As a buzz word, you’ve probably heard the term “Web 2.0″ thrown around before. You may even have a good idea about why this is important or how it has helped you engage with B2C companies outside of the workplace. How, then, is this relevant to your business in the industrial sector? You have a company website, isn’t that enough?
Tim O’Reilly first coined the term Web 2.0 at a conference back in 2004. He defined it as a way to ‘harness collective intelligence’ and ‘the wisdom of the crowds’.
Wikipedia defines Web 2.0 as:
“A site [which] allows its users to interact with each other as contributors to the website’s content, in contrast to websites where users are limited to the passive viewing of information that is provided to them.”
Web 2.0 technologies enable a new generation of interaction on the Internet. Product reviews, forums, social networking sites, and blogs offer communication and collaboration on a new level not previously afforded to online users.
In a world where what we do, where we do it, and who we do it with is so often influenced by those around us, we can now network with peers around the world without leaving our computer. User-generated content means we can step around corporate sales pitches and draw on the opinions of others to help us make decisions instead.
Chris Jones explains the importance of such meaningful engagement:
“Many still don’t realize that the new internet – call it Web 2.0 – offers a radically different proposition: collaborating with others via an open, multi-party exchange.”
Amazon is a great example of this. Not only does the online shopping giant invite you to review items you’ve purchased through the site, but it also allows you to join relevant communities and create your own lists of recommendations for others to view.
The danger is, in our efforts not to step outside the box, we risk being left behind. Web 2.0 is not going to disappear. The Internet increasingly revolves around users and how they share information. Those online no longer solely rely on brands to feed them the information they need.
Businesses which refuse to acknowledge the Web 2.0 era of Internet technologies risk distancing themselves from those they most want to talk to. By not reaching out and affording people an online platform for their voice, companies could end up sending the message that they simply don’t care about the questions, problems, or opinions of their customers.
Using LinkedIn and Twitter, I asked how Web 2.0 and the new culture of participation have improved peoples’ experiences with businesses as consumers or otherwise. Here are some of the responses I received:
There are lessons here for the B2B sector. Online tools which cultivate an open exchange culture enhance dialogue between companies and customers. Businesses should no longer be pushing their wares onto potentially interested parties. Instead, they must take a step back and offer the tools for people to make their own decisions.
1. Start small
Consider how you could encourage visitors to engage with the information you currently provide online. For example, could you have your website developer implement software to facilitate product reviews?
Alternatively, where are people already talking about you? Could you start a Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook account and join the conversations there?
What about niche industry forums? Don’t jump in and start pushing your product or service. Take the time to ingratiate yourself into the community by offering advice to others instead. Be honest about who you work for.
2. Consider new ways to prompt feedback
Could you start (and maintain) a company blog with comments enabled? What about a forum for your customers to discuss problems or questions? Think outside the box. What are your competitors doing? More importantly, what aren’t they doing? Be innovative.
3. Help, don’t sell
Think in terms of helping people. If you only focus on the bottom line, you’ll miss opportunities to network and engage customers and those who may, one day, become customers.
4. Be prepared for negative feedback
Realize not all the feedback you receive will be positive. Don’t be afraid of this; use it to your advantage. Don’t delete comments from frustrated customers, however tempting. Allow others to see you acknowledge you have room to improve and are doing everything in your power to do so. Be transparent. A good example of this is Domino’s ‘Pizza turnaround’ and how the company used negative feedback to improve both its product and reputation.
5. You can’t stifle the conversation
Don’t forget, whatever you do, people are talking about you anyway. They could be talking about you both offline to their peers, and online – via forums, communities, social networking sites, social bookmarking sites, blogs, and other third party websites. If you can think of ways to embrace these conversations online, you can help position yourself as a trusted source.
The question is: how much do you value what your customers have to say? And are you giving them the tools to say it? Because if you don’t, you can be sure that someone else will.