Web 2.0 Marketing

No doubt you’ve heard plenty about “Web 2.0” lately. Of course, just because you’ve heard of it doesn’t mean you actually know what it is.

Don’t fret. A lot of the folks who bandy the term around don’t really know all that much about it, either. Basically, it describes the next generation of online services delivered through the Web. Think of Flickr, Wikipedia, Ning, and del.icio.us, and you’ll get the point.

The idea behind all these ventures is a good one: use the power of the Internet to hook people together to create content, share expertise, and provide checks and balances through social interaction. People have stuff they want to share (or axes to grind or stuff they want to say), so giving them a place to express themselves and a community of users to share it with will result in a system that grows exponentially through the network effect to become more than the sum of its parts. There’s even a new browser, Flock, designed around the concept that the browsing experience can be enhanced when users can share favorites and tags seamlessly through the Web.

Basically, we’re talking open source content, and open source has worked pretty well as a software development methodology. Social networks built around a common aim can be pretty powerful.

But lately, cracks have begun to appear in Web 2.0 nirvana. Regardless of the breathless pronouncements of some, the limits of user-supplied content are starting to become apparent in terms of both the quality and system misappropriation. Spammers have tried to hijack Flickr with those annoying “win an free iPod” ads, and Wikipedia has been called to task for accuracy problems. The backlash is starting.

But we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Openness does have its limits. As Xeni Jardin said recently on “Wired News,” “When you invite the whole world to your party, inevitably someone pees in the beer.” On the other hand, inviting your users to supply content in the form of pictures, video, tags, reviews, stories, and so on, can really help develop community. And as many bloggers have learned, participating in these kinds of things can help raise your profile and provide a forum for you ideas (provided you’ve got good ones) as a way of helping your business or promoting your products and services.

How should marketers look at the possibilities of Web 2.0? If you’re thinking about utilizing social networking or other Web 2.0-like services on your own site, or you want to look into the marketing possibilities offered by these services, here are six rules to remember:

  • Remember you’re part of a community. Members of a community have a vested interest in the greater good of the whole. They only participate in a way that benefits all. Spamming, misleading tags, incorrect information, and sneaky stuff (e.g., creating fictitious Wikipedia entries to promote your products are all activities that hurt the community.
  • Strike a balance between authentication and anonymity. The Internet was built on the concept of anonymity, but the anonymity that promotes participation and the free exchange of information can also allow malicious types to wreck your project. Contributor authentication can help by allowing you to delete offending material. But you’d better be sure you have a clear, strict privacy policy to encourage users.
  • Have some institutional guts. If you’re going to allow the public in, be prepared for the consequences. Not everyone’s going to agree with you or say nice things about your products and services. Don’t block critics out. Engaging them in a positive way can often turn around potential problems. If you blog, you know this; often, engaging disagreeable posters turns them into instant friends.
  • Avoid spin. If you’re going to participate in Web-based open services, don’t try to spin your content with bland PR platitudes. People can spot “marketing” in a microsecond and don’t think too highly of content that turns out to be a thinly disguised ad. On the other hand, using editorial to promote products can be pretty effective if done correctly.
  • Examine your motives. Are you jumping on the Web 2.0 bandwagon because it fits your strategy or because it’s the current thing to do? Examining this question will tell you whether you’re really ready to come to the party. It’s a long-term commitment.
  • Get ready to work. Participating in the open, rough-and-tumble world of social networking and user-supplied content is a lot of work. The content needs to be fed and cared for constantly. Make sure you have the budget and the institutional will to continue the project — indefinitely.

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