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    At the end of 2006 and perhaps prompted by Time’s lead article declaring “Person of the Year: You“, there was a lot of talk about user generated content, thats to say information on sites being supplied by those using the site rather than those who set it up and run it.

    There are many good examples of websites which work primarily on content which has been generated by the users themselves. Sites such as YouTube and MySpace are ones which have attracted a great deal of press coverage at the social end of the spectrum.

    Business and Networking Examples

    In business, there are equally impressive examples. Amazon contains a huge amount of product information but arguably more valuable are the reviews written by people who have read the books. Similarly, sites such as TripAdvisor contain lots of information but the dynamic part comes from guests who leave their own opinions on the hotels and holidays mentioned.

    In social and business networking, many sites are primarily online structures or shells which allow their members to post articles, share information and advice or generally interact in forums. Their challenge lies in creating something which is appealing and then attracting users with similar interests who will use them and participate. Many do this very well and it shows in their success and their growth.

    Collaboration on Business Blogs

    But it is not only sites of this size which can benefit from this trend towards online collaboration and sharing of information. Your company blog offers the ideal place for exactly this type of cooperation and community building after all, it is targeted at a specific group

    So, for your own business, look at the benefit that you can accrue by getting some of the stakeholders in your company working with you:

    • Sales & Partner Networks: companies with non competing sales or distribution networks can use their blogs as a central source of information that their partners can use to increase their sales and coverage, as well as share their own experiences

    • Internal Communications: from a company perspective, tap into the collective ideas that bounce around inside of a company with nowhere to go. Give them an outlet and a chance to be expressed. Using an internal blog, you allow them not only to be put forward but also developed as others add to the initial idea

    • Market Research: tap into the combined ideas of your most valuable assets your customers. Give them a place (open or private) where they can suggest new ideas or show how they are using your products and services already. It may be quite eye opening

    • Product Development: in certain industries, particularly in hi-tech, allowing developers and customers to put forward new ideas extends the type of research and product marketing that you can achieve 100 fold. You also increase the chances of developing a group of product evangelists into the bargain

    As you can see, you don’t need a site the size of Amazon to enjoy the benefits that collaboration can bring – your business blog has all the elements that you need provided that you focus it correctly.

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    As ever, this time of year is when people look back over what has happened in the previous year and forward to what they think will happen in the New Year.

    While Im not a great one for New Year Resolutions, I thought that I would add my own thoughts as to some of the trends that I believe we will be looking at in the arena of business blogging and social media.

    In no particular order:

    1. Blog Integration: Blogs will become more integrated with standard websites and indeed the norm will be to have the interactive elements of a blog for specific purposes as part of more and more sites.

    2. Small Business Blogs: Small Businesses will recognise that simply starting up a static website will not provide them with the online presence and communication tool that they require. Those small businesses wishing to make an impact will move their current website on to a blog platform and will lead the way in this area.

    3. Internal blogs: Dark blogs (or internal blogs) will step out into the light. Having used blogging as internal communications tools, larger companies will build on that experience to start to incorporate externally customer focused blogs into their customer relations programs. Smaller companies will start to use internal blogs more extensively as a central information and communication resource.

    4. Corporate Blogs: The FTSE 250 will see over 15 externally facing blogs set up as corporate organisations start to realise and explore the different options that business blogs offer them.

    5. Social Media: In the UK, there will become a greater acceptance and use of the social media tools that are available. In the second half of the year, we will see social media toolkits becoming an increasingly important part of a companys online marketing activities.

    6. Old ideas will persist: Nevertheless, people will continue to explain how to use business blogs by starting with the phrase blogs are an online diary. Alas!

    7. Social Bookmarking: social bookmarking will spread outside of the primarily technical audience that it currently serves and be used more extensively. There will also be the first steps in consolidation within this area creating fewer independent and viable players.

    8. RSS: the use of RSS will continue to gain ground outside of the current user base. This will develop the very specific RSS channels though is dependent on the benefits being more clearly explained and communicated by those already using it.

    9. User generated content: the trend will continue but will expand from the mega site focus down to the smaller individual sites and blogs which will create strong micro communities in industry and market segments.

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