THE TOOLS OF WEB 2.0
Social computing tools are feature rich and powerful. They are diverse and help to solve a series of communications problems. They provide information to help connect people. Sites such as Ning and MySpace segregate communities into specialist areas, and blogs, wikis, forums and instant messaging applications enhance the interaction on the sites themselves. They propagate information by word of mouth networking and connections. They earn their revenue through paid-for advertising and sponsorship. They can be used to collate targeted groups. These sites can operate for professional purposes or purely for hobbyists. LinkedIn, which positions itself as a business networking site, is also a great source of job listings and a quick way of looking at candidates’ curricula vitae and career histories. Other examples of such sites are Facebook, Bebo, Orkut, KickApps and Friendster.
Planning to incorporate these sites into your plan requires some discipline to manage the updates from each site effectively. Some networking sites have their own alerts built into the software which enable you to receive emails when certain actions are triggered. Part of your implementation plan might include allowing for appropriate timely action whenever an alert is generated.
One way that companies can start to communicate with their customers outside their formal public relations (PR) and communications mechanisms is by allowing their employees to broadcast their message to their customers through blogging.
Forward-thinking companies with fresh innovative ideas and good blogging policies in place experience a perception shift amongst their customers. Over time, after interaction with bloggers, customers discover that the company is staffed with real people with families, homes, a sense of humour and not mechanoids without a soul.
Blogging, the publishing of information to a web log, allows information and links to be published onto the web in a dynamic way. Your customers will read what you publish on your blog to get information and advice from you. Posts are published in reverse chronological order so that the latest post is shown at the top of the page. Your readers can add their comments to your blog entries, and other bloggers can link to your blog entry from their own blog.
The mechanism of cross-linking to a blog post on another blog is called a trackback or a pingback and it is a useful way for you to track who reads your content.
Subscribing to blogs
Your readers can subscribe to your blog using RSS. RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication—or Rich Site Summary, according to some site definitions—and is an essential tool for websites that have rapidly changing content. In order to take advantage of the RSS feature on a website, you need a feed reader, or aggregator. Subscribers of your blog consume RSS feeds through a feed aggregator. Offline readers such as Sharpreader and Newsgator allow you to read content when you are not connected to the Internet, or you can use a tool such as Google Reader to read aggregated content when you are online. There are also versions of RSS readers specifically designed for mobile devices. When you subscribe to an RSS feed on a web page, your feed reader periodically scans each URL that you have subscribed to, checks for updated content on the page and, if there is new content, downloads a copy for you to read later. The information also includes extra information in meta-tags, such as the date of publication and the owner of the post and a link back to the original post in case you want to add a comment to the post. The content is actually pulled from the URL by the reader itself although it appears to have been pushed to out to subscribers each time a new post is published or created by the author.
Due to the technical limitations of RSS, it isn’t possible to obtain statistics on who is subscribing to your RSS feed, which may be an issue for you if your customer engagement strategy includes measuring specific metrics around subscriber types.
Feed syndicator tools like Feedburner can keep track of your subscribers.
A feed syndicator allows material to be made available to many other websites and for you to measure each click. They can tell you how many unique new subscribers are reading your posts, which can be a useful mechanism if you need to track audience engagement.
Websites that have content that is updated from time to time should consider placing an RSS Feed button on their web page for users to subscribe to and receive push notifications. Hosted blog sites such as Blogger, Wordpress, TypePad, Joomla and Windows Live Spaces all have these feed notification buttons incorporated.
Business to business blogging
There are personal blogs, there are product blogs. There are corporate blogs, and there are blogs written by cats and dogs. Which one is the right approach? Microsoft has many different bloggers who talk about technology innovation, research, opinion and upcoming product releases. There are thousands of bloggers who blog as individuals, there are product team blogs, and support team blogs. There are blogs written on the main Microsoft sites of http://blogs.msdn.com and http://blogs.technet.com. There are blogs written using Live Spaces, Wordpress, LiveJournal and many more. There’s a huge amount of information coming from inside the company, designed to educate, inform and announce news to Microsoft’s partners and customers. Microsoft is a good example of B2B blogging. Credibility, authority and authenticity all help the customer or partner make an informed decision about Microsoft’s large product set. With the huge amount of information flowing from Microsoft every day, it would not be feasible to aggregate all this information into one main channel. It may be possible for a small company to have one ’voice’ when engaging with customers or partners, but for large companies this could not work. Would it even be possible for one blog account to aggregate all of the work people are doing in one company without the blog sounding like a PR message? Any major corporate announcement is generally tied to PR initiatives at a corporate level where perhaps there isn’t a place on the website for comments from the readers of that message. With a carefully executed PR strategy around these announcements, and a good corporate policy in place, the voice of the blogger (and the microblogger) can be heard, and it can be a very powerful voice indeed when it is closely aligned with corporate strategy and an effective plan in place.