Web 2.0 isn’t all about rounded corners and social software – there are real benefits to leveraging the Web 2.0 philosophy and technologies in business, but the key is selecting the right entry points to start conversations with your customers, and then to grow from there, using the community you’ve developed as your sounding board.

There are many ways to look at Web 2.0, and it strikes me that within the UK business sector there is either a reticence to get started, or people simply don’t know how and where to start. It seems that for the most part, the business community is dismissive of the change that is happening on the web as we speak, why I don’t really know. 

When you dissect the promise that Web 2.0 holds, it really becomes about interactions – where people are interacting with each other not a machine – and therefore conversations. About what doesn’t really matter, the point is that we’re moving away from the static top-down web sites of old to more dynamic web applications with encourage user participation of any sort.

Dion Hinchcliffe has written a great piece, which talks about the techniques enterprises can use to reinvent their customer relationships. 

In summary, he encourages business to lower the experience barrier, make it easy for people to contribute, foster community growth, think open platforms and create customised interactions for the individual when needed (or automated when not).

Now that seems like an easy enough thing to do, but in reality it’s not that easy logistically and technically, and generally no-one wants to start a white elephant, so where does that leave us? 

Start by asking people / your users / your customers / your stakeholders what they want out of your business, and get them to participate in discussions which anyone potentially can participate in (the most natural method for this would be a blog). Make sure that when there is interaction it’s followed through by someone in your organisation. 

It’s far more valuable to ask people what they want and then to deliver it to them as a result of a conversation, than it is to assume that you know what people want and hope that they will take to it – again, this re-iterates the focus of Web 2.0 as bottom-up and not top-down. 

Perhaps the most important aspect of this is the idea of a self-regulating community, where the community has visibility into your organisation because they have a stake in it (they buy your products, they consume your services, they are your employees).

A community is only going to be of value if it’s nurtured and expanded (and will be far more valuable than no community at all, whatever the size). Remember that your community must be able to converse with your organisation easily. And that a conversation is a two-way street.

As for the technology, Tim O’Reilly published a Web 2.0 meme map which should give you plenty to think about and discuss internally. 

The best way to start leveraging Web 2.0 in your business is to start with something small and easy to manage, where you’re interacting with a relatively small test user group, and where you’re only using a few key value offerings to stimulate conversation and feedback. Fairly soon you’ll know whether your ideas have merit and whether you can open them up to a larger user group.