Content in the Web 2.0 World

What is Web 2.0 and consumer generated media? How is the demand for interactivity affecting content? These questions are addressed in this insightful article on what is now occurring on the web.
Web 2.0 was present in spirit, if not name, when the CEO of a company for whom we are developing a web strategy asked in the project kick off meeting what we thought of blogs. He had learned to integrate blogs into his public relations strategy due to issues created by a few high profile bloggers in his industry. Now he wanted to understand how to make them part of his business, always a sign that technology is entering the corporate mainstream. But while he had encountered the power of blogs — a key Web 2.0 technology — he had never heard the term Web 2.0.

His knowledge of and interest in one of the interactive technologies at the core of Web 2.0, but not the concept itself, puts him in a club that is far from exclusive. But an increasing number of companies are learning how to thrive in the new online environment, and are doing so by developing:
  1. An understanding for Web 2.0, especially its emphasis on deep respect for data and interactivity.
  2. A realistic assessment of how well they are managing content now, and coming to terms with another Web 2.0 concept: Consumer Generated Media (CGM).

What is Web 2.0?

Coined by O’Reilly Media, Web 2.0 refers to websites, products or services that are highly interactive, deep in dynamic data and harness collective intelligence. However, given that its proponents can’t fully define it, we shouldn’t be surprised by its failure to enter common business parlance. In Tim O’Reilly’s comprehensive discussion about what is Web 2.0, he admits that there is “a huge amount of disagreement about just what Web 2.0 means, with some people decrying it as a meaningless marketing buzzword, and other accepting it as the new conventional wisdom.”

With more than 9.5 million citations in Google, Web 2.0 is clearly generating tremendous interest online, and with Google itself providing a high profile, Web 2.0 success story it is a topic that must be taken seriously by anyone managing a web strategy. O’Reilly provides a contrast between Netscape and Google to help demonstrate the difference between Web 1.0 and 2.0:
  • Netscape attempted to develop a “webtop” to replace the desktop, populate it with information updates and then try to sell Netscape servers. When web browsers and servers turned into commodities, value moved to services delivered over the web platform and Netscape collapsed.
  • Google requires a competency that Netscape did not have: managing a specialized database. As a result: “Google happens in the space between browser and search engine and destination content server, as an enabler or middleman between the user and his or her online experience.”

Blogging and the advent of CGM

As the term suggests, Web 2.0 is a vast topic, one that encompasses virtually everything to do with the web. Because it has a significant impact on content, which is king on the web, it’s especially important for anyone who is making the creation and dissemination of information a key part of their business. As a result, the topic provides a useful entry point to understanding Web 2.0.

CGM has been gaining a lot of attention online, with blogs providing a high profile example of the impact it delivers: Technorati monitors more than 30 million blogs, with almost four million updated with new content at least once a week. Beyond this attention-grabbing growth, however, O’Reilly argues that blogs are more significant because they demonstrate the importance of harnessing collective intelligence, one of the core competencies of Web 2.0:

If an essential part of Web 2.0 is harnessing collective intelligence, turning the web into a kind of global brain, the blogosphere is the equivalent of constant mental chatter in the forebrain, the voice we hear in our heads. It may not reflect the deep structure of the brain, which is often unconscious, but is instead the equivalent of conscious thought. And as a reflection of conscious thought and attention, the blogosphere has begun to have a powerful effect.

Given these statistics about blog growth, and the important role they play in shaping a core competency of Web 2.0, it’s obvious why many companies are assessing their business impact. Many assume that harnessing this collective power involves determining how best to incorporate consumer generated media (CGM) into their web strategies. According to Pete Blackshaw from Nielsen Buzzmetrics:

“[CGM] is often inspired by relevant product or service experiences and is frequently archived online for readers’ convenience and other consumers or key marketplace influencers. Examples of CGM include blog entries, consumer e-mail feedback, message board posts, forum comments, personal Web sites, and personal e-mail. My company estimates over 1.4 billion CGM comments are archived on the Web today. That number is growing 30 percent annually. None of this is terribly surprising when you consider the Pew Internet & American Life Project estimates 44 percent of online consumers have created online ‘content’.”

