Web 2.0

Over the past several years, the World Wide Web has experienced a fundamental change – characterized by a shift away from static web pages, and toward online communities centered around dynamic, shareable content and social media.

The revolution has yielded tremendous business benefits. McKinsey & Company's recent survey of nearly 1,700 businesses has shown that Web 2.0 technologies can lead to increased communication and productivity, more successful marketing strategies, and even better products. In fact, 69% of respondents reported measurable benefits in these areas, as well as gaining better access to knowledge, lowering the cost of doing business, and producing higher revenues.

But while the benefits of using Web 2.0 are clear, determining how your company can achieve them may not be. To help your organization maximize the impact of its Web 2.0 initiatives, try incorporating some of these best practices:

Establish a presence on social networking sites. Leverage the resources and massive audiences of established social media sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace. Since there is no cost at all involved, it's one of the simplest and cheapest ways to become involved in Web 2.0. By starting a group within one of these sites, you can easily create a central place for customers, partners and friends to participate in conversations about your brand.

Build on points of enthusiasm. To be successful, your Web 2.0 efforts should be driven by users' needs, interests and passions. Find out what excites your customers and then build your community around that point of enthusiasm. Keep in mind that your customers' passions may not be your products or services themselves, but rather what those products/services enable your customers to do.

Move beyond e-mail marketing and SEO to drive web traffic. Take advantage of social media tactics like creating a presence on social media websites, posting content to third party sites, and commenting on blogs to drive traffic to your website. Appoint a "Chief Conversation Officer” who follows online conversations about your brand, monitors Twitter and Google Alerts, and comments on key blogs. Engaging in these practices will ensure your initiatives have the personal feel social media needs to be most effective.

Maximize your blog. Follow these rules of thumb to enhance your blog's effectiveness:
  1. Plan ahead and post regularly (at least a few times a week).
  2. Incorporate breaking news to keep the blog original and fresh.
  3. Be yourself on the blog and emphasize the human side of your business.
  4. Remember the "social" in social media by encouraging two-way communication.
  5. If you don't write well, find someone who can do it for you.
  6. Open up your blog to others by adding outside links to your posts.
Engage with purpose. When it comes to external communities (e.g., blogs, forums, wikis, etc.), make sure the communication isn't solely one-way (i.e., your company pushing its message). Invest in tools that will help you learn about what your customers want or need, or that will gather feedback about what has or hasn't worked in the past. Above all else, commit to active administration and moderation. If you simply launch your community, push content and leave it at that, it's likely to devolve into an environment where abuse, spam, disinformation and inactivity drive away productive participants.

Highlight great user-generated content. When users in your community have a great conversation or talk up your brand, take advantage of the opportunity. Their comments were made in a public forum, so you're free to use those comments to your benefit. Try using them as quotes in direct mail or e-mail campaigns or feature links to the content throughout your website.

Support mutual ownership and control. Like so many things in the Web 2.0 era, relinquishing some control of the community to the community itself is a great way to encourage participant buy-in. Handing over the reins ensures that participants can evolve the community into what they want it to be. And the more the community satisfies its users' needs, the more successful and valuable it will be.

Enlist outside help. Many small and mid-sized companies don't have the internal resources to create, integrate and execute a successful Web 2.0 strategy. Fortunately, help is available. Staffing and recruitment firms can provide quick access to experienced professionals with the business and technical expertise your business needs. A staffing or recruiting professional can help you identify your talent needs, then deliver the right specialist to help your organization benefit from the Web 2.0 revolution.

Be patient, persistent and authentic. No matter what technologies you use, when it comes to successfully leveraging Web 2.0 the biggest challenges are familiar – time and effort.

Encouraging and maintaining an active group or community requires investing substantial time and effort to: post content, engage users in discussions, understand your community, and develop the authentic feel it needs to be effective. So if you initially feel as though you're talking to a void, don't get discouraged. Reaping the benefits of Web 2.0 technologies takes patience and persistence. But, like most things in business, the more you put into your Web 2.0 initiatives, the more you're going to get out of them.