Turning Web 2.0 Into Business as Usual
by Kerri Harris
Web 2.0 is hip, trendy, and reminiscent of catch-phrases from the Dot-com boom when just about anything related to binary was so “Now.” Experts are frantically pushing non-digital natives to get on board with Web 2.0 absolutely yesterday, if not sooner. The good news is if you’re reading this article online, there’s a good chance you have already been onboard with Web 2.0 principles for quite some time. The question is, have you been using them effectively?
In part, Web 2.0 describes the transformation of corporate intranet sites and the Internet as a whole from a mere posting place for information into an vital business tool – thereby facilitating collaboration, networking, and easing the flow of information in all directions. It is the culmination of digital media that facilitates informational access to anyone from anyone with little or no barriers between access points. Web 2.0 describes an infinitely powerful ability to hear and be heard, share, critique, educate, and network with other users in a truly global community. While this idea is awe inspiring in the very truest sense, it is not without challenges and occasions for creating errors. The key to avoiding these pitfalls is in learning how to harness these tools effectively.
Social Networking 101
Facebook, SecondLife, and LinkedIn are all examples of free social-networking sites. Each service enables members to create a page for themselves and tell the world about who they are. Users can customize their pages and post their photos, favorite songs and video clips, send and receive email, add links to their friends’ pages, and post public messages on other pages. Some networking sites also facilitate online social groups with message boards and virtual or real world events for members to meet in person.
The benefits for sites like these are numerous, allowing users to glimpse the personal side of others and connect with members of similar interests. Professional-oriented sites like LinkedIn allow users to find connections at companies they may not normally be able to access, as well as find opportunities to receive networking introductions through mutual friends and acquaintances.
The look and feel of most sites is casual, personal, progressive and a free-platform flow where just about anything goes within some minor limitations. Remember, these sites are for personal use and operated as such; however, they are open to anyone with membership access to see. This means your page could be seen by your neighbors, colleagues, prospective employers, and family members. Anything you post, including text, photos and other media, can be copied and posted elsewhere at any time.
Many companies are realizing costs benefits by using these networking sites to post job openings, news items, and marketing campaigns through active participation and group sponsorship. Company pages, however, must not appear “corporate” in any way. Rather, marketing on sites like MySpace should be far more personal, few or no logo images, and appeal to a wider audience. Networking and influence are driven by “friend” connections and strategic product placement with graphic tags embedded in comment areas and blast messages. Traffic is directed to sites through update notices and overall site appeal and never through spam.
Some benefits to using social sites are the opportunities created to highlight your expertise. A blog or group membership can be the perfect place to showcase a consultative message while collaborating with others. You can mentor professionals from anywhere in the world and share ideas with colleagues outside of the office. On sites like LinkedIn, the level of your participation directly impacts your ranking and “expertise” level and how your profile is advertised by the site itself. Professionals willing to embrace this electronic medium can find new avenues for education and direct access to information about prospective employers through a variety of means; often directly from current employees in a candid and open arena.
Folksonomies, Twikis, Wikis, and Other Phenomena
Folksonomies are a product of social knowledge taxonomy using tag associations or flagged words that can be cross-referenced in another area of the site or a new page. The difference between folksonomies and traditional indexing is that tags are created by site owners, contributors, and visitors to that site — all of whom determine where those tags and bookmarked links direct others. Traditional categorization methods are not equipped to manage the vast contributions of information being uploaded, edited, and deleted from the Internet daily. The emergence of folksonomies has helped allow for a socialized classification medium that lends itself well to the ever-changing scheme of web-based data.
An example of this process is the site, Del.icio.us. Here, registered users can organize their bookmarks in lists and categorize them in whatever manner they choose using a tag label. As users browse the Internet, they can opt to add bookmarks to their tagged categories or create new categories and tags for personal or public use. Tags can be shared exponentially across the site, linking back to any previously visited page or series of pages across multiple sites. This creates a true web-like scheme of cross referencing that is as far reaching as every site participant can possibly make it.
