How would you like to experience the same kind of explosive growth as Google, Wikipedia, Facebook or YouTube? Those are exceptional cases, but they are household names. And you could be too.

At a time when every dollar spent counts, it’s more important than ever to use your marketing dollars wisely. Savvy marketers are turning their attention to the Web as a cost-effective and valuable tool to communicate with their clients and cultivate new prospects. Social media marketing is one of the hottest trends.

Social networking sites and Web applications such as Google are considered part of the Web 2.0 revolution. What is Web 2.0? What can we learn from this new generation of Internet applications? And why would you apply Web 2.0 principles to your business growth strategy? The term “Web 2.0” has become just another marketing buzzword with no real understanding of what it means or how its principles and applications can be applied to your marketing plan. Let’s explore how these principles can increase your business without straining your budget.

First, what is Web 2.0? According to Wikipedia, "Web 2.0 refers to a perceived second generation of Web development and design that facilitates communication, secure information sharing, interoperability, and collaboration on the World Wide Web. Web 2.0 concepts have led to the development and evolution of Web-based communities, hosted services, and applications such as social networking sites, video-sharing sites, wikis, blogs and folksonomies." But perhaps the most concise and applicable definition comes from Bart Decrem, a founder and former CEO of Flock, who calls Web 2.0 the "participatory Web" and regards the Web-as-information-source as Web 1.0.

The same concepts and principles that make this new generation of Web applications so successful can easily be translated and applied to your business model. Here is my Top Five list of Web 2.0 principles that you can incorporate into your business growth strategy without breaking the bank.

1.     Innovation in Assembly
Unless you are a boutique or niche-specific firm, you offer the same accounting services as your competitors down the street. To differentiate yourself, you must innovate the way you package your service, not the service itself. There’s a new “marketing mix” to consider now too, which is more applicable to professional service firms; instead of the 4 P’s (product, place, price and promotion), consider the 4 C’s (consumer, cost, convenience and communication) and think outside the box.

2.    Leverage Customer Self-Service to Reach a Broader Audience
Every client is an opportunity for a referral. Take advantage of the viral aspect of social networking to effectively trigger a cascade of interest from a broader audience to fill your pipeline. Your clients are doing the work for you. The key to success is tracking the dialogue and following up with prospects. And if you have clients out there who are regularly raving about your service, be sure to thank them! Warning: to really reap the benefits of social media marketing you should plan to spend a minimum of five hours per week focusing on these efforts. The most experienced and savvy social media marketers are spending 20 hours per week with proven results. The good news (at least for those in charge of the marketing budget) is that social media marketing is almost always free.

3.    Rich User Experience
Don’t just sell a tax return, sell an experience. Engage your customers in regular dialogue and keep them coming back for more. A rich user experience begins with providing five-star service and is only limited by your imagination.

4.    Users as Co-Developers
When was the last time you performed a client loyalty survey? There are two very important questions you should ask your clients on a regular basis: What do you enjoy about working with our firm and how can we improve your experience? Give your customers a voice and a role in shaping what and how you build the 4 C’s into your business model.

5.    Eternal Beta
Be creative and don’t be afraid to try new things. The business landscape is constantly changing and what worked a few years ago may not cut it today. Progressive firms are never stagnant. Don’t be like the Post Shredded Wheat guy who put the “no” in innovation.
Finally, remember the Law of Reciprocity. The most successful companies all give up something considered critical (and maybe expensive) in order to get something valuable for free. Or simply put, the more you give, the more you get.

But don’t get carried away. I am not suggesting that you give away or discount your services; a savvy marketer can incorporate these principles into your growth strategy and position your firm as a market leader and not just another commodity (unless your strategy, like H&R Block, is to be the low-price leader). But don’t be afraid to share valuable information with your clients or involve them in improving your business model. Just as Web 2.0 is the participatory Web, in today’s dynamic environment, remember that communicating with your clients is a dialogue, not a monologue.

Kristin Gentry is a professional services strategic sales and marketing expert with a specialty in social media marketing (www.SavvySocialMediaMarketing.com).

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