Four Ways to Use Widgets for Business
I get asked a lot about widgets: what are they, what do I do with them?
I’m sure entire books are being written on the subject, but I’ve learned a lot in the process of working on Microsoft’s TechNet widget and thought I would share some of the basics in hopes of shedding some light on this relatively new medium. Essentially, widgets (sometimes called gadgets) are tiny applications that provide fast access to information. In these days of information overload, widgets provide easy access to up-to-the minute content we want, almost wherever we want it. Widgets can reside anywhere HTML is accepted: on your web page, intranet, or even on your mobile phone. They make delivering and receiving the most relevant information a snap and are rapidly improving how we work with information to get our job done.
For example, you’ve probably seen a weather widget before. In this case, Weather.com is the provider. They stream you (via their widget) the latest forecasts and serve up content based on your preferences (Seattle and Dallas for me).
With a little creativity, the possibilities are endless, but here are 4 ways you can use widgets in your business today.
USING WIDGETS TO DEAL WITH INFORMATION OVERLOAD
1. Actively “Listen” online
One of the most important rules in business is to meet and exceed your customer expectations. With the proliferation of blogs, Twitter and other conversation and sharing tools, people are talking online and they might be talking about YOU, telling the world exactly what they expect of you. As more and more conversations are happening at once, how can we possibly capture it all?
With the help of widgets, you can create feeds and streams of information based on search terms, blogs, companies or people and aggregate it all into a widget that serves up the information in real-time, as it happens on the web. This makes it manageable to monitor your customers’ conversations online, better understand their needs, and engage them when appropriate.
CREATING WIDGETS FOR YOUR CUSTOMERS OR EMPLOYEES
2. Improve productivity
Widgets can really help save valuable time and can improve productivity. There are existing widgets that can help your business gather and report bookkeeping information, facilitate project management, monitor web performance stats, and execute revenue tracking tasks. There are even widgets for time tracking!
With custom widgets you can streamline internal communications by distributing important content to employees (HR documents, security patch information, project implementation updates) or you can offer widgets that work with your products to help your customers increase productivity, thus increasing the ROI for your products or services.
Here is an example of the Widget creator ProQuest offers to their customers. ProQuest creates specialized information resources (libraries of content) for research, discovery and education. Their widget allows users to stream content from their libraries based on the user’s designated search terms. This eliminates the need to go to each database individually and serves the most recent content as it becomes available from ProQuest; likely driving up the amount of content individual users consume helping to make ProQuest’s service more valuable.
3. Create a communication channel
Widgets provide a direct communication channel to move content from one place to another. Once established, your widget can help eliminate time spent digging around for certain information. Whether you manage an internal team or organization, or your role is to communicate information to customers externally, you can set up a direct stream of audience specific content that is updated instantly as you push the information out. This push of information can take place faster than ever, 24 hours a day, and delivery is based on the receiver’s preferences—the desktop, website, intranet, blog, or mobile device they’ve chosen to place your widget.
4. Promote your brand
If you are providing information of interest or value, people will want to share it with others in their communities. Thus, widgets can be viral, making them excellent promotional tools. They provide a new avenue for community building, attracting attention, and driving awareness of your brand. The key to success here is to first lead with valuable content; you need to develop trust with your audience. Promoting your brand should be subtle and secondary to offering valuable content.
As your widget gains broader adoption, you’ll likely see increased traffic (more of the right people) to your website, portal or blog where you are storing your content. So, ensure that your landing pages are up to snuff and be ready to draw guests in when they arrive. Integrating your widget onto social networks and mobile devices will help amplify the opportunity of reaching the masses.
Try the TechNet Widget
At Microsoft, we have created a customizable widget to distribute information like security alerts the latest webcasts, pertinent training, relevant blog posts and demos that tie to your business--all delivered directly from Microsoft.
For example, if you are a technology manager you might customize the TechNet widget for security content and load it on your intranet to disseminate updates about security patches to your employees. If you manage employee development, you might serve up information about recently released training relevant to your staff. If you have a blog, you can post it there and add your two cents to give your readers further direction on the information.