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Harnessing the Power of the Oh-So-Social Web

Thanks to a variety of online social applications -- including blogs, social networking sites like MySpace, user-generated content sites like YouTube and countless communities across the Web -- people are increasingly connecting with and drawing power from one other. In fact, customers are now beginning to define their own perspective on companies and brands, a view that's often at odds with the image a business wants to project.

But organizations need not be on the defensive. Indeed, some savvy executives have already been turning this groundswell of customer power to their advantage. To investigate how, the authors interviewed managers and employees at more than 100 companies that were rolling out social applications. From this research, they developed a strategic framework that businesses can use to implement social applications in a number of departments, including research and development, marketing, sales, customer support and operations.

The potential benefits are numerous: Social applications can generate research insights, extend the reach of marketing, energize sales efforts, cut support costs and stoke the innovation process. (And for companies that tap into employee groundswells, the result can be increased opportunities for collaboration across departments and geographical locations, as well as greater productivity and decreased inefficiencies.) But the greatest benefit might be cultural, because social applications help weave two-way customer communications into the fabric of an organization.

But anything that changes culture tends to face resistance, and this is especially true of social applications, because they require managers to embrace an unknown communications channel, one that responds poorly to attempts to control it. Based on an analysis of companies that succeeded or failed in deploying social applications, the authors have derived a number of key managerial recommendations for any organization attempting to harness the power of the groundswell.
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