This is an excerpt from an article I wrote for Home Furnishings Retailer Magazine earlier this year.

If you aren’t actively touting your business or the products and services you offer in an online community, you are missing out on an interesting and exciting opportunity.

When most retailers think about social networking sites it is highly likely they immediately think of teens sharing their life stories and weekend plans on MySpace, sending instant messages to their Facebook buddies or posting and watching a host of quirky or seemingly repugnant videos on YouTube.
Yes, those things are taking place at an exponential rate but there is something else taking place as well. It’s the invaluable exchange of information, and sharing of ideas.

Believe it or not, advice about everything from interior design and comfortable recliners to paint selection and information about antique furniture and leather sofas is being sought and doled out at warp speed. People are uploading and sharing pictures of their renovated homes and even commiserating about difficult home improvement projects. Wouldn’t it be nice if your name was somehow mentioned in some of those conversations, or better yet if you were actually taking part in them? Think of the benefits of word-of-mouth referrals and transfer it to the internet where millions of people connect every single minute of the day.
The possibilities are endless.

As the Managing Editor of the online community GOLO.com I witness these types of exchanges daily. In less than a year, our community has grown to more than 7,000 members. They swap recipes; write movie reviews, blog about their kids, gas prices, politics, weather, the housing market and a host of other subjects. There is a plethora of websites where this type of interaction is taking place. Millions of people are talking about hundreds or even thousands of topics and they are all consumers.

Again, the possibilities are endless.

In the seminar I presented at the High Point Market Seminars in April: Understanding Online Communities: Getting Your Message to the Masses, I shared my thoughts on what I believe people want from online communities. They want knowledge and new ideas; advice, acceptance and approval, information; interaction, empathy and support, purchasing advice and useful tips for their everyday lives. If you can provide any of that, it would behoove you to give online communities a try.

Now I must warn you that this isn’t about purchasing an ad on a website and moving on as you wait for a report on the click-through rate or for your doors to swing open. And it’s not about selling your products or promoting your store full-blast, but getting to know a community understanding the interests of its members and finding a way to capitalize on them.

Engaging in online communities is about making a connection and that connection is made with your time. You have to invest some of it to earn the interest.

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Online Community Strategist

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