E.  Four Forces Affecting Web Communication

Developing and utilizing an Internet communications effort does no happen in a vacuum. As with any project, a number of forces from within an organization and outside it will affect the project. As we have discussed, the Internet communications options are numerous and can replace and enhance almost any information flow, at any level, between any participants in any relationship.

But Internet communications will be affected by four different forces acting on the effort simultaneously: strategy/vision, needs/use, tactics, and economics (i.e., cost and ROI). These four forces will affect the justification of this communications model from a business standpoint and will lead to either effective implementation or stagnant acceptance of the efforts inside and outside an organization.

The first force, strategy, should be the initial driving force behind the effort. The strategy or vision for use of the Internet should be developed as the best possible options for using technology to enhance relationships via communication. The use of the Internet to increase customer satisfaction through better customer service using desired information presentations could be a sample strategy. This strategy should be realistic while creating a best case scenario. Completely shifting customer service communication to the Internet in its first three months of use is an unrealistic vision for its use.

The second force affecting Internet communication can be defined as need/use. This concept describes both the needs that can be fulfilled for audiences using the Internet and the use of the communications methods by these audiences. The communications efforts must fulfill wants, needs, and desires. Providing appropriate customer service information will fulfill the needs of a customer audience.

At the same time, use of the communications by the appropriate audience will dictate the success, failure, adjustment, and expansion of these efforts. If the effort does not supply appropriate information, for example, it won't be used. And a Web site that is not used is difficult to justify and fund in any organization.

The third factor affecting a Web communication effort is the tactics used in the effort. While a strategy/vision describes where you would like to go over the longer term, tactics are the things you do to execute a strategy. Building a Web interface to appropriate databases of information is a tactic used as part of a strategy to better serve the audience's customer service needs. The primary differences between strategies and tactics are scope and the dimension of the undertaking. The strategy is the war while tactics are the individual battles.

The fourth force affecting Internet communication involves economics. This is the strongest of these factors and will define the others. Increasing customer service through Internet communication is a good strategy because it is a justifiable expense. But if audience needs are not met because incorrect tactics are applied, then the expense is not justified and the effort will fail due to internal economic pressures. Let's say the strategy is to increase customer service using the Web. But a database-driven system is not built and a static system is used instead as a tactic. This system does not fulfill needs and doesn't get used. It is hard to continue to fund a project that is not being used.

From another perspective, while a strategy may be realistic and fulfill needs, a lack of economic support will limit or prevent any tactics from being utilized. In the preceding example, if the database system is not funded, then that tactic can't be used even though it is the correct one. The solution here would be to use a tactic that can be funded and that will serve some needs. The use of this tactic by the correct audience and a partial success of the strategy could lead to increased economic support and the use of more expensive tactics to meet more needs.

These four factors strike a delicate balance and are interdependent. It's important to understand strategy, tactics, needs/use, and economics when developing Internet communication efforts because they will affect those efforts in the short and long term.

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