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Web 2.0 A Guide for Business

How to build an effective web presence and target customers more effectively using the technology and tools available. 

 

You may have come across the term Web 2.0 but were unsure as to what exactly it meant. This Business Guide will help demystify the term and provide you with a better understanding of what Web 2.0 is all about.

The web is a vital tool for all businesses and the rapid development of new technology combined with faster connection speeds is changing the way people use the internet. Whereas the \'old\' internet was about static content and online information, the \'new\' internet is richer, more collaborative and social thereby changing way that businesses build customer relationships.

This guide will give you a better understanding of how the web is changing and how to build a web presence using the technology and tools available. It will also provide advice on how to target customers more effectively to ensure your message gets across.

 

WHAT IS WEB 2.0?

Some mistakenly think that Web 2.0 is some sort of new version of the internet. The term Web 2.0 refers to a second generation of “web development and design which facilitates communication, secure information sharing, interoperability, and collaboration on the World Wide Web” according to Wikipedia.

While Web 1.0 primarily allowed individual Web users to find information, Web 2.0 tools such as blogs, forums, social networking sites and wikis have transformed Web usage into two-way communication – enabling your business to interact with customers and others.

 

HOW THE WEB IS CHANGING

Web 2.0 means new opportunities for your business. Easy web access faster connection speeds coupled with new devices and applications are changing the way people work, socialise and shop. It is now easier than ever to offer new services or build awareness through the use of blogs, forums or social networking sites.

Web 2.0 is about creating a \'web culture\' around your offering that gives greater customer interaction and thereby building loyalty.

Business-to-business (B2B) relationships are also changing, with online networking sites such as LinkedIn increasingly helping businesses to extend their professional networks. Developing strategic relationships via networking events has been the traditional means of making new business contacts. Online networking now provides a virtual alternative that allows you to build business relationships and source new opportunities online.

 

WEB 2.0 FEATURES FOR WEBSITES

In this new Web 2.0 world there are several features you may wish to incorporate into your website. Common to all these is the ability for users to add and edit content, contribute online using different types of technology from anywhere in the world, and to be able to express and publish their own views to a community of users using different types of interactive media.

User generated content - is the ability for your customers to interact with your business online by being able to leave comments, rate products or add information, e.g. user reviews on restaurant guides. This can often add real value for other customers and provide you with useful customer insight. Business blogs are another example of how you can communicate directly with your customers, canvass opinion, and advertise new products or services.

Collaboration - nearly all Web 2.0 applications centre on some community aspect where users can share experiences and knowledge. This can be useful for your business as it lets customers identify with your brand and makes them more likely to return. An example of this is a wiki, which allows users to write and edit content collectively on your website.

Online Networking and Social Media - the ability for people to find others with similar interests and express themselves to a community of like-minded people through social sites such as FaceBook, MySpace and Twitter.

Business networking sites such as LinkedIn can be used to develop professional networks, to enhance career or recruitment options or simply to keep in touch with former colleagues and contacts.

Personalisation - the facility to customise the way you view or interact with websites, for example, the ability to set your local area on a news website, or the ability to modify the layout and colour scheme of a site to such as with the BBC website. Other websites such as iGoogle let you add web applications to the page you\'re using. \'Web apps\' are growing in popularity since they allow a user to personalise their customer experience by providing applications that they can add to websites or devices,.

 

WEB 2.0 TOOLS FOR BUSINESS

Given below are some of the technologies you can use and how they can help your business. In some cases you can find free or very cheap ways to add these to your site, which can significantly enhance the customer experience.

Blogs

A Blog is a publically accessible online journal that allows individuals and businesses to post opinions or news about themselves. Businesses use these to connect more informally with their customers and let them know about changes in the business or provide information on new products or services.

Blogs are also a good way of gathering feedback from customer whilst businesses can use their own blog to create keyword-rich links to their website that are highly visible in the natural listings of search engines.

A word of CAUTION. When allowing users to contribute to your blog there are legal and best practice issues that need to be considered. Information on this appears later on in the article.

