Practical Ecommerce

Social Networking: Build Your Own Community

There is not a day that goes by that I don’t reflect on how to leverage social media, including social networks, for marketing purposes. I have tried a number of approaches, some of which have been successful and some of which have not. This month, I want to share an idea that I think has genuine potential. I call it “getting a table of your own.”

Participate in communities

A basic rule of thumb in social media marketing is that, in order to gain influence, you must actively participate in the communities of which you are a member. That means commenting on blogs, participating in forums and message boards, joining fan groups at major social networks like MySpace or Facebook, and dialoging via online chat on sites like Twitter.

Participation in social shopping sites such as Judy’s Book, Kaboodle or ThisNext is a good thing as well, and essential to any effective marketing strategy. However, I liken all of these activities to getting a seat at someone else’s table. How much better would it be to get your own table and extend an invitation for others to join you?

Start a social presence

What I mean by this is that you establish a social media presence with your company brand or product at the center. That is not to suggest the only reason people would visit the site is to talk about you. It is to suggest that you are providing them a meeting place where your brand is undeniably present. (Beds.com, an online community sponsored by Select Comfort, is a good example of this approach.)

Let me suggest four ways this could be done:

  1. Start a blog. A blog can serve as a foundational component to any social media marketing strategy. Apparently, I’m not the only one who thinks this, as it’s becoming more and more commonplace to see ecommerce sites containing blogs.

  2. Create an online community. As social media matures, we’re going to see a proliferation of smaller, niche-targeted online communities and social networks much more suited to individual needs and interests than the massive ones we know today. Yours could be one of those.

    If you have little or no budget for such, do not worry. Sites like Ning.com enable you to set up a branded social network at no cost and in only a few minutes. If you don’t want Google ads to appear on the site, you can upgrade for a nominal fee. (I would first suggest that you join a Ning community and learn the ropes before creating one.)

  3. Set up a Facebook business page. I did this for my company recently and, though I can’t say it’s paid off for us in terms of new business as of yet, it has opened the door to conversations with prospects that we would not have had otherwise. If you target younger consumers, it’s certainly not a bad idea.

  4. Create a Facebook application. In an article entitled “Ecommerce Facebook Applications,” Practical Ecommerce contributing author Jeff Muendel suggested that ecommerce sites “would be remiss” not to create at least one Facebook application. It need not be an expensive or difficult proposition either. Developers like Clearspring.com or Widgetbox.com make it relatively painless.

While reaching out to customers and prospects at “tables” where they sit is an essential part of any social media marketing strategy, it’s even better when you can invite them to join you at one of your own making. Whether you use one of my recommendations or something else altogether, I encourage you to create a table of your own.

Paul Chaney
Paul Chaney
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Comments ( 10 )

  1. Legacy User March 18, 2008 Reply

    The problem I have with 'creating your own social networking presence' is that a forum with little to no visitors looks bad on your brand and dilutes its significance. You need a jumping presence with visitors who are active to make it work. This is not an easy task.

    — *Shaun B.*

  2. Legacy User March 18, 2008 Reply

    I totally agree that to engage the Gen Y audience–which everyone will need to do at some point–companies will need to "fish where the fish are" by adding a social networking component to their site. Time and experimentation will determine the most successful models for each company, but it's important for companies to start now with a low cost, low risk social networking game plan.

    — *Lynn from Lynnsco*

  3. Legacy User March 18, 2008 Reply

    For those that are really bold and have some computer skills or just plain control freaks (like me, sometimes), you could want to set up your own social network with the use of Drupal, for example.

    But without a doubt, start a blog and passionately contribute. Don't create a blog just to sell, because people will be automatically turned off and you will wonder why there are no visitors.

    Happy Networking!
    Marvin
    OpportunisticInvestment.com

    — *eMarv*

  4. Legacy User March 18, 2008 Reply

    I completely agree with the blog idea. We started a blog and hold regular contests. Customers (and site visitors) are quite involved with our photo contests in particular.

    — *Michelle Pinciaro*

  5. Legacy User March 18, 2008 Reply

    The audience is what makes a blog or any social networking tool work. As a 21-year-old "Gen Y" consumer of social media, for my generation, it is the ideal route for companies to build and grow and network with my generation and connect with them on a somewhat personal level. All I'm saying is that the Facebooks and the MySpaces of the world aren't going away anytime soon. So companies need to leverage these emerging trends and maybe just be a little bit less stiff and open the conversation.

    Richly Chheuy
    ecommerce.mediachase.com

    — *RNC*

  6. Legacy User March 18, 2008 Reply

    In 2008 we dedicated a allowance of time to social networking online. I was not crazy about the prospect of having to write for the general public's view, but it has definitely contributed to the response from press, both local and otherwise that I don't believe would have happened with out the interaction on our behalf. http://www.moodswingsonthenet.com

    — *Elizabeth Bighorse, Moodswings Inc*

  7. Legacy User March 18, 2008 Reply

    Volusion has a blog and I have to admit, writing articles and responding to readers' questions is my favorite part of my job!

    Social media can be such a great conversion tool. If you are passionate and knowledgeable about what you sell, having a blog, a Facebook account or a community allows you to communicate so much better with customers. It takes out the guess work for both parties.

    Some companies will use one person as a "spokesperson" in the social media world. So rather than the company having a profile, that particular person acts as a representative of the company. It's not really a sales role–they act more as a celebrity than a salesperson. It makes the company more personable.

    — *Michelle Greer*

  8. Legacy User March 19, 2008 Reply

    I think the growth will be in the use of smaller, more focused, niche social networks that cater to a particular interest, hobby or vocation. These smaller sites will allow like-minded individuals and groups to connect, exchange ideas and receive genuine and useful support.

    These kinds of sites will also be attractive to advertisers as they get targeted demographics to spend their online advertising budgets on.

    Thanks to sites such as ning, anyone can start a niche social network about anything. There's also a search engine to help find niche social networks that lists thousands of networks for a whole range of subjects, http://findasocialnetwork.com

    — *Carson*

  9. yash_ September 23, 2008 Reply

    Ya, Buddy absolutely right, because it’s just not content that matters, members want to take part in discussion whole a lot & Orkut is good example of it, that you can imagine from dollars spend by Google on buying it & now Google is earning many folds from it.

  10. CherylH November 11, 2009 Reply

    I completely agree with the notion of creating your own custom social network for business. It can benefit a business in ways that almost no other medium can match. By creating a place online for your exsisting and potential client base to meet and discuss industry relevant subjects and connect with like minded individuals, you are creating customer loyalty.

    Cheryl
    http://www.planetwebfoot.com

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