I’ll be candid. I am a recent convert to the whole web 2.0 thing.
Interactive features such as blogs and discussion groups have been around for a while, but I wasn’t in any hurry to embrace them for our business clients. Sure, we were involved with an occassional blog for a client, but it was only under pressure from one of our developers that I agreed to look more closely at WordPress as a serious development platform. WordPress is one of the leading open source solutions, and it turns out that it provides the infrastructure for approximately 15% of the websites in the world. That’s a big number, and it caught my attention.
For years, we offered our clients tools, such as our popular Content ManagerTM (CM), that allowed them to publish new content on their websites. But CM only supported a one way conversation. You publish, your visitors read.
Content publishing tools such as WordPress and Drupal, on the other hand, support a two way conversation with site visitors. They can be configured as a blog, where someone on your staff creates a post and others comment, or a discussion group, where you can let visitors create their own conversation by posting a question or comment. Whatever the configuration, you are opening up your website to user generated content.
One of the big advantages you enjoy when visitors post to your website is that you don’t do all of the work, but you do enjoy the full benefit. They introduce fresh ideas, interesting thoughts, and more reasons for someone to stay on your site. This in turn may encourage additional comments and posts, and perhaps your site becomes the center of conversation, where customers and prospects interact with each other on their own.
Of course, you have to be a bit careful. Site visitors can potentially post obscene content, derogatory comments and spam. There are a number of ways to handle this if it becomes a problem, including a spam plug-in and an option to require review by a moderator before a post goes live. You can also remove any inappropriate posts, and mark them as spam.
However, you should avoid over moderating. For example, if you allow product reviews on your website and none of them are negative, all of the positive comments you receive will seem less credible. The conversation needs to be real, not scripted, to be believable.
A better solution might be to have one of your employees monitor your website, and respond to any credible negative posts in a constructive way, perhaps indicating how you will address the customer’s issue. While this may require a little effort, the potential gain from interacting with your customers and prospects can easily outweigh the resource commitment involved.
As a bonus, content contributed by site visitors can help with your search optimization (SEO) efforts. Search engines such as Google reward sites that continually publish new, fresh content. While you, in spite of your best intentions, may occassionally neglect to update or add content, your visitors can make up for this lapse. If the Google spider finds fresh content every time it visits your site, that may certainly contribute to a better siterank, and a higher position on the SERP (search engine results page) , when a user performs a search relevant to your area of operation.