2009 has been an interesting year in terms of using the web for business. I think the combination of our current political and economic situation and capabilities of web technology are feeding off each other to make the web more social than ever. And this has huge implications for how businesses use the web.
When businesses, causes, celebrities, and so forth started using the web, most of these early sites were very static in nature. They served basically as online brochures. Then people started realizing that you could sell products and services over the web, and we had the huge .com boom and subsequent bust for many.
It used to be that the goal was to drive as many “eyeballs” (that is visitors) to your site and surely somebody would do something valuable for the website owner. Smart businesses realized that there was more to it than just getting people to your site, that there was a social dynamic at work. Communities were being created on the web. Technology soon followed and thus, the term Web 2.0 was coined. Early pioneers who recognized this include Amazon, eBay, and Google.
So many people have known about the technology and the importance of the socialness of the web, but few were able to effectively use it to deliver business value. Now we have started to see several success stories emerge, but why?
In my opinion, this has happened through a combination of maturity and availability of technology coupled with a renewed sense of community – to provide social media sites such as Blogs, YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter. But also important were user reviews, ratings, and recommendations provided by websites from Amazon, iTunes, and eBay.
Social media sites have been growing in the numbers of personal users, sometimes dramatically over the last several years – primarily for personal use. These social sites demonstrated the desire for people to engage each other and build communities and relationships around their interests and passions. And the economic challenges that many of us face have only accelerated the sense of community.
What does this mean for businesses wanting to use the web? In 2009, we started to hear the success stories. About how businesses were using the passions of their customers as a way to start engaging with them – having virtual conversations and building relationships. Some of these were driven by loyal avid fans who loved their brands (Coca-Cola and Target), but also about businesses that listened to and responded to complaints and provided excellent customer service (Comcast, JetBlue).
In the spring and early summer of 2009, it seemed that every magazine, television network, talk shows, and newspapers had some feature or news about social media sites and success stories about businesses and causes that had used social media to engage their customers.
The key is engagement. Engagement builds relationships and adds value. And there is no substitute for relationships in the world of business, or for a social or political cause.
This paradigm shift allows businesses to create an effective web presence that will help them engage with customers and grow their businesses. So before you create a new website, or redesign your existing one, just give this approach consideration.