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How you can prepare and capitalize on Web 2.0 (part 2)

Early adopters to Web 2.0 will be richly rewarded as is typical of all those who move before their competitors in new opportunities. Those who wait will most likely be doomed to a lot of head-scratching as they try to catch up to the new leaders. The most difficult part about being an early adopter is uncertainty. Companies who typically like to have all the data and all the answers before making a move will find it very difficult to be an early adopter in Web 2.0 technology and strategies. The truth is; so much is still unknown about how the market will respond to socially enabled companies and how consumers may use or misuse the new medium?

More than anything, the fire beneath the boiling pot of Web 2.0 is about freedom and honestly. The history of commerce reads much like a communistic community of tight controls and rigid rules fueled by the insatiable lust for power and dominance, where the consumer (the source of power) was treated with suspicion. You’ll find many companies out there today still trying to operate under the old rules which is most evidenced by the phrase, “We can’t do that it is against our policy.” What companies like this are saying is that they have decided to create rules to limit and control their customers… at any cost. For years, the commercial world has been saying the customer is king and the customer is always right. Web 2.0 philosophies has changed that hollow slogan and pointed it back to the corporate world in the form of, “I am the king and the bringer of all your power and if you don’t think I’m right, I will take by business elsewhere along with everybody I know and everybody within my social network.” In some cases, that social network can include the world.

During the 1920’s in the U.S., one of the hot issues before congress was how to break the bank trust and limit the control of big corporations. Perhaps born out of that era (and arguably due to some of the bad decisions that were made), the world public has grown more suspicious and cautious of large corporations.

Back in the early 80’s, snowboards rose to popularity and became the choice of the rising X generation over skiing. While the fundamentals between snowboarding and skiing are vastly different, even more pronounced was the attitude of the teenaged snowboarder. The attitude of the snowboarder was typical for most of the X generation which was centered on antiestablishment and distrust, not unlike their parent’s generation in the 1960’s (history does repeat itself).

The most interesting thing about the early, antiestablishment snowboarders was their buying habits. Small start-up snowboard manufactures (in the minds of snowboarders) were viewed as making the best and most preferred boards. However, when the small manufactures became too large and too successful, they were all of a sudden seen as inferior to the new comers. Some of the ski manufacture giants such as France-based Rossignol tried to enter the snowboard market, but failed due to this untrusting mindset. This was also true of even the retailers. Snowboarders preferred the small specialty snowboard shops instead of the sport superstores. Snowboard manufactures quickly learned that they couldn’t appear to be “big” to their customers. Twenty years later, these antiestablishment teenagers are now thirty-somethings and their attitudes, while tempered somewhat are largely the same. Unlike their parents who were also antiestablishment and their grandparents in the 1920’s, these thirty-somethings have a voice, they have the Internet, they have power. And because of the Internet, all consumers now have the same power, which spells huge changes for world commerce. Enter Web 2.0.

Preparing for Web 2.0

Check your internal attitudes
I provided the foregoing to help you realize the nature of change that is on the horizon and what that will mean for businesses everywhere. The first and arguably the most important effect Web 2.0 will have on your company is how your company views and treats its customers before, during and after the sale. In the past, when companies made a sale, it was viewed as the attainment of the goal, and happy hour shortly followed. Today, making a sale is a double-edged sword and while still the goal, it could be the very thing that will cause you to loose that customer forever, and countless other potential (and even existing) customers. In today’s world, consumers talk and everyone listens. Even more important, consumer talk is prized and valued higher than a company’s carefully crafted marketing messages and smooth PR.

To fully embrace Web 2.0, customers need to be viewed as they really are: the provider of all company goals, dreams and aspirations. They are no longer just a means to an end. Stellar examples of Web 2.0 ready companies include JetBlue, Nordstrom, Tesco, Johnson & Johnson and many many others. I encourage you to Google any of these companies and read what industry analysts have to say and especially what consumers say about them. Across the board, you will find a common theme: consumers are people, our scarcest resource and exceptional products and services (especially services) are the only thing that will keep us in businesses.

