Social Media, Online Community & Web 2.0 Confuses Business Executives!

Written by on October 3rd, 2008

Social media, online community, Web 2.0 confuses business executives!

You want an Internet strategy but…..

One of the reasons I sold a company I founded in 1995 to create online communities for alumni associations, non profits and companies was to concentrate on helping organizations understand how they could use the Internet to acquire, communicate, retain and engage customers.  Most people we spoke with, likened the Internet as a puzzle they didn’t know where to get started with.

In the 12 years we were building online communities, (Internet Strategies Group) my sales force spent most of their time educating prospective customers why they needed to adopt online communities and social media. To help, I wrote white papers, held conferences, Webinars and books.  We looked at this as the cost of doing business and selling a product that people didn’t understand and didn’t know how it would provide an ROI.

So it’s was no surprise when I read a McKinsey Global Survey (fall 2007) that surveyed how businesses were using Web 2.0 tools and services showed business executives were struggling to figure out how these tools  will help them reach their goals.

The report found:

     • 42% thought they should have invested more
     • 24% thought they should have invested sooner
     • 40% of these companies are not using social networking, RSS, Podcasts, Wikis and blogs.

There are two reasons business leaders are not investing more in Web 2.0, social media and online communities:

     • Confusion
     • Internal focus   

Confusion

Many of the leaders of today’s corporations grew up in the Leave it to Beaver era when there was one car, one phone and one TV in a home. They’ve had decades to understand business processes and lived through the 1980’s lust for quality, the 1990’s focus on re engineering and the 2000 commitment to ISO9000.
However for all practical purposes the use of social media and online communities to increase brand awareness, sell more products and collaborate with customers is completely foreign to them. That should come as no surprise to you, as the whole Web 2.0/social media/online community thing has only hit mainstream in the past 3 years.

The web has it’s own language which for time starved executives is foreign to them and they don’t have the time to understand the basics let alone the daily barrage of the NEXT -NET thing!

Internal focus

The report also showed those surveyed thought Web 2.0 technologies were important strategic tools to communicate with customers and business partners. They also felt these new tools encouraged collaboration inside the company. While this is good, the real value of Web 2.0 and social media is engaging customers. The survey shows business leaders are more focused on how Web 2.0 tools and social media will help reduce costs, increase efficiencies and let them push their message to customers. NOT on how it will help them acquire, retain and engage customers.

We’ve seen this before in the educational industry. In fact in 1998, I wrote a book, Create a Net Centered College Campus because I saw campus administrators focusing on the administrative ways the Internet would help them cut costs or better serve customers. NOT on engaging their constituents!

They were investing in delivering distance education, processes to let students register online, pay for services online, etc. My book drew attention to the need to develop virtual communities online for prospective students, students, alumni, parents and supporters. In the book I suggested they data that users will provide will enable them to make a more customized fund raising request in the future. But alas, few paid attention and by 2005 Facebook captured 83 percent of participation of all college students. Now Facebook owned the data the college development office would have loved to have!

The good news for investors, customers and employees of the firms surveyed is that business leaders however are indicating a greater commitment to increase their Web 2.0 investments over the next 3 years.

If your company is moving in this direction my suggestions would be to:

     1. Focus on the customer and adopt technologies that engage them
     2. Increase investment and training in social media
     3. Outsource what you don’t know to expert

Focus on the customer and adopt technologies to engage them

While it’s easy to find ways to use Internet strategies to decrease costs and make your firm more efficient, you need to strategically focus on using social media to develop a two and three way conversation with your customers. You need to adopt social media tools to listen to your customers and engage them in product development, the customer service process and marketing your products and services.

Increase investment and training in social media

As I mentioned earlier, we’ve had decades to understand mass marketing techniques. Colleges, conferences and associations all provide best practices and case studies that guide our existing business processes. You have to realize the social media revolution is happening so fast and changing the behaviors of your customers so completely, that you don’t have time to tip toe into this area. You need a line item budget and commitment in each department of your company to acquire the technology and provide learning opportunities for your staff to begin to understand how they can use these opportunities to better serve customers and increase your bottom line.

Outsource what you don’t know

Sticking your neck in the sand is not going to make the problem go away! This revolution is happening with our without your organizations participation.

So instead of being overwhelmed by what you don’t know, or confused on what your next steps are, find the people who are in the trenches today and let them guide you and your team through this process. Few companies today have the collective expertise, experience, skill and more importantly the time to keep abreast of the rapidly changing strategies and opportunities. Do an audit of your existing staff. Who on your staff understands:

     • How to use blogs, podcasts, seo and online communities to engage customers?
     • The value of article marketing, twitter and Facebook strategies?
     • How to use customers network to promote your products and services?

For most organizations, developing comprehensive companywide Internet strategies will provide an immediate payout and the risk is small.

Don’t let confusion and fear of the unknown keep your organization from grabbing a bigger part of an increasingly global market. Create a companywide Internet strategy to make your company more relevant, competitive and profitable!

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