I could write a book on this topic, but I won’t. So instead here’s six practical points supported by graphics and two sidebars. I end with a riddle to test you.

The six points apply if you have a Website, blog or other Web presence or want one. Some appeal to the Google PageRank algorithm (the original version is pictured). Apply them to reach people on fixed or mobile devices at work, home or play.

Our discussion is on how to turn browsers into customers. It’s not about how to get advertising dollars from Google. We are in the early stages of change. Our attention is on the way things are evolving. Our focus here is on the creative side of Schumpeter’s “creative destruction” concept.

First, recognise that peer review works brilliantly in marketing. Peer group word of mouth has long been the number one way in which Hollywood films attract audiences. A famous saying is that Hollywood marketing budgets buy the first week’s audience, then the studios hope word of mouth does the rest.

Ask yourself – “Who are the peers in my business?” Search for answers. These may inspire you:

  • if you run a magazine offline or online, the peers include your subscribers
  • if you have a restaurant, the peers include your patrons
  • if you offer training or seminars, the peers include your students or attendees
    "netscape_online"Social Networking Sidebar

    Marketers advise that what others say about you and your business is vastly more influential than what you say.

    Back in the second half of the 1990s Netscape (which was building a Web browser) made a move that was radical at the time. It gave access to its source code to all and sundry, free-of-charge. Its hope of generating feedback from users blossomed.

    From those days there is the accompanying graphic. At the outer ring of Netscape’s community was a “Passive user”. Active users were in closer concentric rings, ultimately being a “Project Leader” at the core or hub. Netscape, like the Firefox browser today, develops as its users actively participate.

    Today this is an industry-wide model. It draws in a community of users to drive open source software development or a “social networking” website. It’s a global digital jam session with users providing technical or non-technical content and feedback. It grows online networks anytime, anywhere, any screen. Reach them and the Web will grow your business.

The challenge is to engage people on the Web to create content for your site. That could be comments to a blog, uploaded photos, forming a special interest group, videos or any other type of content or collaborative activity. For all this it helps to source creative talent.

The next challenge is to inspire these people on the Web to engage in communication (and better still conversation) around your Web presence. The hope is that along the way they will say good things about you.

Second, recognise that to attract and keep peers engaged, you must offer personalisation. There are many ways to have a degree of personalisation; it depends on what you need to achieve. Without personalisation the risk is that your Web presence will fail to empower users and will rely on old publishing, broadcasting or Ford models. (As recorded in his book, “My Life and Work“, Henry Ford famously remarked when announcing in 1909 that there would in future be only one car model, the “Model T”: “Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black.”) Fordism has long been out of vogue.

Some may come to your blog or site looking for a section they normally prefer, some will look for information on a particular geographic location, and yet others will want all you’ve got but only on a niche subject.

Gathering peers is about building a community, personalisation is about keeping engaged an audience of one.

Over 10 years, roughly from 1997 to 2007, the capability of Web technology has broadened, just as its personalisation functionality has sharpened, moving:

  • from B2C (business to consumer, think Amazon),
  • to B2B (business to business, think software distribution),
  • to P2P (peer to peer, think Skype)
  • to “U2U” (a term invented for this discussion, meaning “you to you” – think social networking sites like MySpace, FaceBook, YouTube etc).

Strategy Sidebar

You don’t need unique technology or big budgets for all this.

Certainly technology and money are needed, but the theatre of war for eyeballs has shifted.

The job you and your Web developers face is to find virtual venues for your business gig. Consider the book Blue Ocean Strategy. I’m not a fan of this bestseller, nor of its blog. However, its one idea, reproduced in the graphic, is easy to understand. It’s the old idea of “competitive advantage” or “strategy”. Use it as a brainstorming tool to design or improve your Web presence.

Ponder the graphic. Consider your circumstances and dream. Ask what you could do on the Web – “Reduce”, “Create”, “Raise” and “Eliminate” – to build your Blue Ocean Strategy. Browse the Further Reading list for Australians and Americans who’ve done just that. Some are our clients or collaborators.

Third, recognise that your site must have a degree of moderation and control. If your blog, portal or other type of site accepts comments on posts and articles, then you should watch out for things that harm or weaken your community. This could involve:

  • content standards to maintain the quality of content
  • predictable patterns of distribution to avoid overwhelming readers
  • spam deletion eg from comment sections of blog posts
  • data and IT security – discussed in Checklist of 51 hints for data and IT security
  • technology fixes, eg email alerts in case any content contains bad words
  • legal armory, eg clear privacy policy, binding terms of use, and lower risk blog or forum

Fourth, recognise that you must brand your Website. Your domain name is critical. So too is making your site look good and easy to navigate.

If you brand well, and maintain standards, you’ll find it easier to re-publish or syndicate your material on other sites. This excites the Google algorithm and helps move you closer to the first page of hits. YouTube, Flickr and their ilk are mentioned a lot, but there are numerous niche sites for re-publishing.

Fifth, recognise that you must ensure your community is passionate about your material. This is what magazines and other print media have done for centuries. When your community is served well, advertising, subscriptions and new work orders follows.

Customers and customer needs differ. What makes your customers passionate might be quite distinct.

Take the example of Thai Pothong, a restaurant in the Sydney suburb of Newtown. It knows how to make its new patrons passionate. If you book via email, after you attend you get an email asking for your feedback and providing a 10% discount for your next visit.

Sixth, recognise that you need to own, control and work your hub, brokers and bridges. Now that’s the riddle I’ll leave you with. Here’s some hints:

  • think of your site and its information architecture and technology as your hub,
  • think of your regular or collaborative partners or users as brokers, and
  • think of the activity of engaging all these people to communicate over your network as an exercise in building and maintaining bridges.

That sixth point, and indeed a great deal of the prior points, lead to this final observations – the health of your network is the key.

Noric Dilanchian