Executive Summary You hear the terms Web 2.0, social network, and online community at every turn, but how can these tools revolutionize your business? With the onset of Web 2.0 technologies (blogs, forums, media galleries, wikis, groups, etc.), organizations today are using the borderless boundaries of the Internet to promote their products and services. And they are using them in more ways than one: • To empower users to collaborate, retain, share, and re-surface content online • To provide a platform for individuals to share opinions and experiences • To help streamline project management internally • To supplement traditional online advertising • To expose a new audience to a brand in a fresh and innovative way • To empower employees to participate in the topic-driven discussions people are already having about your brand The use of online communities adds a substantial value to businesses.

So what questions should you ask when developing your online social strategy? Question 1: What do I want to accomplish by using Web 2.0 technologies? Start off by identifying goals and metrics for your online social strategy. Will this initiative be focused on customer-facing communities or need to reside behind the firewall? Think about how you can add the most value to your brand by establishing an online community presence. You have the opportunity with this new initiative to supplement your marketing and advertising efforts, but you also have the opportunity to retain valuable intellectual property from your employees.

Either way, determine what you want the average level of member engagement to look like. What community path would you like your members (either external or internal) to follow? Then develop a plan that allows for flexibility, and be sure to review your objectives regularly. Question #2: Who makes up my audience? Once you determine whether your online community will serve the needs of your employees or customers, do your homework. Survey your existing offline customers/employees and find out where they hang out online.

Where do they go to get information today? What are their online habits? Once you know and understand how your target market uses online tools, you’ll be better poised to select specific social networking applications that will best engage your audience. Set up your online community with your target market in mind, and you’re off to a great start! Question #3: Do I need to change how I communicate with my customers? Yes. For starters, you’ll need to leverage and connect both online and offline social networks. For example, if you’re launching a brand-new product in stores, blog about it to your customers and prospects. If you’re looking to spur employee adoption for your Intranet application, put project training tips in the corporate blog versus sending the document via email.

Whatever you do, keep the content on your community site connected to what’s happening “in the streets” and dynamic enough so that users will want to come back for more. Remember, too, that your community should not be isolated to a single forum or blog on your company Web site. Pull the best community content into other parts of your Web presence for an integrated approach. Above all else, don’t forget that your customers/employees are your greatest asset when it comes to improving your product or service. So keep those lines of communication open.

Question #4: What Web 2.0 technologies should I employ? Based on fact gathering about your customers/employees and your determination of how you’d like to participate in the topic-driven discussions already taking place, determine which online community applications will best enable active contributors. Will you use blogs? Forums? Media galleries? Groups,? All of the above and more? Listed below are the top 4 types of Web 2.0 applications used today and how they promote persistent interaction: • Blogs – Regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, or other material such as graphics or video.

Often regarded as a platform for people to share personal stories or opinions, blogs can be also used to tell the story of an organization. These Web logs spur the discussion and elicit user feedback. • Forums – Discussion groups that enable interactive collaboration between individuals and the community about a particular topic. Simply referred to as “forums,” these applications could include news groups, message boards, bulletin boards, etc.

Forums encourage dialogue that allows multiple users to collaborate around a specific topic. • Wikis – Collaborative applications that allow users to contribute or modify content easily. This “open editing” concept allows everyday users to create and edit content while encouraging the use of collaborative content management. • Media Galleries – A core social networking application that displays multiple types of files, images, and videos in a meaningful way. Users can effortlessly integrate video from third-party services such as Flickr and YouTube, express their opinions, and then sort media files for relevancy by using the ratings and tagging functionality., Question #5: Once up and running, how do I confirm that my online social strategy is working? In a word: ROI.

Before you implement your online social strategy, adopt business intelligence tools that will help you analyze the metrics of your online community. Employ committed resources within your organization whose job is to consistently analyze the ebb and flow of your social network, decide what’s working, what’s not, and determine what to focus on. In order to translate your community investment into a tangible business value, you’ll need to report on your social network data. The information provided will help you determine exactly how much value your online social network is adding to your brand. Need assistance developing your online social strategy?