Those unable to offer a clear definition of Web 2.0 are not alone. Even computer industry experts have a hard time agreeing on exactly what it is.
“The reason why there are so many different opinions is because the term is so comprehensive,”says James Windrow, director of interactive strategy for Scottsdale-based I-ology, an Internet strategy firm. “It’s misused so often to include absolutely everything, all new technology that’s been developed for the Internet for about the past four to five years.
“The way I define it, and I use Web 2.0 and social media interchangeably, I define Web 2.0 as just technology that’s used to facilitate communication or collaboration amongst different people.”
David van Toor, general manager and senior vice president for Sage CRM Solutions North America, a business software company with offices in Scottsdale, looks at Web 2.0 technology from a business perspective.
“It’s describing, really, the concept that it’s the way that businesses can derive value from treating the Internet as a technology platform and as a business platform,”he says. “To me, it’s a way of conducting business – a different way of conducting business.”
Although the term implies some major redo of the Internet experience, “in reality, it’s just the next version, it’s the next step, it’s an evolution of the process,”according to Tyler Garns, director of marketing for Infusionsoft, a business software company in Gilbert.
The tools that come under the vast Web 2.0 umbrella have led to online communities and social networking, video sharing, blogging and wikis. If you post a page on MySpace or Facebook, watch and comment on a YouTube video, review a product on Amazon or glean information from Wikipedia, you are taking advantage of Web 2.0 technology.
Some businesses have fully embraced Web 2.0. When General Motors stock took a major dip in October, CEO Rick Wagoner appeared in a short YouTube video to state his company’s case. Cable giant Comcast is effectively using the social networking and micro-blogging site Twitter as an element of its Comcast Cares program. Go to Sage’s Web site for ACT! (www.act.com), its popular contact and customer management software, and you can join discussion forums, access an executive’s blog or suggest a feature for a future product update.
“I don’t need a marketing team to communicate with customers now,” van Toor says. “I can do it directly on the blog. I don’t have to force my customers to go through a service department to reach me.”
That’s part of the big change brought about by Web 2.0. In the past, the Internet experience was pretty much a one-way conversation. There was some modest interactivity, but many companies were satisfied using their Web sites as online brochures. Today, businesses are able to engage customer and employee collaboration as never before. Corporate executives are instantly accessible. Active participation results in lightning-fast dialog and feedback.
Another important point is there is now a type of corporate transparency never available before.
“The way that businesses today are leveraging that is they’re opening up their companies and being fully transparent,”Garns says. “What that allows the customer to do is to have a direct view into the company. And when they see things they like, they then trust the company much, much more.”
Windrow points to a change in the way Web 2.0 impacts a company’s ability to control its brand message. In the past, he says, businesses sought complete control.
“In today’s Web 2.0 world, that’s just not the case,”Windrow says. “Now the brand message has left the control of the company and is firmly with the consumers. They are controlling what’s being said about companies. They’re controlling what information is being shared. And they’re actively seeking ways to punish companies that they feel are socially irresponsible in one way or another, or reward companies that they feel are acting in the best interest of consumers.”
That’s why it’s especially important for businesses to offer consumers direct communication options.
“If you invite them to your business and to your sites, and allow them to communicate there in the way they want to, then you can respond to them in a way you can’t if they do it on other people’s chat rooms or places like Amazon,”van Toor says.
Selling, in particular, has been dramatically impacted by the Internet and Web 2.0 technology. According to Garns, today’s consumers educate themselves. They read reviews, hop into forums and find out what others are saying.
“By the time you go to purchase a product or service, you know exactly what you want and you know the price you want to pay,”he says. “When you walk in the door, you’re ready to negotiate. And so the business that you’re buying from has now been cut out of the sales process.”