For the past eight or so months, I’ve been writing a column called Web Sight (spelling intentional) for Entrepreneur magazine. (Here’s a sample piece from the latest issue.) The focus has been on how so-called Web 2.0 technologies, such as blogs or social networks or customer feedback tools or real-time analytics, can drive revenue or cut costs for small businesses. It hasn’t been all that hard to find examples to use as case studies, but it has been astonishingly hard to convince anyone in the solution provider channel that Web 2.0 are useful.
Granted, as I write this blog entry, I consider all the VARs and solution providers that have recently befriended me in Facebook or LinkedIn. So, the climate may be changing. Kudos to you, I say, because you are exposing yourself to all sorts of possible new connections and reinforcing existing ties. But as I’ve interacted with various channel executives about this topic over the past few months, invariably they tell me they’re too busy in the real world on sales calls or customer visits to worry about what’s commonly called Web 2.0.
OK, I’m definitely a people person, too. I thrive at small trade shows, where I can meet tons of potential partners or clients or article sources. But invariably the follow-up is increasingly virtual. So maybe we should think about this Web 2.0 thing differently or at at least talk about it a little differently. Maybe it’s time for you to step back and think about all the different tasks you associate with running your business successfully, such as recruiting or sales prospecting or forging new partnerships, and think about how the various “things” associated with the Web 2.0 phenomenon can realistically impact your business.
Here are just two examples:
– The aforementioned social networking. When I, ahem, separated from my former employer, I was too stunned to do much beyond sending an email to my “best” contacts letting them know I now had a different role in my business life. Within a week, I found the easiest way to do this was by creating a network in LinkedIn, where I have subsequently met great new expert sources for all the articles I’m writing but also some new business opportunities when I put on my consulting hat. By the way, some new stats on social networking. In-Stat recently predicted there would be 92.2 million users on social networks in the United States by 2012, based on the results of a recent survey. That same survey found that 16.7 percent of people use mobile devices to interact with their network. Think about all your airport downtime, and I think you’ll agree that being part of even one social network would be worth your while. You get as much out of it as you put into it. Here’s one example that should bring things home: Adam Eiseman, CEO of Lloyd Group in New York, closed a $100,000 deal that was sparked through a Facebook interaction. Does this sound worthwhile?
– Blogging is another no-brainer, if you do it right with a specific focus and a predictable frequency. If nothing else, this is a great way to keep up with your staff. You can provide useful updates about what is going on within your company, update the team on corporate priorities, and save e-mail for project related interactions. Or you can use blogs as a promotional tool for your company and your philosophies about leadership, like Jim Estill with distributor Synnex in Canada. Jim has been blogging way longer than I have, and it has helped him build visibility not just for him but for his company.
– Anything that helps with customer interaction is a huge bonus. Here’s another example from within the channel: iRepair Squad (which fixes iPods and other gadgets) is using something called RatePoint to monitor interactions. One quantifiable result has been a 18.3 percent decrease in shopping-cart abandonment for the e-commerce portion of his company’s Web site. Here’s a link to the full article.
Time to step off the soapbox but not before one final thought: You really owe it to yourself to deconstruct what the various technologies associated with the Web 2.0 could specifically mean to your business. If you must, assign it to someone to research, maybe a 20-something who has spent their college years immersed in these concepts. But ignore these things at your future peril.
Heather Clancy is an award-winning business journalist and high-tech channel communications consultant. If you want to talk to her about the phenomenon formerly called Web 2.0, you can e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.