Firms need to put aside their fears and embrace the web

1 Oct 2009

Irish businesses need to move faster to embrace the opportunities of the web. Gareth Dunlop is managing director of the all-island web agency Tibus, which was bought last year by UTV.

Small firms have the most to gain from the internet as a sales channel. Are enough small companies in Ireland making use of this medium?

There remains a lot of fear amongst SMEs [small to medium-sized enterprises] in Ireland about the web in general, and social media specifically. In my nearly 15 years’ experience in the internet space, I’ve rarely witnessed a shortage of ambition, or even a lack of willingness to put meaningful budget aside amongst SMEs – rather the big barrier is the fear of doing the wrong thing or wasting investment.

I would encourage firms to make use of the excellent resources made available by the likes of the Irish Internet Association and Enterprise Ireland.

The internet industry has an important role to play also in providing leadership based on making a commercial difference to Irish SMEs, not leadership based on closing the largest sales possible.

If a company was hoping to embrace the internet and new ways of selling, what are the best approaches you would recommend?

Get in touch with the organisations named above and trust your common sense. Keep your website at the centre of your web strategy and your customers at the centre of that.

Then have a publishing plan and policy for email marketing, blogs, SEO, SEM, Twitter, affiliate marketing, and social networks, even if that plan is blank for some of those channels because they aren’t relevant to you.

Most of all, don’t become a zealot for the tools, become a zealot for your customers and talk to them in the style they are used to and want.

Everyone seems to be in a hurry to get to grips with social media. What are the biggest gaffes that firms are in danger of making?

The single biggest mistake firms are committing is viewing social media as another sales and advertising channel. I cringe when I see Twitter pages just full of sales or special offers; the person in charge of that page is missing the point that no one is listening.

Businesses need to accept the marketing revolution, which means you get into social media to engage and listen, not to preach and sell. As in real life, it’s only once you’ve listened that you have earned the right to sell.

In the year ahead, what web trends do you see changing the face of business as we know it?

I hope that Web 2.0 continues to mature and grow up, and what I mean by that is that more and more individuals and businesses engage with it in an adult manner. Am I the only one who’s bored of a blogger making an unsubstantiated claim about a company, all her mates linking to the story and, hey presto, the story is No 1 on Google for that company’s name?

Similarly, we’ve had enough of companies using old-world ‘manage the message’ PR styles and legal style responses to this environment.

The power of the crowd now needs to be harnessed to facilitate open and transparent engagement between company and customer, so that we can all benefit. A social networking tool or technique that enables this could really do very well.

By John Kennedy

Photo: Gareth Dunlop, managing director of the all-island web agency Tibus.

Read articles by Gareth Dunlop:

The real reason the recession is good for marketing

The class of 2009 wants your job!

Firms need to be customer zealots, not technology zealots

Online advertising overtakes TV advertising

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years