Appoint or hire a talker
I’m going to make a prediction that within 10 years, we will see a new type of PR manager whose responsibility will be to socially interact with the industry. This person will know all there is to know about the company (the good, bad and ugly) and be expert in dealing with and communicating with others –finally a job description that really requires a “people person.” We will see new titles like, Social Communications Manager (SCM), or Consumer Ambassador (CA) creep into the workplace.

Leave the office
Your new SCM or CA’s job will be to manage the social interactions of your company. They will oversee the set up and manage the day to day interactions with consumers on social Web sites. Start with a company page on MySpace and Facebook or better yet, allow your SCM or CA set up a personal site as an employee of your company. Search the Web for other social networking sites such as vertical social networks specific to your industry. These type of Web sites are springing up almost daily and it will soon be more than a full time job to maintain them.

The goals for your new SCM or CA is to get out of the office in a cyber sort of way, and interact, chat, listen and report to the company what is being written on the walls of the world. In order for your SCM or CA to be taken seriously and not just another polished PR robot, you need to give them license to talk about the bad and the ugly and not just the good, or worse, allowing them to only talk about the euphoric vision you want your customers to believe. Being honest and forthright about mistakes will endear customers to you not drive them away. Remember the Tylenol poisonings in the late 80’s? Though not their fault, McNeil (the parent company of Tylenol) took responsibility, pulled every bottle off every shelf and took the punch square in the chops. The result, they are still in business today and still the industry leader. When polled, consumers said they trusted the Tylenol brand more after the incident, than before. That’s what’s called, turning a very bad, out-of-business situation into a major win.

The other thing your SCM or CA should do is manage your company blog and manage its distribution. New posts to your blog should happen at least every 48 hours or sooner. There are many blogging services and software packages available that make writing and archiving easy and painless. Many will also help manage distribution and set up RSS feeds, which is a must.

Tear down the walls
How many entry points does your Web site currently have? While most Web sites can technically be entered at any page if one has the correct URL realistically, most have one or two home or landing pages where traffic is funneled. Working with your SCM or CA, create new entry points that make sense with the social networks you are participating in. This might mean setting up an RSS feed to your blog, your discussion boards or your internal and external newsletters. Maybe it’s opening links into your picture library, or open feeds (video clips) of a press conference or even your company holiday party on YouTube.

Next, evaluate your search engine strategies and rework them to be more socially friendly. Look at what pages are being indexed and see what you could add to your indexed pages based upon the social networks you are now a member of. Look at what is being spidered by other social networks and make sure your best foot is forward. Lastly, determine if new landing pages or even whole new sections of your Web site need to be created to support your new social initiatives and make sure they are being submitted to the search engines.

P.J. Fusco described what I’m talking about very eloquently when she stated, “Where search engine optimization is about building a solid foundation for building strong search strategies, social media optimization (SMO) is primarily about knocking down your site’s walls so content can be readily discovered, distributed, and shared by diverse online communities and social multimedia search portals.”

Implications of what you’re getting into
The implications of social marketing is putting fear into the hearts of many corporate managers and I suppose that emotional response is warranted for some corporations who have much to hide. However, I don’t think social marketing and Web 2.0 is akin to undressing in public, but it is about coming out from behind the counter, showing what’s in our pockets and talking candidly about what we used to call “off the record” stuff. I believe this can be accomplished with our corporate self respect attached and our dignity in check.

What we all need to be prepared to do in Web 2.0 is first identify what the truth is. Second, be able to strategically tell it and like Tylenol, always do the right thing by the customer. This requires walking the walk and not just issuing a news release. Many things are still yet to be discovered and learned in this new frontier of Web 2.0, but what is certain is one disgruntled consumer can have tremendous power and influence and a company that is not actively participating in that conversation will be assumed guilty. It is an uncertain world out there, but the rewards for the early adaptors are huge. There is also one other thing that is certain about Web 2.0 and that is it will create a new generation of Wall Street leaders, it might even usher in a more mature version of dot com all over again. We can only hope.

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