“Tweeting is for teenagers.” “Why should I tell other people where I am, what I think about a certain topic, or what music I like?” “Employees should work and not blog. Twitter, Facebook, and co. have no place in the business world.”
The shortsightedness of such statements was confirmed by the 70 experts from IT and industry who gathered at the annual Web 2.0 Congress on April 22 and 23, 2010. But what opportunities do social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter actually offer companies? What risks need to be considered? And how can companies deploy social media effectively to sell their products and communicate with customers to their advantage?
Enterprises network with customers
Facebook now has around 200 million users, with half of them over the age of 35. Companies that dismiss this trend are increasing their risk of failure on today’s markets.
In his keynote, Professor Marc Drüner of the Steinbeis University Berlin used a metaphor to describe the purpose of Web 2.0 in the business world. In 1971, the University of Oregon redesigned its campus. But before the planners started building roads and paths, they sowed grass seed. Once the grass had grown, they observed the tracks that were gradually beaten. After that, they built the paths in accordance with these tracks. This idea can also be applied to the Web 2.0 context. If companies are active on social media platforms, they don’t just call attention to themselves, but they also know what their customers are thinking. This not only triggers the transfer of knowledge, but also makes the company more open to the outside world.
Out of the community into the shopping cart
Currently, Facebook, Twitter, and the blogosphere give an impression of what people – and therefore customers – are interested in, what they think, and what they want. Many companies have picked up on this, which is why almost 85% of enterprises have fan pages on social media sites like Facebook or maintain their own brand communities. A successful example is Smatch.com, a social community launched by the German mail order company OTTO in which customers can chat about new products and shopping. Over time, many other online shops have been integrated into the Smatch.com site – including Neckarmann, another leading online retailer – enabling the users in the community to shop with a minimum of clicks.
Blogs set to replace newsletters
What recipes for success are there to make companies winners in the Web 2.0 universe? According to Drüner, the rule of thumb is 90/9/1: Ninety percent of users visit a Web site for information purposes only, 9% are prepared to click their way through an evaluation, but only 1% will actually write a comment. Companies must therefore cater to this tendency and put less focus on comment functions and more on evaluation systems that require just a few mouse-clicks.
As Reiner Gratzefeld, senior manager at Henkel explained, blogs and microblogs like Twitter are an ideal channel for disseminating news, posting links, and making status updates. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s for business or private use: Blogs can help put a stop to the floods of e-mails in our inboxes. Ultimately, blogs will replace newsletters and make shift handovers more straightforward.
Wikis, on the other hand, are an ideal channel for passing on sound knowledge such as instructions, documentation, or support. According to Professor Klaus Tochtermann of the Graz University of Technology in Austria, it’s important not to place too many restrictions on the employees who write or blog in the company’s name, and also to connect wikis and blogs.
Detecting depression using smartphones
There’s definitely a trend toward mobile devices. People now use social communities while on the move and write messages to their contacts or post photos from their iPhones. This enables companies who also participate in social networks to know what their target group is thinking. Drüner is convinced that mood management will be nothing unusual in the future. One day soon, cell phones will reveal whether their owners are in a good or a bad mood. The cell phone camera will scan the person’s face and a special program will detect a smile or a frown.
The Web 2.0 has changed user behavior. And it is also set to change companies with regard to transparency, marketing strategy, and openness. Enterprises will open themselves up to their customers more and more. Drüner concludes: “In the future, we won’t have to look for news or products. Instead, the news and the products will find us.”