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In yesterday’s post, I expressed my dismay over the lack of advertising and marketing interest in online communities. I think it’s a big mistake and concluded that the main reason for this lack of participation must be time. They simply don’t have the time to invest in these communities to reap the benefits.
Yes, I know…it likely has everything to do with scale. Been there, heard that. Over it.

Peter Kim wrote an excellent post about social media marketing’s scalability problem back in August. And it is certainly an issue. I will acknowledge that.

But I’m also reading in countless blogs about how companies are now aware that it’s time to shift strategies, embrace social media and “join the conversation.” That conversation does exist beyond Facebook and twitter, and even a corporate blog, though some haven’t embraced those yet either.

Bryan Person listed what he calls some obvious reasons why marketers aren’t jumping into some of the conversations taking place in online communities, such as the one about Lasik eye surgery, that I mentioned in yesterday’s post. Here they are:

  1. They (or their PR reps) aren’t doing a good job of monitoring the social web, and they haven’t seen this conversation.
  2. They *are* monitoring, see the mentions, and it just takes time to respond.
  3. They *are* monitoring, see the mentions, and don’t know exactly how to respond.
  4. They *are* monitoring and see the mentions, but the high volume makes it impossible or unrealistic to jump into all conversations (for many brands, this is certainly the case.)
  5. They *are* monitoring, following the conversations, and simply choose not to respond.

I bet Bryan’s right, and all five of those instances certainly occur. Richard Millington agrees with Bryan. He chimed in with this:

I would add that too many companies focus on the macro sales rather than the micro sales. They don’t realize that the macro attempts nearly always push people away, whilst the micro always draws people closer to the company.

BINGO! Someone hand Richard the door prize! Micro sales. That’s it!

Now, if you’re a marketer, please tell me why the time investment isn’t worth it. And how do we make this paradigm shift from macro sales to micro sales?

It has to happen. And like I said yesterday, I’m going to help lead the charge.

I still don’t know how, but as long as we keep talking about it, we’ll figure it out.

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As the editor of an online community with more than 10,000 members, I see at least 5-10 really good opportunities for marketers and advertisers on a daily basis. They unfold before my very eyes and sometimes seem too good to be true. The conversations take place in blogs, on individual profiles and even on the comments sections of news stories.

What I can’t really figure out though, is why these opportunities are being missed. The only thing I can think of is time. Maybe they don’t want to invest the time it takes to get involved in an online community even if it is filled with thousands of local folks who could bring lots of business to those who do it right.

Just today, someone mentioned that they were seriously contemplating Lasik eye surgery and asked for advice. It came in droves. Two businesses were mentioned by name and several individual doctors were recommended. There was mention of bad experiences and some chimed in saying they too had been considering the surgery and wanted to find someone with a good reputation and satisfied patients.

Can you imagine what would have happened had anyone from those offices gotten involved in this conversation, perhaps offering a special, a consultation, expertise or even tips on how to select a doctor?

I saw a potential gold mine and an opportunity to recruit customers who would spread the word and bring in even more referrals. The cost: Zero. Well the real cost is time. I guess that price is just too high for some.

A sad state of affairs indeed.
But I’m going to help change it. I don’t know exactly how, but it’s coming.
Stay tuned…..

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If you have a product or service that you think most people or a large percentage of the people in an online community would find interesting, I think you should delve right in and give it a shot. After all, isn’t one of the goals behind marketing in online communities to essentially capitalize on the sheer numbers and niche topics?

If done right, it can be quite effective. If done wrong, as it most often is in my opinion, it can backfire in a way that can turn ugly fast. I’ve seen it time and time again. A well-intentioned individual joins the community and casually starts mentioning their travel site or automotive services complete with links in every post and the promise of a discount.

What often happens next is they receive a slew of comments from the natives about the community not being a place to sell their services and it’s all downhill from there.
I once saw a user upload 750 images of wristwatches. Seriously. It was his entire catalog. Need I say what happened to him?

I call it the scarlet letter, “S.” it stands for SPAM. It’s a word you don’t want to be associated with in an online community. Trust me. So, before you jump right in to the next community, here are five things you shouldn’t do. Remember, this isn’t the do list, it’s the don’t list.

Don’t:

  1. Add links to your website in every single blog and comment you post.
  2. Write blogs with titles like: “Great deals on travel” and only mention your organization. It’s the quickest way to illustrate a lack of genuine interest in the community.
  3. Start blogging about your product or service the minute you create a profile. It will be noticed.
  4. Misrepresent yourself as a satisfied customer, just to convince others to get on board.
  5. Disrespect the culture of the community. Take time to see how things work before you jump in and shake things up.

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I believe in the power of online communities. And, contrary to popular belief, I know that businesses and business owners can successfully interact within these communities, getting their messages across without being shunned, ignored or worse…labeled a spammer or marked as abuse.

It’s a delicate balance, but it can be done. It takes time and commitment and I would discourage anyone without the time to invest, from jumping in head first. Perhaps micro-blogging on Twitter or Plurk would be a better option. Online community members expect more. They demand more. And trust me, it takes a pretty hefty time investment and a certain type of approach if you want to do it right.

If you are someone who wants to do it right, here are five things you shouldn’t do, unless of course your goal is to suffer irreversible consequences, in the form of a public hanging or worse, the scarlet letter “S” (spammer) posted on your profile page.

So, if you want to successfully engage members of an online community, do not…

  1. Post a link to your store or product in every single comment or post.
  2. Post all 750 images from your catalog or brochure in your image gallery.
  3. Make your profile name the name of your website (goldwatchesdotcom.)
  4. Post blogs without any relevant content other than your huge sale or grand opening.
  5. Fail to learn, disrespect or simply ignore the culture of the community.

Do any of the above, and you’ll soon be overlooked. It only takes one time to screw up and your chances of getting back in with that particularly community become pretty slim.

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In my quest to deliver an informative message to the audience at tomorrow’s seminar,  I decided to reach out to a GOLO member who I’ve watched for a while.  She runs a business and has in my opinion, discovered how to co-exist in an online community by choosing the right balance of promotion and engagement. I asked Diedre Hughey, of Dancing Elephants to share some of her experiences in the GOLO community so that I could share what I deem to be her success story.  

Deidre wrote something in her first sentence that I think is very imprtant.  She said you have to have a “BURNING desire to get your message out to the public.”  I could be wrong but I attribute some of that  to the time commitment required to gain respect in these communities.

One message that I hope to send tomorrow is the importance of interacting within the community and refraining from pushing your product or service every time you post. It’s important to engage and interact with people, and understand that they don’t want you to slam your product down their throats.  If you do, you will be rejected and getting back in the good graces of the community will be virtually impossible.

Diedre indicated in the e-mail that it can be tough and she has wondered if the community is indeed her target audience.  But one thing she finds valuable is the ability to fine-tune ideas by seeing if they resonate with users, stir controversy, or “fall flat.” 

As I looked over my presentation, I was pleased to see that I’d mentioned much of what Diedre shared with me and I now feel like I’m on the right track.

So, wish me luck tomorrow and I’ll be sure to blog about the experience.

Angela  

 

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This is a personal blog. The opinions expressed here represent my own and not those of my employer. Feel free to challenge me, disagree with me, or tell me I’m completely nuts in the comments section of each blog entry.

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