The rapid growth, availability and promotion of Web 2.0 services is making organisations in both the public and private sectors rethink their internal and external communication strategies, both on and offline. Any discussions with peers and colleagues will quickly reveal that broadcast only communications are no longer acceptable.
When organisations first became bold enough to embrace Web 2.0, they did so primarily because they wanted to bring their internal and external stakeholders closer together. Sure, they also wanted to have a bit of fun getting to grips with technology and being creative with interactivity, but they mainly wanted to show investors, partners, customers, employees and the general public that they genuinely valued their opinions and input.
Of course organisations would be blinkered to entirely ignore the worth of popular social media tools such as Twitter or Facebook as part of their marketing activities, but it is essential that the care and effort taken to include stakeholders through Web 2.0 is associated directly with their own brand. All organisations must realise that we are operating in a world in which what we say or do on our internal or external facing web sites reflects directly on our brands and how we are perceived by customers, investors, partners, employees and members of the public. Participants must be fully aware from the start who is engaging with them. They should have no trouble understanding why they are participating, and that they can trust other participants with access to their views and interests. The organisation itself should be identifiable as ‘the hero’ in this context, not a ubiquitous social media platform, because it is the organisation and its own champions who are going those extra lengths to listen and involve stakeholders.
Regardless of the sector your organisation operates in, inclusion is a brand value you should be rightly proud of. It’s a fantastic foundation for all levels of relationships and achievements. There’s further value to be had by businesses and public authorities who are willing and able to seek the views of their customers and other key stakeholders at an early stage, before they design and refine any of these products and services. Focus groups are a great way of revealing amendments or additions to systems that might never have been considered without this extra level of consultation.
But inclusion must begin at home. Create a community rather than imposing one. Invite people into an environment that is welcoming and beneficial. Work yourself to make it work for everyone. And above all, ensure that it is all yours, right from the very start. One word of caution though – there is a danger that if feedback mechanisms are poorly managed or there is no easy way to analyse and respond to contributions, then participants will be become disenchanted and feel unappreciated, which will have a detrimental effect on the brand and the organisation. This is why any serious step into Web 2.0 must be committed and owned by engaged champions within the organisation. Simply ‘dipping toes’ into social media is likely to cause more damage than benefit.