Quite a bit of buzz has popped up around the new Skittles.com over the weekend and today. If you haven't seen the site, it's based on leveraging different social-media sites linked together by a very simple menu navigation that floats on any of the sites. For example, the home page and "chatter" section is the brand's Twitter page, the video media page is the brand's YouTube page, the video images page is the brand's Flickr stream, and the "friends" section is the Facebook fan-page profile.
This is almost certainly inspired by Modernista's brilliant redesign from about a year ago. Does that matter? Definitely not. Modernista had it right then and now Skittles does too. Skittles has unabashedly made the bold leap into accepting they can't control the way their brand is defined in today's social web and can only try their best to participate in the conversation. They're taking the good with the bad, and I can assure you all that good is going to dramatically outweigh the bad.
If you want an easy indicator of how this site does, check out the number of Facebook friends it already has in place (an impressive 582,604 at the time of this post). Other measurements, such as the number of comments it has on its YouTube videos and images, and general comments and sentiments can also be helpful indicators, but I think the Facebook figure serves at the simplest indicator for most casual observers.
The reality is, Skittles has done this completely right. This solution was quick to produce, leverages existing communities that have great interest in the product and creates a platform that further engages the consumer. I would recommend any brand with minimal budget and the right kind of audience drop the brand sites they currently have, which I'm guessing aren't terribly effective. The problem is that such a scenario raises an interesting dilemma.
What happens if everyone shifts their current strategy and starts launching these kinds of sites? Don't worry -- it isn't going to happen anytime soon, but some trends will develop.
In a nutshell, I think the novelty will wear off for a lot of consumers. These people certainly want their social media and a big part of a brand's focus will be on creating great quality websites that encourage discussion, communication and participation. The social-media aspects will be achieved by using the web services and integration tools of sites like Facebook. Deep integration with Facebook Connect and Google Friend Connect will become more prevalent and brands with budgets will use all of these social features that Skittles has embraced.
However, while social aspects will become more prevalent, brands will keep in mind that consumers also like their sites to be nicely packaged. Moving forward, businesses will create sites with a far higher level of aesthetic value and will work to make sure they retain the ability to at least control the brand visually. They will also differentiate as they always have with great creative and fun concepts that leverage these same social communities. Sites will also be more conscious of usability and not adding complex layers that inhibit the social functions of the third party web services like Flickr, YouTube or Twitter -- which are frequently botched today.
I don't think the age of the microsite is over. The successful microsites, both low and high budget, will undoubtedly have one thing in common: a simple open infrastructure for integrating into popular web communities and leveraging their social nature.
Again, I commend Agency.com for paying attention to great ideas, Modernista for doing it first, but most importantly Skittle's brand team for having the courage to get out there and embrace the web and the new creative process so wholeheartedly. (Of course, Team Skittles could be terrified to death. But, um, congrats anyway...)~ ~ ~
Freddie Laker is the director of digital strategy at Sapient. He has also founded the Society of Digital Agencies, a collective of notable digital agencies focused on thought leadership and positive industry change, and blogs at takemetoyourleader.com.