Businesses need to start taking Web 2.0 seriously if they are to join the bigger 'conversation', writes Gary Flood
Isn't Web 2.0 just for Generation Y? It turns out that two vital stakeholder groups, other than your digital-native new recruits, are caring more and more about all this Facebook and Twitter stuff: your customers and the board. "By next year we estimate at least 50% of input to large customer-contact centres will be non-voice calls," says Claire Macland, European head of marketing for networking firm Avaya. "That's a big challenge to the CIO as they struggle to manage and service all these Twitter, SMS and web messages."
Crucially, your managers - and peers in other lines of business - seem to have started wondering why you aren't as switched on about this as they are. "The people in the corner office have started to get a lot more knowledgeable about all this social media stuff and are, as a result, putting pressure on their IT counterparts to come up with a strategy for it," says Matt Quinn, CTO of Tibco, a business integration and process management software company. Gartner, meanwhile, recently predicted that by 2014, social networking services will replace email as the primary vehicle for interpersonal communications for 20% of business users.
Almost without realising it, social networking seems to have become another 'thing we do', with business in general apparently convinced it's a must-have. In February, for example, web and email security supplier Clearswift asked 1,200 UK organisations for their views on social media and found no less than 62% said they saw it as "critical" to their future success, which prompted its COO Andrew Wyatt to tell CBR: "If anyone's hyping Web 2.0, it's users, not us."
What are companies doing precisely? With the web of ten years ago, the idea was that online presences were built to make customers come and for companies to be noticed. By contrast, now Web 2.0 is being used as a way of trying to keep up with everybody else out there and not get forgotten.
"We built the classic web as a brochure, but it just isn't enough anymore," admits Nick Eades, chief marketing officer of Psion, which provides handheld computers in manufacturing. "We found we were missing out on communicating with three vital audiences: our customers, developers and reseller partners. We needed to become much more proactive to connect back with them, which is why we have gone down the 2.0 route."
Thus, Marriott Hotels, a user of specialist social media analysis software from SAS, utilises code to monitor customer comments and feedback, not just as sent direct to its own media but on other sites too, such as the popular TripAdvisor traveller forum. "Marriott is using us to help analyse in detail what customers are saying about what worked and what didn't work for them with regard to their stays in their hotels," says Laurie Miles, head of analytics for the UK arm of SAS. "This is freely available information that is very valuable about both Marriott's, and their competitors', performance."
It's also being seen as a way to optimise internal communication, too. "We had silos of knowledge all over the company and people weren't speaking to each other, knowledge wasn't being shared," says Christian Howes of enterprise software company WebTrends, which is using Web 2.0 to try and change that (see 'Case studies', below). Simon Price, European director of Recommind, a search firm, adds that large law firms such as Clifford Chance are using this approach to share advice and comment on big cases, with his company's software indexing, collating and collecting content, which is often, in its raw form, very large amounts of text.
The new reality of how mobile and web-based communications permeate modern social and business life is all great and no doubt valid, but haven't we been here before on at least one aspect of Web 2.0, internal comms, only it had a different name? A lot of the messaging behind the contribution of social media to foster greater collaboration and break open those silos is very familiar to anyone who looked at Knowledge Management or Enterprise Search in the 1990s (or who is an Autonomy user). It's also, surely, what all those intranets that were set up were supposed to do. So what went wrong, and will we just reinvent the wheel if we do Web 2.0 inside the firewall?
Broadly, the Web 2.0 vendors agree. "Yes, we've tried to deal with this before. But the problem wasn't solved and hasn't gone away," Mark Finch, VP of innovation and incubation at enterprise content management player Open Text, tells CBR. Finch says the Web 2.0 part of his firm's offering still only represents 10-15% of the total business, as organisations are being slow to be convinced that an internal Facebook is the best way of dealing with this issue. "After all," he jokes, "if all this stuff was easy we'd be selling shedloads of it."
"The majority of our business on this front is intranet replacement, yes," confirms Tibco's Quinn. "It's just a fact that intranets and internal wikis and all of that are just not seen as 'cutting it' at the CEO level and a better solution is being sourced."
