According to a recent survey conducted by computer reseller CDW Corp., nearly half of IT decision-makers have rolled out Web 2.0 tools in their organizations. Businesses that have yet to officially implement these new tools may be surprised at the extent to which their employees use them anyway. Web 2.0 is already impacting your employees and customers. The question is: “Can you leverage these tools to support your business objectives?” In my opinion, your organization should have official plans to weave Web 2.0 tools into the fabric of its operations. However, if official implementation is not on the horizon, management should investigate the potential of these tools and at least set parameters for unofficial use.
Web 2.0 is the broad term for the second generation of the Internet, encompassing interactive tools such as social networking sites, wikis and blogs, that can potentially enhance collaboration, productivity and provide a forum for dialogue. Some of the most common and widely known Web 2.0 companies include Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia and LinkedIn. Lesser known or up and coming Web 2.0 companies which may be interesting if not instructional to check out include Wetpaint, Kookyplan, Shoutlet and Bzzagent. Web 1.0 made information more accessible to everyone; consequently, hierarchical business structures were flattened. Web 2.0 allows individuals a myriad of new ways to not only find and view information, but also to comment and give input. This new two-way communication further flattens organizations and is ushering in a more meritocratic way of doing business.
Victoria Bracewell Lewis, senior analyst of e-business and channels at Forrester Research said, “As trust in established brands and media fades, consumers turn to one another for advice and validation.” To put it another way, Web 2.0 has everyone talking. This may be unsettling to some business leaders not comfortable with such transparency and free flow of information. However, the magnitude of the Web 2.0 movement can’t be ignored. Consider the growth of Facebook–150 million users expected to double in 2009. The greater risk to a company may be not adopting Web 2.0 tools and having the unofficial use grow both inside and outside the firewall of the company. This phenomenon has motivated more than one organization to officially implement Web 2.0 tools in an effort to have greater input regarding their uses and be better able to monitor and participate in online dialogue.
So what is a company not yet in possession of a clear Web 2.0 strategy to do?
Begin by setting up a structure to address Web 2.0. This does not require a major investment and can be as simple as appointing an existing employee to serve as a part-time project manager to investigate current unofficial Web 2.0 use. The process of uncovering existing unofficial uses is a critical step. Begin by asking questions such as:
• What tools are employees already using to accomplish work-related tasks that you don’t know about?
• Are employees, partners and customers sharing information online that relates to your organization?
• Are there industry forums, wikis or blogs frequented by your organization’s publics?
• Are there unofficial Web 2.0 uses that negatively impact your organization or its productivity?
Once you are more aware of the current Web 2.0 uses which impact your organization, work with employees to identify what existing applications could be effectively exploited to fill a need. Further explore options not yet widely used by employees and open a dialogue with early adopters about how they think such tools could fill a need in the organization. Implementing Web 2.0 tools at the corporate level for the sake of jumping on the bandwagon won’t ensure a benefit to the organization. In fact, implementing tools that employees don’t find relevant could create resentment and division. Take time to find out what Web 2.0 users in your company would like to see officially implemented.
Once you have uncovered an unofficial implementation that seems to have merit, or a real need that could be solved using Web 2.0 tools, implement official testing on a small scale. One of the great things about these new tools is that they are often free. Initial investigation and testing doesn’t necessarily require a major investment. Of course, the cost of implementing major Web 2.0 initiatives can be more significant once you factor in the man-hours necessary, as well as the cost of hardware and bandwidth sometimes required to properly implement these tools on a large scale. Cost alone shouldn’t preclude you from developing a Web 2.0 strategy. You may be missing a major opportunity by ignoring the possibilities out there surrounding this latest iteration of the Internet.
One impressive example of leveraging Web 2.0 is HP’s use of the blogging community. The company simply gave away 31 of its new HDX Dragon computers to influential bloggers. The bloggers ran contests to give away the computers to their readers. The campaign developed a life of its own and sales of HP personal computers jumped 10 percent in one month in 2008.
Although Web 2.0 tools effective for your business can be uncovered by examining existing grassroots uses, the implementation of effective applications requires upper-level buy in. A recent article published in The McKinsey Quarterly online journal examined the early adoption of Web 2.0 tools among 50 organizations and found that successful implementation of Web 2.0 efforts had the backing of upper management. The article asserted that although Web 2.0 application with the most value come from users, management needs to be involved on several levels including identifying applications that are effective and scaling them up. While participation technologies work best when they are initiated as a bottom-up strategy, management that is tuned in to what works and how to encourage proper use of these tools have more success in their implementations.
The McKinsey research also found that one major reason for failure of Web 2.0 initiatives was management’s discomfort with its lack of control over information. Striking a balance between freedom and control can be difficult. The article suggested that although fears are often overblown and social norms tend to enforce proper usage, managers should work with the legal, HR and IT security functions to establish reasonable policies, such as no anonymous postings.
For organizations able to strike the right balance when opening up lines of communications with its many publics there can be huge dividends. Consider the Proctor and Gamble success story. By opening research and development to feedback from outside the organization through Web 2.0 tools, the company was able to increase the success rate of its product launches from 20 percent to almost 80 percent.
Proctor and Gamble and HP’s Web 2.0 uses are dramatic examples of a much larger groundswell. Although the concept of Web 2.0 has taken a few years to come into focus, the time has long past for speculating whether or not Web 2.0 tools are a fad that will burst like the dot com bubble. It’s here, it’s real and it impacts employees and customers whether organizations embrace it or not. Shouldn’t you address Web 2.0’s impact and potential for your business?