Word of Mouth to Click of Mouse: How in the World Wide Web to Market to Online Communities

Anyone who tells you the Internet has eliminated borders is speaking the truth and totally misleading you all at once.

Thanks to the web, time zones and geography are of minimal consequence to our marketing efforts.  Yet within the context of the Internet, communities are still formed, and virtual lines of demarcation are set—and set strongly—all the time.  Sure, your online message or web-based campaign ‘could’ be seen by anybody around the globe, but it likely won’t be.  You still have to earn your way into your customers’ circles.

I heard a story about an 87 year-old man who lived on the lower east side of NYC.  In nearly nine decades walking the planet, he could count on one hand the number of times he’d ventured beyond the 5 block radius of his neighborhood. He lived in one of the world’s most bustling cities, yet his entire life was contained in a tiny corner of it.    Everything he needed was right there.  And if it wasn’t right there, somebody would deliver it.  So why leave?

That’s a great analogy for most people’s Internet experiences today.  Sure, there’re millions of sites and networks out there, but most folks pretty much stay close to home.  They find where they fit, move in, and chat with their online neighbors to get information and ideas for things they need beyond their ‘hoods.

Thus, the onus is still on the marketer to earn the chance to be heard within target markets.  However, that broad target market may now be compartmentalized into the readerships of 100 blogs or 10 popular online magazines or 1,000 Facebook groups.  And all the while, that same target market is DVRing their favorite TV shows and scrolling past the commercials.

So what in the World Wide Web is a marketer to do?  Here are some ideas.

Start small.
Embrace the neighborhood mentality.  Find some vibrant communities online that fit your target market, and move in  to the neighborhood.  If they find you to be a good neighbor, your community mates will ultimately cross the fences for you.

The great news is that each person in an online community is connected to other people—in other online communities.  That’s how the ‘Net is ultimately “borderless” as originally billed; the concept of six degrees of separation applies in folds.

Be real.
In the context of community, everybody can spot the phony.  Make friends before you try to make sales.  Don’t breeze into an online community like a traveling salesman; move into your chosen communities with the intention of setting down roots.  Become a contributing citizen, and the sales will come naturally.

Be patient.
Before the era of mass media and mass transit, people shopped in neighborhood markets, recommended sellers by word of mouth, and over time, certain shopkeeps earned solid reputations.  And today, though we’re in the era of mass email, the same rules still apply.  Rather than word of mouth, we pass along recommendations by click of mouse.  Sure that speeds things up, but marketers shouldn’t expect brand loyalty and sustained sales to magically generate.

Click on over tomorrow for more buzz about social media for small biz!

Thanks,

This entry was posted in Biz Communications Tips, Social Media & Online Mktg, Your Brand & Virtual Reputation and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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