When I mention the words social media or Web 2.0 in conversation, without fail, the person chatting to me will want to talk about social networking. They’re thinking about a Facebook page for their organization, or they’re hearing everyone talk about Twitter and are wondering if they should be there too?

First, it’s important to understand that the use of social media is not a “one-size-fits-all” solution, and second, that there is a lot more to social media than meets the eye.

There are many ways to reach and engage your customer and other stakeholders using the web as a platform: you can blog; you can twitter; you can create a community site; you can push content out with RSS feeds, you can upload videos onto YouTube, and the list goes on.

Before you jump on the bandwagon, I suggest that you take the time to understand the reason why others talk about social networks/software as a disruptive technology (Gartner, May 28, 2008 http://www.gartner.com/it/page.jsp?id=681107). Transparency, authenticity, listening, communication, conversations and collaboration are words at the heart of all of this. One of my favorite books to discuss “the end of business as usual” is the Cluetrain Manifesto, which was published in 2000 but is still well worth reading and relevant.

The next step is to start listening to what people are saying online about you, your product, your competition, your profession, and your industry; and to get a better sense of how your customers are using the web to get their information.

Moving forward, I suggest you consider the following questions:

What are our marketing goals?
What web tools and social networking sites would work best to help us meet these goals?
Does our audience use these sites and tools (bear in mind, this can change so quickly)?
Will these steps help us to meet our business goals?
Do we have the resources to manage these initiatives?
Who is going to champion this, and who will be the community manager?
What does success look like? How will be measure that?

There is a paradigm shift that is taking place. Many people are writing about this and I think they are right. These new technologies are changing the way we do business in profound ways. Is your organization ready for this?