Internet-Based Guerilla Marketing

Everything you wanted to know about blogs, social networks and viral video.

At the risk of sounding like we are from the dark ages, remember when businesses debated the necessity of establishing a Web site? Or when the construction of a Web site was put on the back burner until the management team “got around to it”? Those days are long over. Companies of all sizes are making better use of their Web sites as they create a customer-based community of Web site visitors.

Online communities are participating in blogs, forums and wikis. And the Web site host benefits from the resulting company loyalty and branding of their company message. The keys to successfully utilizing these technologies are to first listen to your customer and then respond to what you hear. Online business to business communities provide additional ways to reach out and touch the customer in a low-cost manner, especially in times of tighter cash control.

Get Your Blog On
Offering free publicity and exposure, online blogs are fast becoming a powerful business tool.

Blogs, inconceivable to us a decade ago, now number over 100 million and cover every topic under the sun. Though blogs vary in topic, the format is often similar. One writer, or blogger, posts commentary, news, images or video on a regular basis, with the most recent posts displayed first on the company’s home page. Business to business blogs may target specific subject matter or may just serve as a vehicle for senior management to get “warm and fuzzy” with their customers.

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Blogs run the gamut in style, usually mirroring the company’s corporate culture and persona. Blogs can analyze, enlighten, explain, entertain and, most important, create an online dialogue instantly accessible to thousands of customers.

As blogging grows in size and quality, this new medium is also rising in credibility. A 2007 Nielsen survey reported that 66 percent of North American consumers trust the product information they receive from blogs, putting bloggers on the same level as advertisers when it comes to their influence on product sales. Instead of being viewed as merely a sounding board for opinionated writers, blogs are fast becoming an effective marketing tool. What does this new phenomenon mean for us? In short, that free PR and worldwide exposure are only a mouse click away.

While corporate Web sites are an integral part of most businesses, blogs can be vital in helping a company establish an individual connection with customers. As opposed to the formal, informational feel of many corporate Web sites, blogs allow customers to hear a more personal, distinctive voice. The blog (sometimes scripted by a ghost writer) is written in an informal and conversational style and offers customers and prospects an opportunity to communicate directly with senior management.

Offering free exposure, online blogs are fast becoming a powerful business tool. Blogs, inconceivable to us a decade ago, now number over 100 million and cover every topic under the sun.

Blogs are especially advantageous to small businesses that may not have the cash to finance an all-out marketing campaign. The brand recognition that can come from a popular blog is comparable to that generated by a massive marketing effort—for a fraction of the cost. In fact, many Web sites allow users to create comprehensive, far-reaching blogs for free. Blogger.com, Livejournal.com and Wordpress.com are examples to look at.

Because of their recent rise in popularity and the huge variety of topics floating around the blogosphere, blogs come with an almost built-in readership. Your customers will visit specific Web sites that include information that is of interest to them, in search of new posts and news. Adding your blog to industry-related Web sites opens the door to an entire online community all interested in our industry. Even if that online community does not already exist, initiating a virtual conversation about industry-related topics will create a hot spot for Web surfers with the same questions and concerns.

DEFINITIONS
Blog: Short for “Web log,” the word “blog” was only officially entered into Webster’s Dictionary in 1999. A blog is a Web site that contains an online journal.Hypertext: Computer-based text that enables a user to link to particular locations on Web sites by clicking on links within that Web site.Social Networking Site: A Web site that provides a virtual community for people interested in a particular subject. Members create their own online “profile” with biographical data, pictures, likes, dislikes and any other information they choose to post. They communicate with each other by voice, chat, instant message, videoconference and blogs. The service typically provides a way for members to contact friends of other members.

The use of hypertext, or direct links to Web pages that relate to a particular topic, are an advantage for those seeking to generate exposure on a limited budget. When creating your blog, it’s easy to direct readers to pages within your own Web site, where they can learn more about your products or services—and even become customers.

If you update your blog daily (and you should), traffic to your company Web site will increase dramatically. Most Internet search engines, like Google, favor Web sites that are updated frequently, meaning these sites are displayed first when they appear in search results.

Social Networking Goes Mainstream
Those of us who have attended an association convention, association-sponsored seminar or industry-related trade show (not to mention the dozens of local community-sponsored business networking events that we are invited to) can attest to the value of networking with our peers. It’s basic Business 101: The simple exchange of a business card or the trading of industry gossip can lead to tens of thousands of dollars in sales.

Social networking sites have taken the basic art of networking to the next step. Internet destinations that allow users to chat, share photos and virtually “hang out” with a group of other users are making traditional networking venues more accessible and more commonplace. Social networks, previously the domain of teenagers, are now a forum in which business people can virtually trade business cards and exchange industry gossip. Web sites like MySpace, Facebook, Friendster, Bebo and others are among the most visited sites on the World Wide Web. Fortune 500 companies as well as the small business owner down the street all have Facebook accounts. “Facebook for Business” totals over 21,000 members. Spurred by droves of young professionals, not-so-young professionals are Facebook’s fastest-growing demographic.

