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Stephen Collins is recognised as one of Australia’s leading proponents of participatory culture, advising businesses and government on Web 2.0, Enterprise 2.0, and social networking. He has extensive consulting experience for a diverse client base across the public and private sectors.

Stephen took time out from his hectic schedule to speak to us about Web 2.0 and social media.

Hi Stephen. You recently co-presented a Web 2.0 university workshop in Australia. What is it about Web 2.0 that makes it special enough to gain the attention it’s been receiving?

Some people, especially those with old-school mindsets, think the whole revolution around Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0 — and it is a revolution — is about all the great tools we can use. My view is that the tools themselves are the least important part of the package. What the 2.0 change is all about is people and culture, which is the message communicated by The Cluetrain Manifesto ten years ago.

If you had one piece of advice for someone outside the web industry looking to embrace the ideas of Web 2.0, what would it be?

Open up and go public. Empower people. Be human. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Be respectful.

So, as a web freelancer or web company, what can we do to start embracing Web 2.0 ideas within our own businesses?

Start off by reading or rereading The Cluetrain Manifesto and start practising what it preaches. Then, just embrace the 2.0 way of doing business. Do business this way. It can and does work. Maybe even sign and use something like the Company-Customer Pact.

There are a bunch of other great books worth reading that any business looking to “go 2.0” (my goodness, that’s a dorky phrase) should be putting on every employees’ desk. In no particular order (just looking at my bookcase):

  • Cubicle Commando by Lisa Messenger and Zern Liew
  • Wikinomics by Don Tapscott and Anthony Wiliams
  • Purple Cow by Seth Godin
  • Fish! by Stephen Lundin, Harry Paul, and John Christensen
  • The Long Tail by Chris Anderson
  • The Starfish and the Spider by Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom
  • Groundswell by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff

Much attention with Web 2.0 is given to social media. This is a dual-edged sword for companies though, isn’t it? One minute, a company could be the flavor of the “social sphere” and the next, they could be on the outer. What can they do to avoid being on the wrong end?

I think the notion of social media as a risk is false. It’s only a risk if you go in underdone. You wouldn’t make other business decisions without consideration, would you? Choose the right people to be the evangelists and mentors for your brand online. Empower them to engage in the conversation and make it a part of their everyday job — not an additional task. Progressively give everyone in the business that wants to take part the skills they need and then let them fly!

Brands that do this well have great success using social media. You’d be hard put to find a bad word from the community about Zappos, for example. And the mood around brands like Comcast and Dell is moving in a very positive direction since they’ve implemented good, well-planned social media approaches. Well-planned doesn’t need to mean slow or corporate; it’s about choosing the right channels and the right people, and letting them get on with it.

I help many clients with a social media strategy. It shouldn’t be done lightly and it does take some thinking. But you can’t take your time with this — your competitors have probably already spoken to me, or one of the other smart people who do work similar to mine.

The Web is certainly changing. Do you believe those of us building web sites need to adapt our services, or will there still be clients looking for standard web sites in another five or ten years?

The brochure web site will probably still be around in five years, but maybe not ten. At least, not in the developed world. Clients more and more are looking for full-service approaches: brand strategy, marketing, social media, communications, and the rest. The big agencies already do this, but I think that their product is not always as good as those delivered by smaller, boutique businesses.

I think those of us operating small businesses in the web industry — whether it’s design, development, or strategy — need to start teaming up in an informal way to compete with the big agencies. Better still if the agencies recognize that some of the boutique and specialist companies should be on their go-to list for expert advice.

There’s more than enough work for everyone, even in these odd economic times, but we should all be playing together more often and not trying to shut each other out. That’s very 2.0 of me, isn’t it?

Thanks for your time Stephen.

My pleasure Miles!

This post first appeared as part of Issue 420 of the SitePoint Tribune, a very popular email newsletter that I was co-editor of. Thanks to SitePoint for allowing me to reproduce the work here.

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