In today's marketplace one way communication mediums such as print, radio and television are not enough to get the sale. Potential customers want interaction and most importantly to feel like they have a stake in your product or service. Opening up a two way dialog and thereby building and being involved in the community at large is the most effective way to break out your brand and specific product or service. E-commerce has become R-commerce. Relationship building, interactive dialog, and community involvement are the keys to building a successful business both online and off.

Social Media and the web in general give you a way to connect with individuals in a way that we have never seen before. Your reach far exceeds anything you can physically imagine. Through linking and connecting with other web sites and social media web portals not only can you get your message across but you can share with real human faces, express and receive real thoughts and options. Open your business up to real dialog, two way conversations with a huge group of potential consumers; a.k.a the community.

The most effect use of Social Media lies in the following roles and methods:

Community First: Give the community and potential consumers priority over your company. The person or business who becomes an advocate for the community wins their trust. Go out and join the community rather then try to build it. A prime example is Craig Newmark, Founder of Craigslist. Craig is passionate about keeping the internet free. Craigslist in totally non-commercial, there are no fees to post and no ads to view. Craig makes his money through development and public appearances. He is passionate about maintaining a free internet – and the community relates and responds to that passion.

Educator: Teach the community about your company and products in a non-invasive manner. By telling the community how your product or service makes their lives easier, you point out the benefits of doing business with you rather than the features. No one cares if you have the biggest or fastest mouse trap, they simply want to know it is going to capture more mice. Identify and diagnose your potential customer’s problems then show them how your company, product or survive can solve those problems.
Put a Human Face on the company: Put your face out there, on your web site and at real live events. Give people someone they can relate to and identify with. Use your photo as an icon for your community forum, blog, wiki posts. Forget the stock images of the cool looking executives, be the person the community can connect with.

Going Beyond Just Marketing: To be truly involved in the community you need to be there after the sale. Do not lose site of consumer support. Being a reachable, viable resource for people after the sale and providing support only furthers your role as advocate. Furthermore, by allowing the community at large to be involved in product development, you have created a league of stake holders and have positioned yourself for easy up selling.

Moving yourself from a web development strategy to a web communication strategy is going to thrust your site, business and product or service into the larger market place. As you move yourself from a narrow focus, our company's web site, into a broader focus, how our web site is incorporated into our overall internet marketing and communication plan, you will begin to see and feel the potential.

Implementation of your web communication strategy should include tools like MySpace, Youtube, FaceBook, Ebay, Blogging and connecting your blog to larger (feeder) sites like Digg, Google Blog Search, Technorati and others. Those feeder sites will make your blog accessible to other web sites. In addition you should search google for forums and blogs that are related to your product or service and join and participate in those larger communities with genuine interest in benefiting that community. If you are unsure what to write about, sit down and have lunch with someone who wants to "pick your brain". See what aspects of your business they want to know about and have keen interest in. Take away from that conversation items you can expand upon in a blog or online community.

Passion is absolutely required. If you are not passionate about what you do and love your own product or service you will have a difficult time implementing a plan to discuss it online (or offline for that matter). Solicit help as well. The task of planning and implementing an effective online communication strategy can be somewhat daunting. Utilize the knowledge of someone who is a great communication or web strategist. By either outsourcing part of that or finding good communicators and advocates within your organization you will ease your load considerably.

Author's Bio: 

Melissa Ward, Managing Partner, NewWard Development, LLC™