Did you know that more Americans use the Internet than read a newspaper every day? That’s bad news for publishers, but great news for business owners and managers looking for ways to reach customers. If you’re like most business operators when you think of the Internet, you visualize a website for your company—and plenty of them have been built at considerable cost and effort. But there are other ways to use the ever-evolving online medium that can be just as (if not more) effective—and costs a whole lot less.
One way to market in cyberspace is with a blog, a type of web presence that has many interesting possibilities. A blog can be nothing more than a simple collection of written entries about anything (or nothing) that’s posted on the web for the curious to read. There should also be a place for you to advertise and write about your company’s history and the things you do. You can also link to your shop’s conventional website. You might even be able to sell advertising on your blog to other local businesses as well as to your vendors. Blogs are cheap (often free!) and very, very easy to create. I got started at www.blogger.com (a service owned by Google) and just followed the easy online instructions.
Another approach is to sign up for Facebook or Twitter or one of the other rapidly proliferating social networks. While there are some major differences between blogging and marketing through social networks, many of the same principles apply. The main feature of both is a sort of message board where you make diary-like entries about topics of interest. The entries don’t have to be long or even particularly literate just as long as they’re about subjects you think your customers care about. The biggest added feature of a social network page is your ability to reach customers (and potential customers) who have signed up to “friend” you. With luck, they’ll keep their connection to you and see your messages every time they visit their own social site page.
But how do you use a blog to market your business? By making it the centerpiece of an online community of your customers and potential customers. What makes either one a “community” is your customers’ ability to post their own messages along with yours, either in response to the ones you’ve posted or about subjects that they’d like to discuss. In fact, it’s this interactive feature that sets a blog apart from a traditional website (although you can have similar features there, too). A blog or social network site also gives you opportunities to help the physical community as well, which most business owners consider good for business. A substantial side benefit is that your business enjoys some of the same “halo effect” that an event sponsor gets—at considerably less expense.
If putting your business into cyberspace has seemed like more trouble than it’s worth, maybe now is the time to reconsider your decision. A Facebook page or blog is cheap, easy, and can be a very effective marketing tool.
Dave Donelson distills the experiences of hundreds of entrepreneurs into practical advice for small business owners and managers in the Dynamic Manager's Guides, a series of how-to books about marketing and advertising, sales techniques, hiring, firing, and motivating personnel, financial management, and business strategy.