Twikis and Wikis refer to user-driven knowledge collection sites. Think of this concept as an electronic encyclopedia where information is provided by users and can be edited by others. The word “wiki’ is a Hawaiian word that means quick, describing the pace at which these resources make collaboration possible. Typically, Twikis are used for business sites to replace static Intranet sites, manage documents, manage knowledge share, operate message boards, and sometimes to manage blogs based on topics. Generally, Wikis are open to the public or registered site members and used by a wide audience. The best example in use today is the Wikipedia site.
Twikis and Wikis provide a powerful resource for information sharing and collaboration in an unlimited scope. The drawback, however, is the data contributed is dependent on the reliability and accuracy of the contributing authors. To combat the risk, Twikis use highly regulated authoring controls while open-access Wikis standardized on easy correction processes for users, creating a self-driven security method. Wikipedia itself freely admits to this risk in their own security analysis.
“The open philosophy of most wikis, allowing anyone to edit content, does not ensure that every editor is well-meaning. Vandalism can be a major problem. In larger wiki sites, such as those run by the Wikimedia Foundation, vandalism can go unnoticed for a period of time.”
Often, requiring user registration to support posting accountability also helps maintain a high standard of meaningful content and helps limit the instances of erroneous contributions or vandalism. Don’t confuse collaboration with conversation, however. Twikis and Wikis are strong building blocks in the same way a simple database supports business operations, but they are not suitable platforms for creating ongoing dialog to support users. That is the function of the blog.
Have you ever wanted to stand on a soap box and tell everyone who cared to listen your opinions? Maybe you are such an expert on a particular subject you just have to share something with someone who may need to know. The reasons for writing a blog are as vitally important as these or as basic as letting grandma in Denver and Aunt Tilly in Tampa know that you are alive and well in Tulsa. Blogs are virtual, digital journals and short articles you write and post that are organized by blogging sites chronologically on your page.
Some of the most popular free blogging sites are Twitter and Live Journal. Twitter caters to a general audience relating to business matters, while sites like Live Journal are more for personal use. Most sites also allow bloggers some control over how their posts are managed. Decide if you want to allow free commentary to be posted or if you want to approve comments from visitors before they post. Also, be prepared to experience the nastier side of Internet sociology with blogging. There are some individuals who insist on posting commentary that is just downright rude and unconstructive. Chalk that behavior up to the psychology of cyberspace.
Blogging has also become big business. As the trend toward collaborative salesmanship takes center stage, more companies are moving into consultative roles. That move includes offering expertise, services, and market guidance — all of which can be highlighted in a blog. Blogging is not just the domain of smaller start-ups and high-tech companies, as proved by many of the top Fortune 500 and 1,000 companies who actively post.
Socialtext.com, in collaboration with Wired Magazine, began tracking these corporate giants and their blogging efforts on an open wiki called “Fortune 500 Business Blogging Wiki.” These corporate blogs are far more effective when the balance between informational and commentary is struck in a casual writing style. Mitch Turck, a contributing analyst to the wiki observes, “Approximately two-thirds of the weblogs studied were more casual and personable than formal and cold, indicating that these companies are utilizing blogs as a way to humanize the brand…” It is a cheap and easy prospect to build a brand image while consulting with prospective customers and that idea is tempting more and more corporate communicators every day.
Web 2.0 is merely a tag used to convey the generalized concept that collaboration is changing. It is becoming easier, faster, and more complex than ever before. That can be a daunting idea to digital immigrants taking their first steps into this new landscape, but it shouldn’t be. The very nature of collaborate communication is that it moves fast, morphing into new directions and methods that had not existed before and maturing in unpredictable ways. No one can be an expert for very long and no one can set the rules when it is the collective that determines what our best practices will be. In essence, we are all observers, participants, critics, and contributors. It is just a matter of quality, consistency, and our overall creativity that defines a successful outcome.
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About the Author
Kerri Harris is an Interactive Communications Specialist and key member of the Public Relations department at NCR Corporation in Dayton, Ohio. In that role, she is responsible for delivering corporate communications across various electronic and digital media, project management, and customer service. Kerri also coordinates and conducts training programs to improve client services, conflict resolution, and process-improvement techniques. Kerri has completed studies in Phi Theta Kappa’s Leadership Development with Ohio Senator Tom Roberts, and has served as Communication Chair of the Professional Resource Council. Currently, she also serves as Chair for NCR’s Intranet Council.