AnalyticsAnalyzing Customer DataSocial Media and Web 2.0

Social Media and Web 2.0

Social media and Web 2.0 are over-hyped and misunderstood. Before you take the plunge, don't forget the reality check.

Last week, I opened my inbox to find a newsletter in my inbox with a scary subject line: “93 percent of Websites to Add Web 2.0 Functionality in 2008.”

It was based on a recent survey. Reading on, it said “More than half of online businesses plan to add Web 2.0 capabilities to their sites in the next six months to enhance their sites’ user experiences. And over 93 percent plan to do the same in the next 12 months.”

Why is this so alarming? Because more corporate sites are looking to “create communities” and “leverage Web 2.0 technologies” in ways that make no sense for their audience. They’re caught up in the buzz. Companies are creating community types of content people are interested in with no long-term consideration.

Even the headline of that study may be a little overstated. Features listed as “Web 2.0” include stuff like alternate and 360-degree views, personalized messaging, and rollover views. So the article illustrates once again the meaninglessness of the term “Web 2.0.” For this reason, a friend of mine calls it “Web 2.0ver.”

Other numbers we can point to indicate a much more interesting change is happening, and there’s a meaningful way we can talk about Web 2.0. For me, it’s summed up in a word: “participation.” The technology is fundamentally the same, which isn’t to say it hasn’t evolved. But there’s been a real shift in the expectations of Internet users — a shift that’s accelerated dramatically in the past two years.

What does this really mean? I asked Ryan Turner, a colleague, social media expert, and blogger, for his take on where all of this is going, and what companies may be risking in their effort to jump on the bandwagon.

“The real change businesses are facing is moving from a broadcast model for the Web to a participatory, relational model, where the Web is a true business channel,” Turner said. “And the shift has huge business impacts that require a rethinking of Web channel strategy, planning, and management. It requires new skill sets (like online community moderation), and new contributions from roles traditionally focused on other channels (like technical support and customer service).”

Turner shared some of the common pitfalls companies experience when shifting the way in which they communicate with customers and prospects:

  • A tool-centric approach. It’s just so tempting to want to “build community around the brand” using one of the suite of over-hyped tools available today. Ratings, reviews, comment threads, wikis, discussion, chat, RSS, SMS, IM, blogs, vlogs, moblogs, podcasts, video podcasts, collective intelligence, affinity recommendations, prediction markets, and on and on. None of these is really community. The social Web is comprised of people, relationships among people, and the things people create and share. Marketers must think strategically about their offerings, not be swayed by the purveyors of technology “solutions.”
  • Failure to plan for ongoing engagement. Too often people don’t think about what this is going to look like or demand down the road.
  • Doing it for the sake of doing it. Companies need to ask if it really makes sense for their clients and prospects. Will people truly want to engage?
  • Failing to measure. There’s always the need to accurately define what success looks like and determine the best way to measure that success. And a corollary to that: misunderstanding how to measure.

Most importantly, Web 2.0 sites must add value to a business’ core offering. What Microsoft did with The Art of Office contest was brilliant because they added a library of reusable user-generated documents to their Office for Mac offering. That’s the kind of alignment marketers should strive for. There’s also some value in simple transparency and accessibility. Open communication channels with customers and see what happens.

Take the time to think before plunging in head first to build community and leverage Web 2.0 concepts. You must ask yourself if it truly make sense for you and your audience, or if you’re simply getting caught up in the hype?

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