I have given several seminars on this topic, but I wanted to share it on this blog so that everyone can understand the power of online marketing as it exists today. I often receive requests to speak on web 2.0 or new media. It is often the same question, “can you teach us how to use web 2.0 to get the word out about us?”
To answer this question, I need to step back and do a quick overview of how the web has evolved and why they use the term web 2.0 (vs. web 1.0). To begin with, in the initial heyday of the Internet, it was all about getting a web site. If you had your own web page on the world wide web, you were a star. The process was difficult and the result was a collection of online brochures. Companies like Tripod and Geocities came along and simplified the process of putting up your own web page, but it was still static.
Then came a revolution in how people used the web. They began to congregate on the web. They began to use nascent tools to create communities around specific topics, whether it was a blog, podcast, wiki, message board, or full fledged social network. You can read the Wikipedia definition of Web 2.0 here.
Today, the best analogy I have come up with for the way the web works today is this:
Walk into any coffee shop in America these days and you will find a collection of small communities in full gossip mode. They could be talking about relationships, personal trials, or business transactions. However, they are all engrossed in what is going on immediately around them.
The web works the same way today. Think of the web as a giant collection of coffee shops (or one giant coffee shop if it is easier to picture). There are groups of people all over the world meeting and gossiping about everything from cancer to cars. The web has gone beyond a collection of static brochures to become a gathering place. Unlike a coffee shop, where the conversation wanders from topic to topic, most online communities are built around a very specific topic.
For example, one of the most well read blogs on the Internet is one by Leroy Sievers a journalist for the last 25 years and current cancer patient. His emotional posts receive no fewer than 45 comments per blog, with some receiving upwards of 170. There are communities created around a love of cars, such as CarDomain.com, with close to 2 million registered users. Even tree huggers have their own coffee shops at places like TreeHugger.com or Care2 Make a Difference, which has over 8 million registered users. Looking to build your biceps? Boise-based company BodyBuilding.com has one of the web’s largest online communities for advice on that perfect calf workout. There are even online coffee shops, like Pronetos, for Professors and academics to get together and dish about their research.
The key benefits to tapping into these online communities is that they are a targeted group gathered around a central theme, they are passionate, and they are influencers. This group is a collection of thought leaders in their field.
What is tricky about using these communities to market, however, is that they have a high BS radar and a long memory for those that try to shamelessly promote themselves in the middle of the conversation. It would be much the same way if you walked into the middle of a group huddled together in a coffee shop and pronounced loudly, “Have you tried my brand of wiper blade? It will change your life!” I guarantee you that the same looks you would receive from that group would be the same ones you would receive from behind the monitors of the online elite.
You have to get involved and become engaged. While it is an incredible opportunity to have this group of influencers gathered together in one place, you have to become a part of the group in order to succeed. It is not quick and you can’t just pay someone to run a few ads for you. You have to genuinely be a part of the conversation.