The interactive component of CGM is vital for media companies. Yahoo, for example, has integrated it into their business plan by investing millions to acquire Web 2.0 poster children such as Flickr, the Vancouver-based photo-sharing site.
For other companies, however, consumers don’t want the content to be interactive, or to author it. They simply want it to be up-to-date, relevant and easy to find:
  • 65% of website visitors give up before they find what they came for and 40% of users who abandon a website never come back (Boston Consulting Group).
  • Less than 10% of users will contact a supplier whose website does not provide detailed product and service information (2004 Content Solutions User Needs Research Study).

Managing Content

Due to the complexities of managing content, too few organizations have implemented an effective content management plan. Therefore, an essential first step when preparing your content for the Web 2.0 world is conducting research regarding your audience’s perception of your content quality. There’s a good chance your customers will say they want more access to the knowledge locked within your organization, not to the thoughts of their peers.

The research might also reveal that your content provides an important online asset. For example, during one focus group for a client, a participant told us that: “On the Internet, you don’t know what to trust. With ABC Company you know you can trust the information.” Clearly, for this organization, taking the important task of preparing highly factual information out of the hands of its knowledgeable staff would have been a counterproductive business strategy.

Data-driven content management

Once you’ve asked your customers how you could improve your content, and put a plan in place to continuously exceed their expectations, you can begin constantly refining your content based on an analysis of their content requirements. This task is easy to accomplish by using advanced analytical software and clickstream analysis.

Not only does this data provide rich insights into what content your customers require the most, it will also make you a Web 2.0 player. According to O’Reilly: “Real time monitoring of user behaviour to see just which features are used, and how they are used, thus becomes another required core competency.”

HealthyOntario, the site that Prescient Digital Media manages for the Government of Ontario, provides a good example of how to take incremental steps toward preparing content to be maximized in the Web 2.0 world:
  • Prior to site launch, extensive research determined what topics would be of highest interest to its audience. This data provided a strong foundation for a thorough content management plan which supports the daily posting of rigorously accurate information.
  • The site editor monitors searches and page views to determine popular content features, which supports the “hot topics” on the homepage and suggests new editorial ideas. Of course, the editor still uses his knowledge of seasonal health concerns and monitoring of daily media coverage to anticipate content of interest to the site’s audience.
  • This data-driven approach to creating content, supported by a plan designed to post accurate information within hours, leaves the site well positioned to increase its interactivity as required.

Can your business benefit from consumer content?

Aside from entrepreneurs seeking to develop new Web 2.0 business models, or media companies assessing acquisition targets, the business benefits of using CGM to increase the interactivity of information is hard to determine. But benefits do exist, provided there’s a clear opportunity for the consumer to add value to your existing content.

Tourism example
For example, one would be hard pressed to find a better win-win-win relationship between consumers, an industry and technology than the travel market post-Internet adoption. The Financial Times reported that despite tremendous challenges, the U.S. Internet travel industry grew from US$5 billion in sales in 1999 to US$20 billion in 2003, a number that is still growing dramatically.

A quick examination suggests that the Internet and travel are nearly as good a combination as a pina colada and a palm tree:
  • Information intensive: Tourism is an information intensive industry. The Internet provides technology that enables constant up-dating of information based on customer input, changes in product availability and pricing.
  • Comparisons and Immediacy: Tourists cannot really assess the quality of the products or services they are buying until they arrive at their destination. Trust and proof statements are critical for delivering the comfort level required to commit an often significant percentage of household income to a purchase. The Internet delivers technology that makes it easy to compare choices, delivers immediate confirmation and documentation of reservations and builds a relationship between the buyer and seller.
Tourism best practice
Because this is an industry that has led the way in developing strong content to support its business, travel sites are extremely well positioned to buy into the interactive world of Web 2.0 and incorporate CGM into their content plan. For example, Australia, which has an outstanding website, enables visitors to submit their tips and tales. Given the important role that anticipating a unique experience plays in travel, real stories about actual trips provide a strong complement to the rich content presented and maintained on the site.

Clearly, the core competencies of Web 2.0—notably harnessing collective intelligence and having a deep respect for data—are benefiting numerous organizations, from Google to Tourism Australia. But can they benefit your business? That will depend on how well you’re managing your content now, and understanding how your consumers can add to its value, which will vary depending on your business. What will be a constant across all companies, however, is the need to watch the evolution of Web 2.0 and the interactivity it fosters, and to keep asking how your business can benefit from incorporating it.

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Prescient Digital Media is a veteran web and intranet consulting firm with 10+ years of rich history. We provide strategic Internet and intranet consulting, planning and communications services to many Fortune 500 and big brand clients, as well as small and medium-sized leaders.