As businesses cautiously integrate Web 2.0 tools into their daily operations, small and large scale corporations can look to a Canadian not-for-profit organization on how to take use the technology for workplace training.
Taking It Global (TIG), of Toronto, a seven year-old online cross-cultural global community employs a wide variety of Web-based discussion boards, real simple syndication (RSS) news feeds, podcasts, wikis and media sharing applications to provide information, instruction and aid collaboration on projects such as HIV/AIDS prevention and discussion on issues such as global warming.
Built by co-founders Jennifer Corriero and Michael Furdyk who were both in their teens back in 2000, TIG's Web site reaches out to more than 150,000 members in 200 countries. The site attracts more than 1.8 million hits daily, with each visitor spending an average of 34 minutes on the site per visit
It's no surprise that young people and the not-for-profit world are the early adopters and leading users of today's social networking tools, according to Kirsten Jordan, online community partnership coordinator for TIG. "The youth were practically born to the technology and Web 2.0 tools presented an ideal and cheap way of empowerment.
The businesses world, Jordan said, can gain some valuable lessons from the experiences of organizations like TIG in developing social networking strategies.
For instance, companies can use online collaboration software to coordinate Internet-based teaching programs, she said.
TIG relies heavily on a projects application that keeps various group members on track even they reside halfway around the globe from each other.
Through the application's instant messaging feature, a group member can receive immediate instructions. Podcasting capability enables users to call up discussions or presentations at their own convenience long after the event has concluded.
Functions such as RSS feeds are often used to receive news updates on specific topics from a pre-chosen content provider. Jorda said the same tool can be configured to push updated lesson materials on specific courses.
Classes can also set up topic-specific wiki sites with content open to being updated at a moment's notice by moderators or group members. Instructors can post lesson materials, while students can post their projects.
Video and photo-sharing as well as map-based tools can enhance user experience and generate interest in an instruction site, Jordan said.
The development of such tools is changing the face of online workplace instruction, according to Maggie Fox, communication and content expert as well as founding partner of Social Media Group (SMG).
The SMG is a Toronto-based company firm that assists firms in developing internal and external Web 2.0 strategies.
Fox said the communications, public relations,marketing and IT development departments are where such technologies first crop up in corporations because these are the area where online collaboration is vital.
"One of Web 2.0's key advantages is its ability to spread tacit knowledge fast and cheap," she said.
For external and internal purposes social networking tools "can be a lot cheaper than print and TV ads or even a brochure," she added.
For example, Avenue A/Razorfish, a global digital ad agency, employs a wiki page to give is workers the "total collaborative environment," Fox said.
"Except for the homepage, almost everything else can be changed."
One of the most creative uses of podcasting, Fox said, is by Salesforce.com.
The company records updates, instructions,lessons and messages on a variety of sales topics. Even if they weren't able to attend a meeting or session, sales personnel can access podcasts where ever they may be.
"There's no need for a classroom. People can tune in to the lesson while riding a plane or train," she said.
But like any other business tool, social networking applications are open to abuse and misuse says Anne Lamanes, public relations manager for Pink Elephant, an IT management education firm based in Burlington, Ont.
She recalled how consumers complained about the use of "fake customers" on a WalMart travel blog that was suppose to highlight how people can eat healthy and stretch their dollar by "Wal-Marting Across America."
"Companies must have a clear objective before deploying Web 2.0 tools," she said.
Fox said organizations also need to make sure that there will be "enough buy-in" for an online training program.
Participation is a must. Just because you built it is no guarantee that users will come.