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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 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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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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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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