Be afraid!While Web 2.0 and social media tools provide great opportunities for businesses from a branding and marketing point of view, there are also a raft of other opportunities which are easily overlooked. The very same benefits that can be achieved through your social media efforts can also be applied across your enterprise – from employees to partners, vendors and even shareholders. Sounds great, right?

But let me tell you a little secret. This sort of social media (and almost every aspect of social media) is just not sexy. It doesn’t have the glitz and glamour or even the spotlights of advertising; and there’s not the breathtaking scale of large format outdoor advertising. But if you can get past this, you will find that your social media efforts really will transform your business.

But where do you start?

I always start with people and with their behaviour. What sort of relationship does you business have with them? The thing about Web 2.0 or social media is that it is participatory – and many, if not most, businesses and brands base their stakeholder relationships around transactions. In fact, we have built our entire businesses around this – just look at the success of that once new-fangled concept of “ebusiness” or “ecommerce” – and now think about whether you would ever open a bank account that didn’t have an online banking option. Even my mother uses online banking. To me, that makes it ubiquitous. It makes it mainstream.

From a business perspective, the transactional relationship works. You know what you want out of the relationship (ie money) and it is easy to measure (volume). But to enable a transactional relationship with a large audience requires technology – and with that comes complexity, long timeframes for implementation and a whole lot of work on your internal business processes. And because of the scale, complexity and cost, it comes from the top down – it is driven by your business executives.

Web 2.0, on the other hand, is simple to implement. Sometimes you can get extensive functionality for little or no up-front cost – you can use open source software, free or cheap web hosting or you can choose a hosted (software as a service) model. Once you decide to go down this path, you can implement your ideas very quickly. Within minutes you can have a blog setup and working, a wiki ready for team collaboration and Google Analytics ready to measure your traffic, goals and conversion rates. And did I mention that ANYONE can make this happen. All you need is a web connection. From the CEO right down the new intern, anyone in your business has access to the tools that can transform the relationships that you have with your stakeholders. That’s right – it is bottom-up transformation.ThreeLeversSMsuccess

But there is a problem. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you SHOULD. And just because it’s available, doesn’t mean it will be ADOPTED. The challenge for brands and businesses who want to shift the needle on their business relationships is to move from transaction to participation – to create an engagement layer that bridges the transactional parts of the business with the newly emergent participatory elements.

Those clever folks over at McKinsey’s have published Six Ways to Make Web 2.0 Work (registration is free) which points out some of the challenges (and approaches) which can can use. But for my money, it is that middle layer of Engagement that builds success. It is the messy, unsexy aspect of business (and marketing):

  • Communications: Keeping your stakeholders up-to-date with improvements, road blocks, outcomes and risks is an essential element. This can also flow over to other aspects of marketing/advertising.
  • Change management: There is always a pre-existing way of “getting things done”. Helping people adopt new behaviours and new technologies means managing and measuring that change.
  • Framework establishment: Many of your stakeholders will have had some exposure to Web 2.0 tools in their personal lives. You will need to provide frameworks which provide the context within which they can most effectively use them at work.
  • Informal leadership: Nothing says “move ahead” like the CEO and leadership team informally adopting the Web 2.0 tools.

But while this is unsexy – with the right strategy, it actually delivers on the promise of Web 2.0. And that is good news for businesses and for brands. Hands up for some unsexy marketing?