahead I bet we will see other sites - including open source news sites like OhMyNews, mainstream news sites and even wikis - incorporating tag structures. For more on folksonomies, read Adam Mathes' terrific paper on the subject.

Folksonomies present both a threat and an opportunity for marketers. Tags make it easy for consumers to share and discover user-generated content in the subjects they are passionate about. On the downside, I predict that this year at least one company will watch in horror as its top-secret, stealth product shows up on Flickr, thanks to the handiwork of an ambitious moblogger. And there will be little they can do but watch.

Although tags are far from perfect (they generate a lot of false/positives), you should nevertheless be using them to keep your finger on the pulse of the American public. Right now, at a minimum, you should be monitoring your company/brand tags on Flickr as well as your competitors' folksonomies. I wrote about this last week. Jeremy Zawodny smartly advised marketers to take in del.icio.us as well. Good advice.

Although it's natural to view folksonomies as insignificant or even a threat, they hold tremendous potential as well. For example, you can use them to get some early buzz going around your product/service before it officially debuts by planting links and/or photos on these sites. However, be careful. While some praise this approach, others criticize it. In addition, tags also make it easier to find your true customer evangelists.

Regardless of whether you view folksonomies as a threat or an opportunity, they are here to stay. I am going to be blogging about this topic throughout the year so I have created a new category on my blog and also set up a PubSub subscription as well.

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About the Author:
Steve Rubel is a PR strategist with nearly 16 years of public relations, marketing, journalism and communications experience. He currently serves as a Senior Vice President with Edelman, the largest independent global PR firm.

He authors the Micro Persuasion weblog, which tracks how blogs and participatory journalism are changing the public relations practice.

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