Web 2.0: When the honeymoon is over

From blogs to social networks, enterprises have often jumped on the Web 2.0 bandwagon without a clear vision of the business case. But without a business case, they may not be accurately measuring how successful these initiatives are — or aren’t. When it comes to Web 2.0, it’s a challenge to measure success, since traditional measurements don’t really work, but IT pros should always know where their ROI is coming from, whether it’s better worker productivity or improved customer loyalty.


“For us, it was all about creating a presence and building credibility, and, hopefully, those two things would help us generate business going forward,” said Suzana Popovic-Montag, a partner at Hull & Hull LLP, who started blogging in March 2006. The firm, which specializes in estates and trust litigation, posts daily blogs and two podcasts every week (one geared toward the layman, the other for fellow lawyers).

“When we first started, we didn’t know there were ways to track it, but now we have raised it to a more sophisticated level,” she said. As with any marketing mechanism, if you start it, you have to maintain it, otherwise you lose credibility. Now the firm uses analytics, so it can see who’s tuning in and where they’re coming from. “I’m not saying all of China is listening, but one person is, and we know about it.”

Clients are much more sophisticated these days, thanks to the Internet, so they do their own research before a meeting — and blogs and podcasts make them feel like they already know the lawyers. “In our business, when you’re dealing with death, it’s a very emotional kind of relationship,” she said, adding that it gives lawyers personality and credibility. “When people have so many options out there, yet they’re coming to us, do we think there’s a benefit? Absolutely. Can we measure it? Probably not. But I think the proof is in the pudding.” The firm is constantly busy. And that, indirectly, provides a financial ROI.


For many Canadian organizations, however, Web 2.0 tools are still in the early-adopter stage, said Krista Napier, Canadian IT innovation and export research analyst with IDC Canada. In a recent survey, IDC found that 12.5 per cent of Canadian organizations were using enterprise social networks, 15 per cent were using wikis, 18 per cent were using blogs and 20 per cent were using discussion boards.

“What gets a lot of attention these days are blogs and social networks, which are still in the earlier stages,” she said. Most are still experimenting with these tools and have a lot of questions about which tools they should be using and what constitutes success. “Is it 10,000 people coming to my blog or is it 10 really well-known people in the community coming to my blog and writing really good comments?” she said. “Because of that, it’s going to be really important to provide guidance.”


When it comes to Web 2.0, employee training is a big challenge. “Provide that training, and help employees see the value, because, if they don’t see the value, you’re not going to see the ROI ,” she said. In many cases, organizations decide they want to jump on the Web 2.0 bandwagon with blogs or wikis, but aren’t ready to share their knowledge with the outside world. Or, they might want to use a wiki to communicate with their client base, but don’t know what they want to communicate.

If they’re in reactive mode, they’ll turn to the IT department, without knowing the outcome they’re trying to achieve. So someone goes out and buys a product, then they’re disappointed because it’s not doing what they expect.


It all comes down to focusing on an outcome. “Is it to pass on information, in which case a blog may be the best bet,” said Bob Larrivee, director and industry advisor with AIIM, which has developed a worker model to guide organizations through this process.

Many organizations believe the IT department should be responsible for deploying Web 2.0, when, really, the IT department should be responsible for helping to pick, and then maintain, the right tools — but not necessarily defining the business case or driving their use.

“I’ve seen instances where organizations have put something in place like a wiki or blog, then toss it out there and tell the user community to go use it,” said Larrivee. But unless there’s more of a purpose, chances are users will have a look, but then get tied up in their day-to-day activities, because it’s not part of their daily toolset. Collaboration is 80 per cent cultural and 20 per cent technology and tools.

“As people collaborate and share ideas and exchange their knowledge, not only are they building a corporate memory, the result could be that they develop a new product or new use of a product that they never thought of before,” he said. But there has to be an underlying business reason — not just for the sake of creating a social network.


For Charles Hamilton, director of the Center for Advanced Learning with IBM Canada, “play” is part of his job, and he blogs regularly. “One of the first returns on blogging was that I no longer had to repeat everything in e-mails and other Web sites that I would normally have to share with my counterparts around the world — I just blog it and put it up there,” he said. “The information automatically syndicates to those who are watching my blog, so this saves me hours and hours of time because I don’t have to attach more files to e-mail.”

