Each year, the business and technology-focused publication Fast Company releases a Most Innovative Companies list. The ratings approach the notion of innovation from a variety of different perspectives and angles, but all the companies on the list have one thing in common: They’re making tangible, visionary moves to step into the future, maybe even changing their industries –or the world –while they’re at it.
Some organizations are transforming their internal structures to create efficiencies and better serve their markets. Others are expanding on their offerings to respond to fresh demands no one else is addressing. Some are solving a clear problem in a unique and unanticipated way or solving a problem their users didn’t know they had until they were told … only to become addicted to the solution.
In the midst of all this inspiring innovation, however, there were two glaring omissions this year.
Social giants Facebook and Twitter failed to make the cut. Neither one merits a mention in 2013 –outside of a blunt piece that takes them to task for failing to be worth a mention.
And while their exclusion may come as a shock to readers who perceive social media companies as inherently innovative, Fast Company claims both Facebook and Twitter failed to focus on their long-term visions in favor of short-term projects and goals, a misstep that has frustrated their users and investors alike.
Twitter has come under fire for bowing too much to the immediate needs of its advertisers, with awkward new sponsored Tweets popping up with increasing regularity on Twitter’s web and mobile interfaces. Twitter is also the focus of contentious debates about real time marketing and “newsjacking” by brands (when companies insert marketing messages into high-buzz conversations in an effort to step into the spotlight that a particular event has created).
Facebook, on the other hand, has been buying up popular apps and services, ostensibly in an effort to borrow their audiences, buzz and perhaps even their goodwill. The most notable recent example of this, of course, was the acquisition the much-loved photo app/network, Instagram.
Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for Instagram to make an eerily Facebook-esque move to change its terms of service (until a massive social media backlash forced an about-face).
In contrast, the companies that did make the Most Innovative list have a consistent thread through their efforts: a combination of forward thinking and customer-centric service. Marketers who’ve spent time targeting their audiences on Facebook and Twitter need to look at these new kids on the block and the fresh opportunities they present.
I can see clearly now. Pinterest takes a common internet activity—browsing for inspiration, ideas and products online—and turns it into an eye-boggling community experience. Users “pin” images to “pinboards” using a special browser button.
Some images come from search engines, some come from retail sites, some come from magazine-style sites, and so on. Mostly, users find images by browsing through pinboards from other users, turning Pinterest into a massive “recommendation engine.” Sound like a waste of marketing time?
Not a chance—Pinterest users who click through pins to make a purchase spend more than twice the amount at retail locations compared to Twitterers. Oh, and Pinterest is in the top 50 visited on the web now, so you can count on that traffic.
And speaking of ways to snag great finds . . .
You’ve got the look. With the help of smart operations from ModCloth to Birchbox to Ahalife to StyleSeat, the way we’re buying fashion and beauty items is shifting. Sure, there are reliable brick-and-mortar stalwarts setting up shop on the web, but there are also a plethora of scrappy style startups connecting tastemakers to indie brands, beauty lines, practitioners, no-markup fashion sources, and more. By cutting out the middleman, elevating the custom experience and making it easy for users to recommend and share information about products, they’re making it easier for marketers everywhere to connect with their target audiences (even if you’re just gathering great promotional techniques).
With a rebel Yelp. Yes, you’ve heard of the social review site, Yelp, before: it has been around long enough to be an established titan on the scene. But fortunately, Yelp is not resting on its laurels. Yelp is working hard to make its reviews more accurate, relevant and helpful—and thus more valuable to users and businesses (and those who market for businesses) alike. In fact, a Harvard study claims that a single star rise in Yelp rating can account for a 5 – 9% rise in revenues! Try that with likes on Facebook.
I hope I’ve convinced you that when it comes to making creative marketing moves, it pays to check out the companies that are stretching boundaries, trying new things and opening up new opportunities for brands.
Facebook and Twitter held that spotlight for awhile, but it looks like they’ll have to up the ante and make another stride or two forward before Fast Company will pay attention again.