The amount of activity and participation of people on sites like MySpace, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, Wikipedia, Digg, Del.icio.us and other so called social media sites and social networks that make up what we call the new Web or Web 2.0, did not go unnoticed by the big business out there.
The possibilities to do something good with it for your business are real, but hard to gauge, measure, adjust and redirect like how must things in the real world and the good old Web 1.0.
An untamed wild beast is powerful yet dangerous at the same time. Some beast can by nature not be tamed entirely, regardless of what you do or try to do in order to keep it under control.
There will always some amount of uncertainty and risk involved when being around or doing something with those animals. The same is true for social networks and “people” in general. However, the risks can be reduced by knowing more about the beast, learning how to handle it, being aware of the possible reactions (positive or negative) and having plans ready for as much as possible scenarios in the event that they are needed fast.
Social media can be leveraged by any company, especially large corporations. The problem is that large corporations are often scared of this new type of way of how communication is conducted and people interact with the company and its products and services. Yes, it is different than it was in the past and it requires some rethinking and learning, but it will be worthwhile doing, if you do it right.
Rushing the thing to jump onto the bandwagon as quickly as possible is not only dangerous, but also an open invitation for disaster and the chance that things get even worse after the first “incident”, which will come for sure. That is not a question of IF but WHEN. The traditional “ignore”, “bully”, or “use the PR-Agency” methods can have an unexpected backlash and hit you without you being ready for it.
Why go through all the trouble and even think about implementing a social network and for what?
Social media can be used internally, as an extension of an extra-net, which involves suppliers and business partners and/or externally to communicate with existing and/or potential future customers.
Wikis and other collaborative editing/content management systems, rating and ranking features, comments and discussion forums can be used for anything that is some sort of data repository, database or collection of information. It can also be used for phone and contact lists and events calendars as well.
If you let your customers engage you and your products directly, things like focus groups and similar vehicles for market research and testing could be replaced entirely and become more efficient than the best “focus group” will ever be. You allow direct input from people who actually know and use your products or your competitors. People who know what they need and can tell you exactly what that is etc.
Projects that involve you and multiple of your suppliers could be coordinated in a way that each supplier can interact with the other and discuss possible issues, specifications and time lines without the need for you to do anything at all. Issues that arose from three way communication, no communication or clarification of provided specifications can cause problems that result in delays and problems during the project implementation. Errors and misunderstanding could be avoided, if open communication between the involved parties would have been available during the whole course of the project.
Those are only a few examples, but you get the general idea I hope.
You want to make the most of your social media implementation and ensure that it does not become just another unused tool, which was rejected by the users or simply ends up a mere replication of existing data repositories without adding additional values.
You should consider the following things for your social media implementation.
Make it Easy
Make it easy for the user to express their opinions and ideas in the social media environment. Implement the right tools and make sure that those tools can be used right away without the user having to go through extensive training classes in order to use the system. More is not always better. As a compromise, make the common features enabled and active by default and put all the other stuff under optional “advanced” setting for the geeks and super users who cry for more fancy features.
The barrier of entry that makes users participate or not, depends significantly on the fact how hard it is for a user to take the first steps that are necessary in order for him to see a result, gets a feeling of accomplishment and if and when he sees gratification in return to his efforts.
Be as Open as Possible
In many cases are better results accomplished if more people are involved rather than a handful selected few. The enlightening moment is often triggered by a seemingly outsider who provides new views and thoughts to a discussion that is trapped in a vicious circle without being able to escape it.
Let as many people participate as you can. Use a black list approach rather than a white list one and restrict access only where it is absolutely necessary for security reasons or where you have to protect your intellectual property from competitors.