In this first blog on the subject of using Web 2.0 tools and applications, I take a look the relationship between Web 2.0 applications and the needs of a networked company.

The other day I was sent a link to a website entitled How to use Twitter for marketing and PR a hot topic if ever there was one that, from its title, sounded like an interesting read. Frankly, it was both more prescient and a great deal more full of insight than one can imagine – it simply said ‘Don’t’. This places it directly at odds with the enthusiasts and supporters of Web 2.0 applications as marketing tools: something they like to call Enterprise 2.0 as though, somehow, this made it different. But Web 2.0 applications are much much more than communication tools for marketing.

Web 2.0 is really a set of computer applications that makes use of computer networks (and especially the Internet and Worldwide Web) in ways that allow for greater collaboration between users and a closer association than would otherwise be possible between those not who are not co-located . The underlying principle is that each of these applications allows the user to generate content that is then seen (or shared) by other users who can comment on, modify, or add to the original content. Between 2003, when the term was popularised, and 2006 when it became an accepted computing term, Web 2.0 tended to be the domain of the geek, the nerd, and the band-wagon jumping technology journalist. The focus was very much on blogs (often the random thoughts of empty minds?), forums (everyone an expert), wikis (like Wikipedia and, technically, a ‘community’ website in which all content can be edited by any user) and then the rise of the ‘social networking sites (MySpace and Facebook) and the advent of the micro-blogging sites (Twitter and others). Later, other applications arose allowing users to share photographs (Flikr is an example) and videos (YouTube).

The basic assumption is that all the world wants to communicate and that they want to communicate electronically, thus completely ignoring the fact that 71.3% of the world have little or no access to computers or networks on a regular basis. Field research does seem to confirm that everyone wants to communicate, but the same research also suggests that not everybody, and indeed, a majority would prefer not to communicate electronically. On a recent visit to a large corporation that is extremely well networked with Web 2.0 applications, it was interesting to see that face-to-face meetings were still the norm and many people preferred to ‘pop in to see a colleague’ rather than contact them via one of the networking tools.

Of course, when those involved are in a virtual team (either not co-located in the same building or not working in the same time zone – either geographically or by the result of shift work) or the organisation is operating in a physically dispersed or deconcentrated structure, then the use of networking tools facilitates communication in the way that the telephone and then email used to.

But Web 2.0 applications are not primarily about ‘communication’ (although they are probably the C in ICT – information and communication technology – which replaces both IT and IS in the business lexicon), they are actually about collaboration. They facilitate collaborative working practices and thus harness the power of the many in the way that Tapscott and Williams discuss in their 2006 book, Wikinomics (an essential read for all managers and especially CEOs hoping to harness the power of collaborative working).

Whether or not an organisation can benefit from the use of Web 2.0 applications depends very much on what it actually does and I’ll look at that in the next blog on this subject. Then we’ll have a look at the use of or access to Web 2.0 applications (especially the micro-blogging and social network sites) and its impact on performance. And finally, we’ll look at the use of Web 2.0 applications for marketing purposes.

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