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Conference Followup – Social Media/Web 2.0

July 22nd, 2008 by Erick Beck

What is Web 2.0? The glib might say: “Anything new,” “anything cool and shiny,” “anything marketing wants to sell,” “anything the owners want Yahoo or Google to buy.” In reality is can be broken down to a few basic concepts:

  1. It is social media – it promotes and revolves around interaction. This might include user-augmented or even completely user-generated content.
  2. Openness – it is honest and does not try to force its own ideas upon viewers
  3. Rich interfaces – content aggregation and instantaneous feedback to viewers require advanced interfaces
  4. New Digital Interactions – this is the accumulation of content from many disparate locations, aggregated and then republished.

In today’s interconnected online world the key is not that we all have a voice, but that we can all be (and at times actually are) listened to. People and companies actually listening to an individual voice is a new concept, but it has already shifted the balance such that people are more willing to go to and trust blogs than they are corporate (and by extension university) web sites.

For example, one person bought a hybrid car and found that the gas mileage was far below what the vendor had promised. So he wrote about it on his personal. The story was then taken up by Wired, which led it it’s being posted to Slashdot. It got so much attention there that it was covered by Newsweek magazine, and eventually wound up as a story on CBS News.

When today’s internet users go to a site they want to feel a connection, to “see the footprints of users who have been there before.” A classic example is the product ratings and reviews at amazon.com. Because people can identify with the reviewer, they tend to give these sites more credibility than the vendor site itself. Sun Microsystems is taking this one step further by allowing open reviews of their own products on their websites. Some are going even further than this and monitoring review sites and offering open and honest responses to posts, including those critical of their products.

Companies are learning that they cannot sugar coat their products and push complaints out of the way. If they are going to respond to user feedback it must be done openly and honestly.

Another good example of giving content control over to your users id Marvel Comics. They have posted their superhero biographies online in a wiki format and allowed their fans to update and flesh out the content. What they have found is that users with a motivated interest in the content actually do a better job of writing and policing content than the company themselves could have done.

lego.com allows users to upload their own personal creations for view in their forums.

What does this mean for web designers? Build behavior driven site architecture. The design should focus on what people want. If they’re coming to your site they must want something. What is is? Consider using content boxes such as “Most Popular” or “If you liked X, we think you might like Y as well.” Building relationships between content items helps your users identify with and remember your site.

Watch the various social media outlets to see what people are saying about you. Use that conversation to drive your own projects. For example, if there is consistent complaint about lack of a particular product… offer the product. Equally important is communication back to the audience. Let them know now only that you have heard them asking for the product but that you are working on it.

Basic question asked by many younger web viewers: “Why don’t corporate sites feel as friendly as social media sites?” Good question – assuming that we in higher education want to make inroads into the pool of potential students, we should listen to them and make our web presence more of what they expect.

One sticking point to the adoption of Social Media/Web 2.0 is traditional marketing ideas. The traditional concept is to concentrate on the brand and keep tight control over it. However, under Web 2.0 “Marketers who have the guts to turn over their brand to the public will in the end win over their customers.” This might seem a dangerous concept, but viewers will see that company as more honest and in the end respect them more for it.

Myth busted – people do not actually contribute primarily negative reviews. People seem equally motivated to give positive as negative reviews… it is the opportunity to express their opinion that counts.

Myth busted – negative reviews do not actually turn away customers. In fact, the presence of negative reviews is actually imperative. Viewers see such sites as real and honest; no one will believe or trust sites that offer only good reviews.

Marketing offices have two choices under Web 2.0 – resist turning over their brand to the public or let your competitors do it and wind up ahead of you. Embrace it, and in doing so embrace your customers.

In creating the university’s website and overall web presence we are creating a flexible container and allowing our visitors to fill it with content. We are not creating sites, we are creating places for people to go and interact.

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008 Miscellaneous
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