Social networking, or the so-called “Web 2.0” is all the rage, having migrated from whisperings among technophiles in cubicle villages, to missives in the C-suite. Many CIOs have rushed into developing a Web 2.0 strategy before asking the critical question: Does Web 2.0 really matter?
The oft-heralded Web 2.0 “revolution” claimed that internet content would go from websites presenting information, such as traditional news, informational sites or blogs, to sites where visitors would generate content through collaboration and online sharing.
MySpace is the most often cited example of the phenomenon, where the site owners provide templates and associated functionality, and maintain the site’s backend, but the vast majority of the content is user generated.
In a few minutes, even those with rudimentary technical skills can create a “Myspace” with information and pictures, and then link to their friends. After reaching the mainstream, marketers began to latch onto MySpace, with everyone from fictional character like Burger King’s “The King” to up-and-coming musicians creating a MySpace page and encouraging users to add their entity, real or imagined, to one’s list of friends.
Conceived as an effort at viral marketing, initial product placements on social networking sites seemed fresh and innovative for a matter of moments, yet in mere months everyone from spammers to a dental company’s toothbrush now have a MySpace page.
Rather than garnering instant appeal with customers, having a MySpace page used for marketing purposes has quickly become hackneyed. Other efforts at integrating Web 2.0 into a corporate internet strategy have faced similar hurdles.
News sites that rely on or prominently feature user input dilute their brand. Would you really want your favorite news agency to feature witty commentary from CoolDude1234, who’s only qualification is an ability to log into a website?
Are customers really the best spokespeople for your latest product, and is there quantifiable value to hiring the small army required to sanitize and maintain a social networking component on your website? Do you really think customers are clamoring to add a toothbrush to their list of friends?
Back to the Basics: Web 0.0
Much of the talk around Web 2.0 presents it as a solution to a problem most companies never had. A social networking site is an excellent way to keep in touch with colleagues or friends, but perhaps not the best way to sell a cheeseburger.
Internally, tools such as Wikis and Web portals can be very effective if applied to a targeted group or with a distinct purpose. Like so many of the “next-big-things” in technology, Web 2.0 is a tool, rather than a solution in and of itself.
A carpenter looking to improve his skills will not do so automatically by buying a new drill, especially if what he really needs to do is drive nails. Similarly, a company struggling to improve the effectiveness of its customer-facing website will not find a panacea by putting up some flashy forums and interactive features, when the content provided is not relevant or helpful to the customer.