As of June 30, 2010 more than 1.9 billion people around the world were accessing the Internet. This is a significant increase over the 360 million people who were on the Internet as of December 31, 2000. The numbers and types of businesses with an online presence have increased as well.
Reaching Billions of Customers
Reaching and connecting with Internet users is a key to online business success. Creating content that generates conversation among masses of people is one of the most effective (and cost efficient) ways to reach and engage prospective customers online.
“Conversation is king. Content is just something to talk about,” says activist, author and journalist, Cory Doctorow. To generate sales or to peak consumer interest, content must get people to start talking about a product, service, event, idea, etc. That fact has held for generations. What has changed with the growing usage and popularity of the Internet is the way that businesses distribute content to their prospective customers.
Years ago, a business owner or marketing director could simply pick up the telephone and ask the local radio station or newspaper to run a voice or print ad for them to alert the public to a sale or new product. Fifteen years ago when the Internet was relatively new, businesses could get away with splashing ads (remember how popular banner ads once were?) across Web sites.
Pop-up blocking software sent the clear message that consumers were not interested in receiving advertisements while they were online. Television technology (e.g. V-chips) makes it easy for consumers to skip television ads. The fact that people are using these technologies makes it clear that the world’s citizens are tired of being asked to buy one more product in one splashy, fancy ad after another. Of course, marketers have created “workarounds” to move beyond some of these gates so that they can reach Web surfers directly. However, simply reaching consumers does not equal engaging consumers in relevant discussion and thought.
Giving Consumers What They Really Want
What consumers want is information, advice, motivation and entertainment. The Forbes September 20, 2010 article, “Small Business and Social Marketing”, written by Chris Treadaway, helps to clarify the point. “The brute force of an ad buy won't get you anywhere these days unless you're effectively discounting your products 75% or more through group purchasing or another aggressive, short-sighted discounting tactic. The necessary approach is to reach customers in different ways, wherever they are across social networks, mobile devices, and e-mail--and more importantly, on whatever ways they actually want to be reached.”
The key to this is to “hook” Internet users. Business leaders can do this by giving prospective customers valuable information free of charge. Accurate content builds consumer trust - the ingredient that must be present before a person takes the leap from window (or online) shopping to making a purchase. So how can a business owner create content that generates sales and improves the company return on investment?
Access social networks and build a following. Use your company logo as your photo on sites like Twitter, Facebook and Ning. Consider hiring professional copywriters to create your blog and article content that you post on social networks. Focus on creating an online “voice” for your company. If you own a computer repair company that is located within two miles of a major college or university, you want students reading your article entry about avoiding computer viruses.
Create your own company blog. Major companies like Southwest Airlines have company blogs. Send out notices about discounts and specials that your company is offering through your blog. It gives visitors a reason to return to the blog and spread the word to family and friends to frequent your blog as well.
Build a Web site that offers free advice on topics related to your products and/or services. For example, if you operate a financial services firm, you can create articles related to finding the best local mortgages, securing low or no interest business loans, etc.
Customize local content so that residents feel like you are speaking directly to them rather than to “anyone who will listen.” You can do this by creating articles that address political, economic, social, educational or spiritual events and topics specific to a certain city or region.
As you focus on creating content that generates conversation, the numbers of people who become familiar with your business, products or/and services will likely grow. Have tools and processes in place to handle the increase in business so that you can transfer that conversation and buzz to sales to repeat customers.