Prerequisites For Business-Driven Web 2.0 Efforts

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Since the beginning of the year, have been asked the following question (in various forms) time and time again: If we want to use this social media "stuff" to connect with customers, how do we get started?

At this point, it seems that the natural inclination is to jump right in and start prescribing technology (e.g. "well, let’s set up a WordPress or TypePad blog and we’re done!" or "Let’s get the Haystack network up this week!").  While the technology is an enabler, there are still the basic questions that need to be answered in order to get things off on the right path, and help to stack the deck in favor of success.  Today, let’s concentrate on the fundamentals of what an organization needs to think about before embarking on a social media activity.


#1) Why

Why do this?  Why start a blog or a social network or other Web 2.0-oriented effort?  Sometimes, the answer is simply "In order to connect."  And, in the case of many, many blogs (and IM, and Plazes, and Twitter, etc.), that answer is sufficient.  However, as is more often the case, there are additional reasons to jump in:  better and more timely feedback from customers, the ability to connect with others working on similar problems, putting a human face on what had been historically a sterile organization, creating a framework for communications, or, most importantly, creating a platform for enabling better/broader/more timely information exchange. 

The "why" is critical.  (And, as a point of note, "because we want to explore this and get to understand it" may be the right answer.  When that’s the case, make sure that expectations are set accordingly.)

#2) Who

Web 2.0 is about people.  Period.  Who are the people involved?  Who will be the primary contributors to the effort?  What are their backgrounds?  Who are they as people?  In addition, who are the other people who will be interacting with the environment, even if they don’t initially contribute?  In a blog, the ratio of commenters-to-posters is large; the ratio of readers-to-commenters is astronomical.  What’s in it for each of those constituencies?  Does the environment support them and provide what they need?  What value does each group derive from it?

Similarly, in a social network, there are typically a handful of "power" users, a slightly larger group of sometimes-contributors, and a huge group of people who may only be observing.  (Members of this last group are commonly referred to as "lurkers.)  What’s in it for them?

#3) Where

Online gathering places are examples of the "third place" as defined by Oldenberg:  a "place" other than home or work, for democracy, civil society, and social engagement.  Is what you are putting together a destination, or a directory that sends people forth on their journeys?  (Both are relevant.)  What does the place feel like?  Is it open, or exclusive?  Is it part of a larger site, or a stand-alone entity?  How will people find it?

#4) When

Is the activity that you are proposing using social media an ongoing concern, or tied to a particular event?  Note that unless there is a large, existing group of participants, it will oftentimes take a few months, perhaps even a year, to achieve "critical mass."

It’s like planting a garden.

#5) How

"How" is all about the norms of the place.  What’s the tenor of the interaction?  Is it "strictly business," or relaxed?  Is it moderated, or free-wheeling?  What will participants do if their contributions are edited or deleted?  If there is a "topic," will off-topic discussions be immediately squelched, or will the interactions be free-form, like a lively dinner party?

Additionally, a key "how" item is thinking about how the site’s members deal with "trolls" and spammers.  Will the be ignored? Banned?  Given a warning?  Deleted without comment?  Sent to "time out" for a period of time?

Much of the "how" derives from the "who."  The types of individuals who collectively make up the constituency of the place are the ones who will drive the "how."  Heavy-handed moderation will make the place constricting, yet too lax a policy will rapidly devolve the interactions into noise.

Want to see a guide that you can use to start conversations in your organization?  A template you can use, after the jump.

As a template, feel free to copy the guide below (you can also use these answers as the basis for internal communications efforts as well to gain support from other parts of the organization).


The reason for starting this [blog | social network] is:


By pursuing this effort, we believe we will be able to:



We will measure success by:




We want to connect with people who want to:



We expect that the following types of people will be frequent contributors:



We expect that the following types of people will sometimes contribute:



We expect that the following types of people will primarily be "lurkers" in the group:



Each of the three groups will benefit from being part of the group by:



First-time visitors will:



Repeat visitors will:




The place we are setting up is:



When they arrive, visitors will feel:




What we are setting up will be launched by the following date:



It will continue to exist (until a date | as an ongoing concern):




The tone of the effort is:



We will deal with "trolls" or spammers by:



We will handle "off-topic" interactions by:



Our moderation policy is:



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Prerequisites For Business-Driven Web 2.0 Efforts
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About Christopher Carfi
Christopher Carfi, CEO and co-founder of Cerado, looks at sales, marketing, and the business experience from the customers point of view. He currently is focused on understanding how emerging social technologies such as blogs, wikis, and social networking are enabling the creation of new types of customer-driven communities. He is the author of the Social Customer Manifesto weblog, and has been occasionally told that he drives and snowboards just a little too quickly. WebProNews Writer
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