research by the British Library (Manchester, 2008) which found that the skills andenthusiasm for Web 2.0 tools amongst the ‘‘Google generation’’ had been highly overrated,because while the respondents were prepared to use social networks for personal activities,they were skeptical about their relevance to the business world. Developments in thetechnologies themselves, as well as a reduction in costs, will mean that more and moreinformation will be available to consumers. This results in unprecedented levels oftransparency of dealings between businesses and their customers. A key challenge whenengaging customers through these social networks is how to give away power and controlwhile at the same time avoiding embarrassment to the company. According to Leadbetter(2008): ‘‘you are what you share’’, but he also notes: ‘‘The optimists describe the web as aconversation. Yet much of the web seems raucous and unruly. More like a bar-room brawlthan a moderated discussion’’ (p. 4).The positive experiences of our case study businesses with Ecademy support the formerstatement rather than the latter.Despite these issues, the use of ‘‘Web 2.0’’ technologies by businesses is likely to increasesignificantly. Our work so far has focused on experiments by early adopter businesses, run‘‘A recent example of a successful online community is www.getsatisfaction.com which provides a forum for customers toraise questions or complain about a wide range of companies,and for the resulting discussions to be displayed for otherenquirers to search and view.’’PAGE 30jJOURNAL OF BUSINESS STRATEGYjVOL. 30 NO. 5 2009
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by entrepreneurial individuals who are ahead of the curve and not afraid to take risks or tryout new ideas. It is important to remember that these tools are still largely untested in moremainstream businesses. But consumers will increasingly expect companies to communicatewith them through these tools. The concept of the ‘‘superfan’’ is much debated in marketingcircles at the moment. This is considered by many to be the ‘‘holy grail’’ of online marketing –creating a network of customers who are so positive about a brand that they do much of itsmarketingandsalesthemselves–andforfree.GoodexamplesofthisaretheTheAppleBlog.com and a Facebook Group called Apple Students (currently with 434,162members), demonstrating how Apple has harnessed the power of these new socialtechnologies to support one of the most successful brands in the world. On a smaller scale,the Wiggly Wigglers group we studied is well populated with ‘‘superfans’’. On balance webelieve our case studies indicate that online communities will play a key role in the future ofmarketing because they replace customer annoyance with engagement, and control withcollaboration for those firms brave enough to take the plunge. The businesses that prosperwill be those who proactively embrace this new world, because they regard change as anopportunity rather than as a threat to be avoided at all costs.
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