BBC and Business Week show it’s how you organise the information that counts

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At FreshNetworks we spend a long time working with clients on the organisation of information in online communities. You can have the best content in the world, but if you can’t find it, then it’s of no use. You need to work hard to organise information thematically and make it easier for people to find what they want.

A few months ago the BBC launched its Topics in the UK - a first step towards this kind of thematic organisation across their site. Taking content from across its site, this section organises things by themes - first it was places, then people and now some subjects too. So whether you want to find out about Hong Kong, Nicolas Sarkozy or the Edinburgh Festival you can see all of the BBC’s content in one place. From TV programmes to editorial content, news or background information on subjects.

This is a really good use of the vast and constantly changing content that the BBC has at its disposal and makes a fantastic resource for the user. Rather than having to use the search function we can now find information grouped by themes we are interested in.

A report in the New York Times over the weekend suggest that a similar thematic structure is to be launched by Business Week. But their Business Exchange pages are going a step further than the BBC:

Each Business Exchange topic page links to articles and blog posts from myriad other sources, including BusinessWeek’s competitors, with the contents updated automatically by a Web crawler. Nearly all traditional news organizations offer only their own material, spurning the role of aggregator as an invitation to readers to leave their sites.

This is an exciting step. As a reader I don’t necessarily mind where the content has come from, as long as it is clear to me when I read it. Online communities work well when they combine expert or editorial content with user generated content or input from other areas. Users want to see everything abotu a subject rather than having to hunt information down from a number of areas.

We often find that this kind of aggregation can be a good thing for the editorial content. It is this that binds together the other content and adds comment on it. The extra content acts as colour, exploring tangential areas or exploring some areas in more more depth. Thematic based information structure helps the reader, and it can certainly help the content providers too.

  • Topic Pages to Be Hub of New BusinessWeek Site
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  • Business Week Creates Business Exchange
  • Social Media: Strategies in Content and Commerce
  • Your Website Shouldn’t Be Just An Electronic Version Of Your Print Publication
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What did Social Media ever do for us?

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I just read a good post by Chris Brogan today called what social media does best. I’m never a big fan of lists, but this is a useful one, making clear some specific benefits of social media (just in case you were wondering - which I know a lot of people are).

My top three points (and the reasons why) are:

  1. Podcasts encourage different types of learning, in portable formats - I listen to a couple of podcasts as I cycle to work and a couple on the way home. That’s 30 minutes of learning every single day that I would not have got before the social media revolution. My favourite ones are Business Week Cover Stories, TED talks and Behind the Numbers.
  2. Social networks make for great ways to understand the mindset of the online consumer - given that my first business was a research company this ethnographic style of research is of particular interest to me.
  3. People feel heard - I think the best way for brands to engage their customers is through conversations. Online customer communities give your customers a platform to make a point and give you the right of reply and ability to say “thank you”.
  • What Social Media Does Best
  • It’s what’s on the inside that counts
  • Definition + Social Media = Need stats to join the conversation?
  • Why Are You Investigating Social Media
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Business Week thinks beyond blogs

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Three years ago, Business Week published a cover story predicting that blogs would change your business. This week they have followed-up with a piece showing how quickly and how far things have moved since then: Beyond Blogs.

In the original article, Business Week marvelled how in a world where you could set up an account and be posting your ideas to the world in less than ten minutes, companies needed to stay on top of the rise in blogging. “Your customers and rivals are figuring blogs out,” the article warned, so business should “Catch up…or catch you later.”

Revisit that article three years later, Business Week sees that they missed something they couldn’t predict. After all only a quarter of the US population even reads a blog once a month. Their spread has been less prolific than the growth of social networks which people now use to share information. New applications and sites appear each week targetting a specific or more wide-ranging part of the population. Only a few people actually want to blog; many more want to use these new tools to stay in touch, share content and forge relationships.

It is these social connectors, and not just blogs, that are having the biggest impact on companies.

Millions of us are now hanging out on the Internet with customers, befriending rivals, clicking through pictures of our boss at a barbecue, or seeing what she read at the beach. It’s as if the walls around our companies are vanishing and old org charts are lying on their sides.

As Business Week points out, this is worrying for companies - they worry about lack of control. But there is a significant upside to this proliferation of social connectors. Collaboration, the ability to work together and talk together about issues, being able to watch what people discuss and get direct feedback from customers. Social media and social networks are truly changing the way that companies behave, inside and outside. BT use wikis for all internal projects - allowing people across the business (and across the world) to work in the same space on a new piece of code, a new marketing strategy or a map of mobile stations. And it’s well reported that P&G uses online social networks and online communities to develop and to test new product concepts and designs.

The tools that companies have to make the most of social media are changing, and Business Week think that they are now the future. I have to agree. In part. I think there is a real value to blogging as part of the social media toolkit that a company employs. But it can’t exist in isolation and needs to be just one element of a strategy to make the most of the emerging and growing opportunities that social media offers.

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