The Three Levels of the Web

Greg Lowe

May 25, 2012

Imagine a place where you can turn yourself into a cartoon character, act as a fashion critic for pets, endlessly pop bubble wrap, and feed the poor by answering trivia questions. What if I were to tell you that this place does indeed exist and that you are visiting it right now. No, it’s not some NyQuil-induced dream world or even a parallel dimension. It’s the Internet and it’s a pretty crazy place.

As a society, we’ve taken to assigning proper names to this place – Internet, World Wide Web, and Information Super Highway. We even give these names capital letters as if “Internet” were a quaint little town in southern Nebraska – monolithic and easy to understand. But, in reality, the Internet isn’t much of one, single place at all. Instead, it’s an ever growing and constantly evolving assortment of diverse places. It’s a vast collection of platforms, an endless stream of information, a bizarre twist of everything that’s ever interested anyone. The diversity of information, activities, and opportunities on the Internet is enough to occupy several lifetimes of aimless browsing.

Still, too many marketers continue to treat the Internet as a singular, monolithic place. They speak of “Internet Marketing” as a simple, straightforward process, as if they were peddling a product to the captive residents of rural Lancaster County. If you’re trying to accomplish anything in the land of the Internet, you must stop thinking of it as a single, homogenous place. You must recognize that there are distinct segments of the Internet where users seek different types of information and act in different ways.

Given what we’ve just discussed, any effort to segment the Internet into neat compartments will ultimately be an exercise in oversimplification. Nevertheless, it is much more useful to think of the Web, or at least its most commonly used elements, as consisting of three separate and distinct levels—Consumption Level, Credibility Level, and Conversation Level.

Companies should behave differently on each level of the Web in order to mirror the information that users are seeking on those levels. On the Conversation Level, which includes Facebook and Twitter, companies should use sophisticated tools to monitor the buzz surrounding their products or services and should respond, where appropriate, with interactions of value for the customer. On the Credibility Level, which includes YouTube and blogs, companies should produce valuable and professional content that legitimizes their organizations and lends credibility to their names. The activity on these two levels of the Web should steer users to the Consumption Level, including the websites of companies, where users can purchase products and services.

Segmenting the Web into these three distinct segments can help to simplify the otherwise overwhelming Internet into an approachable medium for advertising and promotion. More importantly, it can guide the way that your company behaves, communicates, and interacts on individual Web platforms. So whenever you’re finished popping virtual bubble wrap, start thinking of ways in which your business can improve its presence on each of the Web’s three levels. Chances are, both you and your cartoon self will be glad you did.