6 Web 2.0 Imperatives for All Businesses

Q. Are you familiar with Web 2.0, applications like blogs and wikis and sites like Facebook and YouTube?

A. Oh yeah, that’s something my kids are doing do all the time

Underwood Partners initiates new client relationships with a series of senior management interviews.  The quote above is representative of what we hear from many 50+ year old C-level executives.

Web 2.0 is no longer only “something your kids do.” It is here to stay and your employees, business partners and customers are increasingly engaging with all forms of social media and talking about your company, your products and services and your brand.  So are your competitors, including those competing with you to hire the most talented employees.

Although we are not convinced that every business should have a customer facing presence on Facebook or MySpace, we do believe that every enterprise can participate in what Social Sphere Strategies calls the “Collaboration Economy.” At a minimum, you can apply the collaborative philosophy and at least some of the social media technology applications to increase the capability and commitment of your employees and most likely of your business partners as well.

Here are sIX steps we believe you must take now.  Do them yourself with an internal team, with us, or with one of the other talented firms in the business, but do them now.

1. Get up to speed about Web 2.0

Read, listen, and above all go online and get first hand experience by engaging with leading Web 2.0 applications. You can start with our Web 2.0 reading list and build from there.  Clicking on the Web 2.0 tab at the top of Collaboration Evangelist will take you to all of our posts on Web 2.0.

Either dedicate a cross functional (and pan-demographic) internal team to develop a Web 2.0 training day for your senior and mid-level executives or retain UP or one of the other firms in the space (e.g. Forrester, Social Sphere, Echo Ditto) to spend a day with you.  And make sure you find a way to get weekly (recommended) or monthly (at a minimum) updates on new applications and examples of businesses using Web 2.0 to increase employee, customer, business partner and most importantly shareholder value.

2. Listen and understand your business’ and competitors presence on the Web.

Unless you are a very small company or have very few employees, it is highly likely that you, your products and services and your company are being talked about by current and former employees, business partners and customers on the Web.  You need to understand what’s being said about you, before someone else does.  You should also understand your competitors’ web presence, both their “company out” Web 2.0 applications and what their customers and employees are writing about them on third party social media sites.

Again, this is something you can do yourself if you can dedicate resources to it, or you can retain a firm to audit and monitor your web presence and that of your competitors.

3. Authentically interact with user generated content

If your business is being talked about on the Web, get in the game.  Respond to blog posts about your company, products and services.  Do not try to pass yourself off as a customer, consumer advocate, or other arms-length contributor.  Be up front about who you are and why you are responding.  If you can, direct bloggers and others to fact based information on your web site to address inaccurate perceptions or concerns. If you screwed up, say you screwed up and explain what you have done to make sure the mistake doesn’t happen again.

If you have something to say, create your own blog.  Start with an internal company blog until you are comfortable and then expand it to business partners and/or customers.

4. Build, activate and support your communities

If you have a customer service center, you should have customer service on your web site.  Many, if not most businesses that have heavy traffic to their call centers can also benefit from enabling customer to customer service through wiki’s and forums where customers answer each others questions.  These not only reduce costs, but also serve as a great laboratory for unfiltered customer research and product development ideas. If you don’t provide a place on your site for customers to ask questions, it is highly likely that at least some of them will go to a third party site where they will be prime targets for your competitors’ marketing efforts.

Whatever you do, make it incredibly easy for employees, business partners and customers to provide feedback.  And go the next step by proactively asking for feedback.  Make sure you authentically respond to their feedback.

One of the first actions you should take is to survey your customers, employees and business partners to find out how they are using Web 2.0 and their interest in participating in a new community around your business or its products and services.  If your brand has or could benefit from a presence within existing communities, create enterprise sites on MySpace, Facebook or other places your stakeholders spend time online. If research is positive, start your own community to engage employees, customers and/or business partners.

5. Ask your evangelists for help & reward them

If you don’t know who they are already, use analytics to identify your most loyal and profitable customers.  If you have a large customer base, conduct research to identify the cross section of your best customers and what Forrester calls “Social Media Creators and Critics” – those who either post original content on the web or respond to blogs or other requests for user reviews, comments and other content.  These are the people who are most likely to be your leading edge online evangelists and respond to requests to engage with your social media initiatives.

Invite them to join smaller communities and reward them for product and service innovations and new customer acquisition.  Rewards can come in many forms.  For some, being recognized as a best customer is highly rewarding, for others being asked and thanked for feedback or ideas might be sufficient.  Although not everyone in the Web 2.0 space agrees with us, we believe that customers who acquire new customers and find new employees for your business should be rewarded with something material.  Why? Three reasons:

  • We believe behavior follows rewards and have seen multiple case studies of effective member referral  programs (sometimes called “member get member” programs).
  • We believe using your best customers as salespeople embodies several of the core tenants of Web 2.0, including the fact that people value the opinion of a friend over the sales pitch of ad campaign. An increasing number of potential customers will not buy anything that has not been positively reviewed by credible users.
  • Customer or employee referral and affiliate programs can be a vastly lower cost acquisition channel when compared to traditional advertising, the fully loaded costs of a traditional sales force or headhunter fees.

6. Monitor and act on results.

`The social media revolution or what Forrester calls “The Groundswell” is growing fast. Although we do not believe these 6 imperatives will change, the effectiveness of their implementation will vary as more consumers engage and new applications are developed.

While everyone associated with Underwood Partners is an “idea junkie” and clearly love this space, ideas that cannot be tied to business goals and measurable results should not be implemented.  And measurement without action is a waste of resources.

Before you implement anything, make sure you have at least some way to measure engagement and impact.  As more and more case studies are being published and presented, we are all becoming better at measuring the bottom line impact of implemening an effecitve Web 2.0 strategy.