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Web 2.0 - Web 3.0 - The "Social Web"

The Web is very different now, some call it Web 2.0 or even 3.0, perhaps we should just call it the "Social Web"

Jeremiah Owyang, of the popular Web Strategy by Jeremiah blog (and now an analyst at Forrester), wrote a post several months ago entitled The Irrelevant Corporate Website. And in typical Owyang style, it is thought-provoking and has been translated into several languages, including Greek, Swedish, and German. As one of the owners of a digital marketing and communications company, I'd like to extend Owyang’s argument that the corporate Website is irrelevant, and present a framework that just might make it more relevant than ever.

Let's consider the pages of a traditional corporate Website. They include an “about me” page, a contact page, a careers section, and probably a page with news and press releases. The words look good on paper, and, more than likely, a committee gave the final sign-off on the site's content. Visitors frequented these pages because they wanted to learn about the company's products and services, contact the company by phone to request more information, or find a job.

The Web is very different now. Some call it Web 2.0 or even 3.0. Perhaps we should just call it the Social Web, because that is exactly what it is. Communities have formed. People are socializing around products and writing reviews, leaving job tips for one another, and even filming do-it-yourself commercials for the products that they are passionate about.

On a daily basis, I am reminded of the pioneering book on networked marketing, The Clue Train Manifesto, whose premise was that markets were conversations: You and me, over a cup of coffee talking about great (maybe even bad) products, except that we are separated by thousands of miles of fiber-optic cable. I'll be honest – it’s an exciting time to be in marketing.

It is important to remember, though, that your market isn't stupid. They are the ones who really know about your products, and they use natural language to tell their friends about them. So when the coffee is too hot at the drive-through, they’ll use simple and poignant language when describing the experience. When your cable technician falls asleep on their living room sofa, they’re going to talk about that – perhaps with a video to help tell the story. When they try to cancel their Internet access and can't, your market is going to talk about that, too. And these conversations have been taken to the Web.

Social networks, social media, and online communities have received a lot of hype; however, they are not a fad. These tools complement how people naturally interact with one another. People are social. Not only are people social, but they are naturally curious. Imagine a customer performs a Google search on your company and the results include a reported problem with your product. If this person investigates the issue and the trail goes cold in the comments, what does this say to the searcher? Now let’s imagine the same situation, but the comments includes a representative of your firm providing some clarity on the issue or even demonstrating how they have incorporated changes for the next release. Of the two scenarios, which would you rather see as a social and curious person?

At my company, we have designed a social media distribution framework (www.r2integrated.com/social). After several conversations with my team, I realized that we weren't necessarily distributing social media; rather, we were aggregating it from the outer edges of the Web where the conversations were. Because we know that customers are out on the Web socializing, our thought process behind the framework was that we would create content for these communities in order to connect to the market. The following framework illustrates how you can use social media as part of your comprehensive Web strategy. We like this framework because it presents an opportunity for all companies to experiment and work within their comfort levels. For this scenario, we have framed these examples within the context of a product release.

If you are new to social media, in terms of the tools and technology or how to integrate them into your product release strategy, consider the following activities.

Sign up for a del.icio.us account. It’s a free social bookmarking service. As you release your product, find some interesting articles or blog posts on the Web and bookmark them. Because your prospects and customers typically search the Web for reviews and recommendations, you can help them save time by rounding up some of the more interesting ones. Even when the articles that you find aren't necessarily positive, you should bookmark those, too. Your customers will find them anyway (you did), and you'll earn their trust by presenting a different viewpoint. Furthermore, your R&D department will appreciate the fact you did some of their work for them. By using some of the tools that come with a del.icio.us account, you can even integrate those links directly into your Website.

If you want to try some more intermediate or even advanced techniques for using social media, you can move from collecting third-party content to producing your own. There are two principal ways that you can do this. First, as part of your product release strategy, you can develop some video content. Because we know that customers and prospects are searching the Web for reviews and testimonials, you have a lot of in-house knowledge that you can tap and distribute on the Web. For example, as part of your product release strategy, you can interview some of the engineers and quality assurance personnel who ensure product quality or safety. Start with an inexpensive video camera and conduct some informal interviews. Ask them about your product and how their role at the company directly shaped the product that we see in the marketplace.

Just as your del.icio.us account provided the tools for embedding its content, popular video sharing platforms, such as YouTube or Blip.TV, also provide this functionality. If you’re not sure where to put these bookmarks and video on your Website, you can always start a blog. WordPress is a popular open source blogging product that is easy to install and configure, and the framework allows multiple content items from various sources. As your product gains or loses traction in the market, consider posting some additional videos. If you really want to be out on the edge, interview your customers and ask them what they think, what they like, and what they dislike.

If you’re ready to move beyond bookmarks and video, you can always release your product in a blog post and experiment with comments. If the thought of not having control over the content comments is worrisome, we recommend having a solid set of guiding principles in place that illustrate what behavior is suitable. Because comments can always be placed in a queue, you can always review them for quality and value.

Social media isn't for everyone. If you are the type of company with enthusiastic customers, it might just be the type of content that you need – not only for R&D, but also to earn trust. If you are committed to innovation and customer loyalty, consider adopting some of the tools that we have discussed here. If you are as honest with your customers as they are with you, your products and services will only get better. So, Jeremiah, we think the corporate Website is as relevant as ever.

More Stories By Matt Goddard

Matt Goddard, head of digital marketing strategy and operations, leads R2i's strategic direction while providing valuable support to client digital marketing projects. Hid business expertise and understanding of social network theory are frequently called upon by R2i clients and partners as they develop their short- and long-term strategic plans. Matt is also responsible for R2 ventures, a division of R2i that makes equity investments in start-up companies launching unique and innovative technologies. Prior to his work with R2i, Matt was co-founder of Impreza, a leading website development and software firm. Impreza was acquired by Sinclair Broadcast Group (SBGI) in 2000.

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