Since Tim O'Reilly coined the phrase "Web 2.0" back in 2004 at a new media conference, companies have been scrambling to figure out how to deploy Web. 2.0 applications... but for all the wrong reasons.
I've observed CEOs pointing to competitors' sites, insisting, "They've got user-generated content so we need to do it," or, "A blog will help with our PR efforts during this downturn."
But where is the customer in the equation?
For all the buzz about blogs, wikis, widgets, and other forms of user-driven Web interactions, the question that's rarely asked is, "Is this what our customers want?"
Recently, when I helped a client pose that question to its Web site users, only 1 out of 10 users asked for social applications. The majority wanted the company to improve its site's core navigation and search functionality.
Essentially, they were asking my client to "walk before you wiki" by enhancing core functionality they use every time they visit the site.
Given the exposure of social applications in the media and in the boardroom, now's the time for Web business owners to make the case for building engaging online interactions with customers.
First, you need to recognize that customers will engage with site features they need and want. Simply put, you can design the most useful, elegant application, but if your customers don't need it—it will eventually languish on your site as another "distraction."
Val Fox is the founder of Red Valise (www.redvalise.com) and the author of the DIY Site Renovations e-newsletter, helping small businesses improve their online experiences.