"We've had five intranets alone in the three years I've been here," adds Howes.
So what's wrong with the corporate intranet? The verdict seems to be that, in practice, all it does is maintain the kind of divisional boundaries it is supposed to remove. They're just too process-heavy to put content on them, and using them to collaborate hasn't proven that popular. They are also, of course, generally quite static.
Does that mean all the work done on them should be thrown out? No, say the experts, but they need to be supplemented by more open, social network tools. "Document management and portals don't go away, but their roles will change," offers Quinn.
Corporate intranets also don't connect enough with the rest of the world. "What's so compelling about Web 2.0 is that it can bring really valuable input and expertise into the heart of the organisation from people the organisation doesn't even know about yet," explains Avaya's Macland.
It can also bring welcome new business from unexpected sources. "Our enterprise cloud back-up isn't that familiar yet," says Amrita Chandra, senior director of corporate marketing for Canada's Asigra. "Plus, we had traditionally only sold through OEMs, so when we started to go direct we were competing with huge rivals like IBM. We genuinely think social media has really helped us speed up the velocity of our sales cycle. What we've found, though, is that social media is like a cocktail party - you have to break gently into the chat, not go straight in and hard-sell."
A CIO that is under pressure to make Web 2.0 work for his firm has several pitfalls they should avoid.
First off, they must accept that this is a new way of doing business and adapt to it. "The old corporate outreach was well-crafted press releases or a structured marketing campaign, and that's not the same as one individual saying things on a blog that may or may be helpful to the rest of the firm," says Clearswift's Wyatt. "So security is a big concern here. But 'stop and block' just won't work - you can't prohibit employees from doing this, it just doesn't work."
"I have to say that danger existed as much with email as it does with Twitter," counters Bob Pike, COO of SiteForum, which provides interactive web service tools for organisations such as executive search company Odgers Berndtson and HR.com. "You have to try and have the same constraints and corporate-use policies with things like blogs as you have with email."
"You need to create a structure where you are empowering the workforce to do Web 2.0, but not letting them put you at risk either," says Wyatt. "A good model is allowing Facebook to be used on the network but stopping users from using the Facebook apps, say - so they can only use it for work, not play in, company time."
Not dictating and having useful content is also important. "You want it to be open, for people to be able to ask 'who is the SAP expert?', but also talk about what they want to talk about," says Open Text's Finch.
"It has to be a balance between policing and empowerment," adds Wyatt.
Web 2.0 is a factor, then, in not just your organisation dealing with the 'millennial' (aged up to 26 or so) youngsters entering the organisation - who have grown up on MySpace and YouTube and who are using LinkedIn to get their next job - so it has to be a big part going forward in terms of keeping them on board. It is also very much part of the 'conversation' out there, and increasingly part of the way the world is talking and conducting business.
CIOs should be building an understanding of Web 2.0 if they are to have something intelligent to add to the conversation, because if it hasn't come up already, it's only a matter of time before it does.
WebTrends, a digital marketing and analytics specialist, says it was struggling to foster enough internal collaboration until moving to a corporate social media platform called Jive. "Different departments that needed to talk to each other weren't - there was too much information locked up in long email strings and it wasn't easy to share that content," says Christian Howes, one of the firm's digital solution architects. "Now we have a much more efficient way of distributing internal expertise and it's really helped us. I'd recommend anyone to use this, perhaps starting with free software - Facebook has just launched a Groups feature I think worth experimenting with, for instance."
Cloud back-up vendor Asigra's work in social media is primarily through its corporate blog and Twitter account, both of which were established in 2009. It regularly monitors conversations online about the company and industry, using a combination of free and paid tools, e.g. Google Alerts and a product called HubSpot. It also tracks which online efforts lead to sales opportunities through its salesforce.com CRM system.
"Earlier this year, a new customer wrote a blog post about why they chose to switch from their existing back-up platform to us," says Amrita Chandra, senior director of corporate marketing at Asigra. "This single blog post has become one of the top 20 referring sources of traffic to our website and within two months of the blog post, we had two new service providers purchase our software and one become an Asigra partner."