RSS Feeds

Really Simple Syndication feeds are an automated way of sending updates to your customers. By subscribing to an RSS feed, customers can identify the content that is important to them so that they can stay up to date.

Wikis

Wikis let different users edit the same page. They can be a great way to develop a community around your business. If customers are passionate about your products that will help to draw in new customers. Remember there can also be issues when you allow users to edit your pages. Again this will be covered later on in the guide.

Podcasts & Webcasts

A webcast allows you show a presentation, such as a PowerPoint slide show, whilst Podcasts are simply audio or video files, which site visitors can view on their computers or download to a mobile device. 

Social Bookmarks
One way to think of social bookmarks is the public version of the “Favorites” list in your browser. Instead of saving the URL of a favorite website on your computer, you can post the link to a site such as Digg.  For a group with like interests, these sites are an easy way to share Web-based information on a topic.

Social Networks
Much has been written about the growth of sites such as FaceBook and MySpace, so-called social networks that let people share their interests online. Yet there’s more to this technology than teens discussing the newest bands. As a business tool, these sites work in much the same way as traditional “offline” networking. They allow you to share information, make connections, get referrals and demonstrate your expertise.

Widgets
A widget is a Web-based gadget that’s part hyperlink and part application, primarily designed by companies for their customers. Essentially, it’s an icon that lets customers download applications to their desktop or their own personal website that, once clicked, opens up a mini-application or a link back to the corporate website.

 

LEGAL IMPLICATIONS WHEN USING SOCIAL MEDIA

Whilst social media tools are useful, they often require users to post personal details. Managing these details can be straightforward, but you must make clear to your users what you are and are not responsible for.

Make sure you have the following on your site:

  • privacy policy - lets users know how their personal details will be used
  • disclaimer - lays out the limits of your legal liability
  • terms and conditions - lets users know what they can expect from the site

Depending on the type of user-generated content you are allowing, it would be wise to have robust text and image filtering or approval processes to reduce the risk of inappropriate or offensive material being put onto your site

Protecting your brand

It is important for your business to consider the monitoring of user comments. Depending on your business you may find that some users post inappropriate comments. This could include:

  • Profane language - if your customers are likely to be sensitive to certain language make sure that you use a method by which all new posts are monitored.
  • Libellous material - you may be held responsible for any user comments on your site that insult or libel someone. Make sure you monitor what users are saying.
  • Damaging comments - while customer opinion can be useful, you don\'t want to have too many negative comments about your business. If you find this is the case, look into the reasons behind the comments and try to rectify them.

 

THE FUTURE OF THE WEB FOR BUSINESS

How will the internet change in the future and how will it affect your business. Outline below are three technologies that may become prominent in the future.

Mobile Web

Mobile marketing techniques include sending text and multimedia messages, or targeted advertising via WAP and 3G internet. News and information providers are using mobile technology to push extra subscription services or targeted content. Some businesses are using the technology for special offers and promotions, or sending vouchers and discount codes to mobile devices via Bluetooth.

The Cloud

The Cloud is the concept that all your programs and files can be held online rather than on just one computer in your office. An extension of current web services, cloud computing eases the software and hardware demands placed on you and your business, since the network of computers that makes up \'the cloud\' handles these for you. All you need is the software required to let you access your resources online. Examples of this are - email providers like Yahoo, Hotmail or Google. Instead of running an email programme on your computer, you access your emails from any computer, anywhere in the world, by logging on to your account over the internet. Cloud computing builds on this model providing both cost benefits and flexibility for your business.

Virtual Worlds

Expect to see social networking sites allowing even greater customisation. As users get used to customising their profile to suit their own personality and interacting with friends online, there will be increasing opportunities to connect with your customers. While this is far removed from the virtual reality seen in films, it can still provide opportunities for your business to build relationships with customers using shared three-dimensional spaces.

 

This article was first published on June 2009 and may not necessarily match current events or current opinions and views of Acumen Consulting Ltd. The information contained in this article is intended as a guide.


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