I was part of a Web 2.0 panel in New York City earlier this week, moderated by Bryant Shea, Director of Content Management at Molecular. It was an intimate affair – we had about thirty people in the room, drawn largely from media/entertainment, financial services, and insurance firms.

We wanted to encourage audience participation — about five minutes into the event, one person piped up, “We know that Web 2.0 is all about user generated content. We certainly agree – we’ve put up a blog for our customers. Now what do we do with all this content?” Good question – we spent the rest of the evening trying to answer.

I’m not sure we ever reached a resolution but this got me thinking. What’s equally important is the prior question – why put up a blog in the first place? Business strategies need to drive technology choices; technology options can then drive business opportunities.

Now there are certainly plenty of plausible reasons for companies to want to encourage blogging about their products and services. Building brand loyalty, supporting the fans, wanting to learn about customers experiences (both the good and the bad), facilitating a peer group who can support one another, perhaps even turning to loyal end users to help with product development – the list goes on.

Companies have many options for engaging their customers. But they first have to be open to having the conversation with them, and have some inkling of how they’ll use all the insights they acquire.

Note, an inkling is a clue or a hunch – it’s not (yet) a plan. Allowing customers to blog back, blog about, and blog with one another is only the first step in a larger process. With Web 2.0, there’s lots of room for experimentation – trying things out, and seeing what works, moving on. What’s new is the ability to link things together.

Implementers and the business managers who support them need not have a formal plan about how they’re going to use all the user generated content. What they do need, I believe, is the willingness and the time to listen, and then to figure out how best to join the conversation.