Economy

Web 2.0: Just another distraction for SMEs

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There’s no need to feel pressured about getting web 2.0-ready, as long as any steps you take are consumer-focused. By CRAIG REARDON

By Craig Reardon

web secrets web 2.0

There’s no need to feel pressured about getting web 2.0-ready, as long as any steps you take are consumer-focused.

Like many reading SmartCompany, I’m a big fan of the web 2.0 revolution. For the first time in history, mass communication is now in the hands of the public as much as media moguls.

MySpace, YouTube, wikis, blogs, user reviews et al have all created a massive repository of public opinion, comment and debate. Cartoon hero Dogbert’s famous quip, in cyberspace “nobody knows you’re a dog” has never rung truer…

But what may be revolutionary for the consumer amounts to yet another new age distraction for the already time poor SME operator still grappling with keeping the minds of their staff on the job, rising fuel and rent prices and the diminishing returns of traditional promotional methods – let alone having to bone up on yet another online opportunity and simultaneous threat.

While many web-savvy and relatively time rich businesses are enjoying experimenting with web 2.0, the reality is that most SME operators secretly prefer the old days of the dreaded annual meeting with the Yellow Pages rep to work out how much extra they had to pay next year for the same size print ad.

This “devil they knew” at least was predictable and quick.

This reality is leading to an eMarketing “haves versus have-nots” scenario where newer, younger and time-richer businesses are gaining a massive advantage over SME operators still working out how to SMS their kids.

This is why Australian early-web 2.0 adopters such as Adore Beauty and Winestar are capturing market share from traditional purveyors of beauty products and wine respectively.

Instead of being burdened with “legacy” promotional plans, these young businesses have stolen the march on their more established competitors by embracing staples of web 2.0 – user forums and reviews.

These “community-building” features aren’t terribly expensive to establish. But if they are to be moderated – almost essential if you have your brand associated with these warts-and-all forums, be prepared to invest heavily in the time associated with managing them.

So what should SME operators do to bridge the gap web 2.0 is starting to generate? And is it right for all businesses?

The very first thing they should do is something they should always have been doing – ensure your customers are being well looked after. At its most basic level, if they aren’t, your name could easily end up on a blog or website about bad customer experiences.

Just like one of my favourite restaurants did when they put more than one of its patrons’ noses out of joint. At one time the bad review was ranking nearly as highly as the said restaurant’s website when searching Google for its name.

Not a pretty scenario and one that is not always easy to extricate oneself from.

Business operators should also get involved in web 2.0 from a consumer perspective. Set up a MySpace or Facebook page, make some customer reviews, join a forum, add a contribution to a wiki, etc etc.

By doing this you’ll get to know how these tools work, and how they affect your customers – and they are free.

Who shouldn’t get involved? Anyone who lacks the time and resources to do so. There is nothing worse than having a half-backed Facebook profile, or no “friends”.

The traditional SME could be far better off focusing their resources on alternatives such as email marketing, which is vastly under-utilised by most small businesses. Online marketing tactics such as SEO and SEM plus search will act as a bridge.

It will help reposition small businesses away from traditional media and achieve one large objective, which is to get SMEs away from traditional media. If you are business-to-business, selling via a print directory is a waste of time as 98% of businesses now go online to find suppliers.

Then of course you can take some steps across the bridge by looking at things from a consumer point of view by manually adding the capacity for consumers to add reviews or comments. This is probably better suited for larger businesses and home businesses rather than the traditional SME as most companies have trouble getting out a monthly newsletter.

And if you are feeling that you are missing out? Take a breath. Amazon started all this 10 years ago with customised pages and user reviews, and traditional retailers are still here 10 years later. After all the, biggest proponents of web 2.0 are those in the industry that stand to gain.

Have you patronised a business as a result of a good web 2.0 presence? Share your experience and send in some feedback.

Read more web secrets

Craig Reardon is a leading eBusiness educator and founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team which provide the gamut of website solutions, technologies and services to SMEs. www.theeteam.com.au

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