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Business Gets Personal Online

By Zachary A. Goldfarb
Monday, August 25, 2008

TechPost, which looks at people and ideas driving the local technology industry, runs Friday on the WashBiz Blog, athttp://washingtonpost.com/washbizblog.

In a world of blogs, social networks, feeds, interactive media and so much more, how can a company build and nurture its Web presence?

I asked three point people at local Web strategy firms -- Brian Wynne Williams of Viget Labs, Brooke Warner of r2i.nteractive and Peter Corbett at iStrategyLabs -- for advice for companies trying to build their brand online. Here's a sampling of what they offered:

Viget Labs, Falls Church

· Welcome criticism. The first step is supporting interactive conversation, where site visitors can communicate with you. That's easy. The next step is establishing a reputation that makes people feel comfortable being openly (and constructively) critical of your company either on your site or elsewhere online. Responding to reasonable criticism with a reasonable response will establish trust and credibility.

· Think like a start-up. When you're a start-up, you run lean, make fast decisions, focus only on the most important stuff and build your brand through relationships. Why should a big company think any different? Your Web presence should evolve daily, and that means being quick and nimble.

· Define metrics, measure them and act. Use tools such as Google Alerts, Twitter search and Filtrbox to monitor external discussions, and packages such as Google Analytics and Crazy Egg to monitor your site's performance.

r2i, Falls Church and Baltimore

· Create a solid buying experience; don't worry about selling your product. The rest will follow. The best way is to find out what buyers do and then "get in their way." For example, if you think buyers compare features a lot before they decide on a product, give them the tools to do that effectively.

· Though both terms get thrown around, social networking and social media are different. Social media is the entire body of sites that offer social features, such as bookmarking and feed-sharing. Social networking is the act of connecting with others online. So, thinking that social networking is "what everyone is doing" does not mean you should run out and create a social networking site. However, creating relevant content and then providing the tools that enable people to share, preferably throughout targeted groups within social networking sites, makes more sense.

· Harness your audience to do the work for you. In an age where everyone is concerned with controlling their message, this seems antithetical, but it's actually more powerful and cost-effective. In fact, on sites such as Amazon and eBay, negative comments add an air of credibility to positive ones and actually help drive sales. Products that offer comments that have give a whiff of being "sanitized" don't sell as well. Let people talk about you; it only gets others to do so, increasing the exposure of your brand.

iStrategyLabs, the District

· You are what you publish. Whether you're building a corporate or personal brand, you need to generate content that your audience will value. That value can be entertainment-driven or cerebral.

· Digital brand-building should be thought of as a one-to-one engagement. You're not marketing to the masses -- these are people who will buy your stuff and will pimp your brand to their friends if you engage them. The more personal attention you give, the more you'll be praised and the more you'll sell.

· To develop your brand online, you need to live, eat and breathe interactive strategy. If you do your homework, campaign creation with your marketing partners will become a collaborative process, producing better results every time. Study all areas of the interactive universe in detail by reading blogs, white papers and attending conferences and/or meet-ups on a daily basis.

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