For a large enterprise like IBM, Web 2.0 tools allow employees around the globe to connect. IBM tackled the employee education problem with a step-by-step approach, when introducing new technologies.

The first step was internal instant messaging (called Sametime), which allows employees to share applications and files, and will increasingly allow them to share a virtual space.

That led to virtual meetings and events, using remote presentation and collaboration tools, and BluePages, IBM’s in-house equivalent to MySpace. After that came wiki and blog technology, and then online “jams,” which create a dialogue with its 400,000-plus employees, as well as some outside contributors.

While individuals like Hamilton see immediate personal benefits, these tools can offer that corporate ROI on a larger scale by opening up a dialogue with customers, finding out what’s working and what isn’t, and helping to set strategic direction.

There are also savings in worker productivity (and related costs), but perhaps the biggest value comes from that feeling of social connectedness. “The ROI on that is immeasurable,” said Hamilton. “There are no McDonalds’ measurements, like ‘A billion served’. We don’t have those numbers, but we know this connectedness is allowing us to function on a global level.”


There are even new media companies appearing that provide metrics that slice-and-dice that data in myriad ways. The Fredericton, New Brunswick-based Radian6 Technologies Inc., for example, has a software-as-a-service offering that tracks what’s being said about a company’s brand over social media, including blogs, online video, Flickr, Twitter and forums.

The company can determine your most influential posts, for example, to see if an issue you’re blogging about is trending anywhere.

“When you’re blogging, it’s like you’re in the middle of a forest,” said David Alston, vice-president of marketing with Radian6. “This is a two-way channel for dialogue, for communications, for building relationships, to be listening and engaging.” That’s not like traditional media at all, so you can’t use traditional measurements or ROI formulas, because they just don’t fit.

Alston refers to Web 2.0 ROI as the Return On Ignoring. If a customer was calling you on the phone, or standing in your lobby with a megaphone, shouting about how your brand sucks, you wouldn’t ignore it. Yet many companies ignore customers who are trying to talk to them over social media, particularly their next generation of customers.

“I’ll tell you what the return is—you start losing money,” said Alston. “A brand has always been the sum of all conversations around that brand. It’s just now more prevalent. If any company today thinks they completely own their brand, they’re completely wrong.”

If you’re not adding your voice, then you’re basically not part of your brand definition anymore. And if Google is picking up those conversations, then Google is becoming your new home page.

Where’s the ROI in that?


1. Take a stepping-stone approach

Many grassroots projects operate outside the IT environment, and, as they evolve and mature, become more ingrained from an IT perspective. Usually, these technologies evolve along with the culture of the organization, so slowly adopt tools based on a framework you already have in place. It’s going to be a real leap to run online jams, for example, if you’re not using synchronous communications.

2. Have a dialogue with your community of users

Find out what they need, and understand the relationship between the users and the technology. Watch the world outside, see what’s popular and why people are adopting those technologies, and figure out what pieces will work in your business.

3. It’s okay to have fun at work

Understand that people are connecting in a playful and social way — and that’s not a bad thing. Snowfly Inc., for example, uses online games to boost employee productivity. “If you reinforce good behaviour, it’ll happen again, especially if you can reinforce it immediately, which the Web can do,” said founder Brooks Mitchell. Employees who perform certain job functions get an electronic game token, which they can use to play random reward games (games last about five seconds). Research has found that, while it only takes about one to two per cent of base pay to do this, there’s typically a 20 to 25 per cent increase in worker productivity.

4. Don’t underestimate company culture

Training and company culture are the most prevalent challenges during Web 2.0 implementations, according to IDC. Senior leaders have to be on board with IT to encourage the use of these tools.

5. Track, monitor and analyze

Use analytics or team up with a new media company to monitor initiatives. Who’s using these tools? Is it the marketing department or R&D or a combination of both? Identify barriers, including departments or individuals who aren’t using them. Does it come down to a lack of training? Look to improve usage, not to avoid failure, but to improve upon what’s there.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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