Make Web 2.0 work for you, not against you

Evidence among the growing number of businesses employing Web-based social networking tools indicates that Web 2.0 has a promising corporate future.

However, experts warn that organizations should institute clear-cut ground rules for employees and executives engaging in in-house and outward-looking wikis and blogs, lest they shoot themselves in the foot.

“Be prepared for unexpected results,” warns Jim Elve, owner and publisher of Blog Canada, a Waterford, Ont.-based resource site and directory of Canadian blogs.

The online survey for the top 10 “worst Canadians” by history magazine Beaver, according to Elve, is a case in point.

When results from 15,000 responses were summed by the Winnipeg-based publication, Pierre Trudeau came in as the No. 1 reviled Canadian.

Granted the deceased ex-prime minister was considered extremely controversial in his time, but to have the architect of multiculturalism and the Canadian Charter of Rights rank above the likes of sex killers Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka (ranked number five as a single entry) and former Canadian media mogul Conrad Black (number 10) suggests the poll was “hijacked,” said Elve.

“Someone must have organized a group to vote in Trudeau as the worst Canadian – something the publication obviously did not foresee.”

This and other perils are deadly landmines that firms will have to learn to avoid as they navigate through the new territory of what is now known as Enterprise 2.0, says Jonathan Kallner, head of the information communication and entertainment (ICE) group for audit firm KPMG Canada.

Enterprise 2.0 simply means the use of emerging social software platforms such as wikis, blogs, tagging and networking or collaboration tools within companies or between companies and their partners or clients.

“Whereas e-mail is considered static, these new applications are participatory and dynamic in nature,” Kallner said.

He said social networking technologies can aid businesses in areas of knowledge sharing and management, problem solving, innovation and collaboration.

Enterprise 2.0: Fad or Future?, a recent KPMG report, identified companies such as General Motors, Hitachi and Sun Microsystems as having successfully used blogs to communicate within the corporation and with their clients.

Frankfurt-based bank Dresdner Kleinwort Ltd., Microsoft Inc. and Nokia use wikis to foster collaboration among employees on numerous business projects. The Wall Street Journal, Cisco and Amazon.com employs really simple syndication (RSS) feeds to clients and staff to push product and news updates.

However, “the potential for benefits are great but the risks are ever present,” Kallner said.

Industry insiders have the following suggestions to help firms reduce their exposure to risk:

Determine your needs and wants – An honest assessment of what your organization needs and how you want to achieve your goals is essential to any successful Enterprise 2.0 implementation, says Scott Brooks, co-founder of ConceptShare, a Sudbury, Ont-based collaboration software developer.

You might have to use a combination of tools or decide that Enterprise 2.0 is not for your company at the moment, he said.

Prepare to change your outlook — A lot of company leaders, Brooks said, are initially hesitant to use social networking tools because they are afraid of opening up corporate information to the public. On the other hand, others dive in without realizing that they’re exposing the company to public scrutiny and opinion.

“When you open up a blog, it’s like putting out a corkboard and inviting everybody to post their two cents worth.”

Get a good infrastructure – It’s important to start out with a robust infrastructure that can handle the demands of the solution you’re deploying, says Kallner, of KPMG. Research and investigate what industry leaders or competitors are using and what results they are getting.

Set guidelines on use – It might be anathema to the essence of social networking, but Scott said laying some rules at the onset could save you from headaches in the future. Issues to consider could include for example who are allowed to participate in a blog or wiki; and what topics are allowed and which is taboo.

Set a system for response and monitoring – When you open you windows to the world it often hard to the filter out what comes in. Kallner said some posting could either be damaging to the organizations reputation or could be libelous and expose the company to litigation.

Elve of Blog Canada advices that sites, blogs and wikis should be regularly monitored to maintain freshness of content and scoured for potentially harmful material.

“Having said that, such an action could run counter to the atmosphere of freedom you might want to foster. It’s a delicate balance.”

Mind what you say – Some CEOs have the mistaken notion that a blog is an opportunity to ditch their media relations handlers and shoot their mouths off, said Elve.

A good rule to follow he said is “Don’t say or write anything that you wouldn’t feel comfortable with reading in the front page of a national daily the next day.”

He warned that once something is on the Web it’s pretty hard to get rid of it. Anything posted for about an hour could be picked up by Google and read by tens of thousands of surfers. Text, photos or clips that stay in the Net for 24 hours could be easily copied and re-copied and achieve online immortality.

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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