More than 20 million members describe themselves today as experienced professionals from over 150 industries at www.LinkedIn.com.

LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com) has taken the social networking formula and applied it to business. Headquartered in Palo Alto, California, LinkedIn Corporation was founded in 2003 and is funded by Greylock and Sequoia Capital, the venture capitalists behind Google, Yahoo!, Cisco and Apple, among others. LinkedIn’s philosophy simply says, “Relationships matter.” With more than 20 million members who describe themselves as experienced professionals from around the world, over 150 industries are represented. LinkedIn users post professional information about themselves, search for other users with similar backgrounds, create new relationships and tap into the networks of those relationships.

Within an individual company, employees routinely participate in department or inter-department social networks. Sharing information amongst peers facilitates teamwork, enhancing the work of employees who routinely share their knowledge and ideas. Virtual discussions within an online social network can facilitate a larger team’s collaboration by taking advantage of virtual discussions, shared links and contact information.

Networking Sites Have
Their Drawbacks
With the heightened use of social networking sites, employers are increasing the number of forbidden Web sites utilized by their employees during working hours. The latest numbers posted by the sites themselves indicate that users will spend from a minimum of 30 minutes to three hours visiting a social networking site on a daily basis. Above and beyond lost productivity, the use of social networking sites can put a strain on a small business’s bandwidth consumption and create potential security risks, both of which will add to the company’s IT costs. While social networking sites can be a procrastinator’s paradise, it might be wise for cutting edge companies to use this workplace distraction to their advantage, tapping into all that it has to offer as a networking tool.

The numbers of relationships formed as a result of face-to-face connecting with a friend-of-a-friend in a more traditional setting is now magnified with a virtual social network. The posting of an online business profile is similar to the more traditional act of exchanging a business card with a roomful of qualified professionals.

The small business owner, investing zero dollars, can suddenly tap into a social network of a million-plus business professionals at a variety of Web sites. Topic-based communities make social networks ideal for word-of-mouth advertising among users within an industry. Instead of marketing products or services to anyone who logs on, social networks make it easy to target the customer with a rifle-shot approach. Business is all about relationships. When like-minded people introduce their friends and colleagues to each other, a large world suddenly becomes smaller.

The Rise of YouTube
Think Ripley’s Believe It Or Not in a video format brought to you every day, all day long, online. That’s YouTube. YouTube.com provides millions of visitors with an opportunity to post, watch and comment on video clips. Now imagine if those same opportunities were available to potential customers. And those potential customers were able to view and comment on videos illustrating your company’s products and services.

While videos of the strange and odd have earned YouTube plenty of visitors, the number one destination for video on the Web holds major potential for small (and large) companies. During its first year of operation, YouTube became home to nearly 100 million videos. Today, with 200 million visitors per month, YouTube commands the sixth largest audience on the Internet, according to Nielsen/NetRatings.

Spurred by droves of young
professionals, not-so-young professionals are Facebook’s fastest growing demographic.

With these kind of numbers, it’s easy to understand the value of YouTube to the business community. Illustrating the broad appeal of YouTube, you only have to look to the recent Presidential campaigns and (go ahead, it will only take a few minutes) view videos posted by both Fortune 500 companies and, albeit, more modest and inexpensive videos posted by smaller companies. Product introductions and videos illustrating a company’s service offerings prove that it doesn’t take a lot of money to make an impact.

Adding to YouTube’s appeal for small businesses is the keyword feature. When a user uploads a video clip, the video becomes “tagged” with several descriptive key terms, like “acetylene” or “TIG weld,” to help other users find it in the virtual video jumble. Using the keywords, YouTube then offers up new video suggestions for every clip a user watches. For example, a video explaining the benefits of ethanol will lead to other videos about alternative fuels, hybrid vehicles and flex fuel engines. For small business owners seeking out a niche market with their videos, YouTube’s keyword feature is integral.

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Taking a page from the social networking sites, YouTube allows users to create a profile of their company. By uploading their collection of videos, they can create a marketing site that incorporates their roster of products and service offerings, extending the reach of their Web site. They can also attach their continually growing list of friends and contacts. Just like the social network pages, YouTube connects users with similar interests with just the click of the mouse, making it very easy for marketing videos to reach their target audience.

Our customers can grasp an understanding of our products and services visually. As businesses seek to differentiate themselves, they can tap into new technologies in order to market in a more cost-efficient manner. The popularity of industry-specific blogs, social networking sites and YouTube proves that for very few dollars, smaller gases and welding companies can utilize the Internet to reach audiences on a scale previously not possible.

Gases and Welding Distributors Association