What can Web 2.0 do for your business?

You may have heard blogging, twittering and business networking, but what can Web 2.0 really do for your business? We do some of our best work when we're constrained: by budgets, by headcount, by technology, by the economy. These are times when bureaucracy and waste will die by necessity. What's left are ideas, and the muscle to make them real. 2009 will be a tough year in many ways, but now more than ever, the core concepts of Web 2.0 provide an advantage.

Web 2.0 - The next generation?

In recent times so-called Web 2.0 sites such as Facebook, YouTube, SecondLife and Twitter have received a lot of publicity, much of it on the negative side. But there is also a business aspect to the next generation of web sites and arguments for and against their real use.

According to one projection the number of businesses using social networking to market their business is set to double over the next year with many of them setting up groups on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn and starting up their own web logs or blogs as they are known.

But while business / social networking is hailed by its advocates as a great way to share information and keep in touch with contacts - and it undoubtedly works in this respect - many companies worry that their use will encourage time-wasting. Many have already put a block on staff using this type of web site. According to a recent survey from mobile operator 3, more than one third of UK British companies have banned the use of social networking sites like Facebook, SecondLife and YouTube.

While there may be some reason for these concerns, trying to stop the use of these sites may be akin to King Canute trying to hold back the tide. And there are some potential benefits for many businesses. As well as helping people stay in touch with contacts, they can bring new business to your door. This is especially true if you are a freelancer or sole trader. During the recession, more businesses will be looking to cut down on full-time staff and buy in services as and when they need them and so being on networking sites may help you to pick up new work. Conversely, if you are an employer looking for new contractors who can provide help when you need it, these sites are good places to search. They can also be useful if you are looking for work from overseas, or need to recruit staff or agents in other countries.

There is little point in banning these sites anyway unless you also bar the use of mobile phones and PDAs, which increasingly come with 3G and can therefore be used to access the Internet. But doing that might just do more harm than good so you might be better off in the end allowing staff to use web 2.0 sites and simply applying a clear usage policy that makes sure that the focus is always on looking for new opportunities rather than just keeping in touch with friends.

The scale of their reach is remarkable. LinkedIn reportedly now has more than 35 million users -7.5 million of them in Europe. It apparently adds another million every 18 days so, by the time you read this, the figure may be even higher. Xing is said to have 6.5 million users.

Mindful of their popularity with younger generations, some large companies have been using virtual world sites such as SecondLife for marketing purposes or as a recruitment tool. Many believe that such sites will eventually develop into vitally important sources of information for many people. If they do, the being at the centre of them will be just as important to make sure that you have a presence in all the key sites as it was to be in the phone book 20 years ago.

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