Five Tips for Bringing Web 2.0 Into the Enterprise

Your customers are talking about you. Here's how to join their conversation.

For many, Web 2.0 is the Wild West (especially when trying to bring it into the enterprise), and like any new frontier, the rules are a work in progress. Still, those who have gone before you offer some advice.

Do your homework. The first step is to define who your Web 2.0 customer will be—for example, employees, consumers or advertisers? Find other companies that are targeting the same kind of customers and have similar goals. It may take research to figure out which companies fall into that category, but it's worth it, says Sylvia Marino, executive director of Edmunds' CarSpace.com. "It's great to sit in a room with people facing the same challenges." Web 2.0 tools targeting external customers can have quite different hurdles than those facing internal customers—for example, security settings or methods of generating participation.

Web 2.0 conferences and books that include case studies are also great places to find contacts. Going to support forums of vendors in the space can also yield Web 2.0 contacts, says Marino.

Test the water with smaller projects. Both in terms of getting buy-in and seeing what issues Web 2.0 may bring on, it's important to start small. Alistair Behenna, CIO of Harvey Nash, a global recruitment consultancy and IT outsourcing provider, often sees just the opposite when people do take on Web 2.0, "People start too big. Instead, be intelligent and selective, see what's out there." For example, if you're not comfortable with a wiki, you might have a corporate blog instead.

It was Dell's initial experiences with internal blogs that helped pave the way for IdeaStorm. Last year the company launched the corporate blog, Direct to Dell. "With that we learned the value of being transparent," says Caroline Dietz, Dell spokesperson and manager of IdeaStorm. Regarding feedback, "we honed what we're doing with it, how we're responding, how to publicly address critics, fans, competitors. That experience really helped prepare us for what we were up against [with IdeaStorm]."

Dietz says that launching IdeaStorm was a natural part of internal change and taking Web 2.0 to the next level. Still, internal education was required on just what the purpose of IdeaStorm was, especially for the traditional market research employees. "We knew there were certain pockets where you want to be careful with all this," she says. Education and communication were made priorities early on.

Create clear goals and choose tools accordingly. "Have a very clear mission statement when you go into it," says Marino. Edmunds' CarSpace.com arose from a philosophy that customers should have is a "clean well-lit place" to come together and discuss the ins and outs of car buying, as well as car ownership. Customers can log on to CarSpace and say, I just test drove such and such car, who else did and what did you think? They can talk about how to install a certain part, or even write a how-to guide. Forums, message boards and other tools support various customer needs. "It all goes back to core philosophy and making technology selections that support it," says Marino.

"There's a lot of folks that may want to jump on the bandwagon and take everything on, but I think it makes sense to look at strategy first and then at tools," says Dietz. IdeaStorm grew organically as a way to fill a customer need, she says. "We already were interacting with 3 million customers a day online and on the phone, but we needed to have tools to harness creativity and thoughts of customers." The company looked into a number of options, and of primary importance was the capability of voting ideas up or down.

It's also important to consider how you will deal with the intelligence that comes from Web 2.0. "Think about how you can use these tools to benefit the entire organization," says Dietz. How will you get information to marketing, sales, various regions, and so on. "If you're going to ask customers for ideas and feedback, you need a process in place to funnel information." To this end, one tool Dell uses to get information back to users of IdeaStorm is an "Ideas in Action" tab on the site, which details the ideas that are being implemented and how.

Be open to criticism. The big benefit of Web 2.0 for Behenna and others is taking advantage of the wisdom of crowds while also getting close to your customers. As an illustration, he points to the "crowdsourcing" used by James Murdoch, CEO of British Sky Broadcasting, who invited groups of customers to give him a one-minute pitch on improving the company. Out of those, Murdoch chose a new loyalty card program that will reward green and socially responsible behavior. But that closeness can sometimes be painful.

"A lot of people will flame you for no good reason," says Behenna. "But you can't filter too much, even amongst the flames and rubbish. You will kill the good stuff." He points to biting comments on his own blog. "You live with that and some of them make you think."

Over and over, Web 2.0 proponents stressed the importance of allowing the highest degree of free expression. Each credited the bulk of Web 2.0's value with the results of openness and acceptance. That doesn't mean that you cannot set parameters, but be cautious about setting them too narrowly or you risk choking off creativity and other gains.

"You may ask, 'But what if community says bad things about our products?'" says John Hagel, longtime Web 2.0 consultant and chairman of an upcoming Deloitte research center on Web 2.0 and other technologies. Remember that the watercooler conversations are going to happen whether you listen or not, he says. "The only choice you have is whether you will participate." Through listening and participating in conversations comes value, the more participation the better. Even if what you hear hurts. "I think most companies today are still putting boundaries too narrow relative to where value exists."

Set Reasonable Limits. That's not to say that no parameters whatsoever should be set. Behenna, Hagel and others point out that rules of reason still apply—no lawbreaking, confidentiality breaches, and so on—but they believe most risks tend to resolve themselves. "A lot of potential risks get managed by people," says Hagel. "You need moderators, policies and rules, but start with a limited set of policies rather than try to anticipate every risk."

And this may take time to figure out. Dietz says that Dell is still determining just where the balance between openness and moderating is, but says that "all of the [deleted comments] have been related to content that was vulgar, obscene or threatening. "With folks who rant," Dell may actually reach out and see if it can fix the problem. But for the most part it's comfortable leaving rants there because the community tends to take care of them, she says.

Still, there are ways to encourage civility. Marino recommends having a clear code of conduct to set the tone. When signing up, members must check off that they will abide by the CarSpace Member Agreement, part of which clearly outlines expected member conduct. Says Marino, "We have a very clear membership agreement that tells them what's OK." And like encourages like. "If you move to a nice neighborhood you're inclined to keep it nice," she says.

All this openness aside, no one thinks you should forget about security. "Security is absolutely critical, and you have to have a clearly defined set of principles," says Hagel.

"There's a myth that says we can't have [Web 2.0] because it's too scary, too risky," says Marino. "But you would put security around it like anything else. I see those as two separate issues."

Related links:

"ABC: An Introduction to Web 2.0"

"Is the Enterprise Afraid of Web 2.0?"

"Stowe Boyd on Web 2.0 in the Enterprise"

"Users Who Know Too Much and the CIOs Who Fear Them"

"Web 2.0 for the Suits: One Visionary's Take"

Join the discussion
Be the first to comment on this article. Our Commenting Policies