As word of mouth marketing has proven to travel further, faster and more effectively than traditional marketing, the development of a comprehensive online advocacy program is vital to promoting any idea, product or person.
It is popularly understood that highly-influencing opinion leaders are capable of influencing between 100 and 1000 consumers; obviously, influencing the influencers is a more effective strategy in terms of time, money, and staffing.
One must break the Internet down into communities and conversations, breaking them down further into influencers and opinion leaders, and then delivering a marketing message in such a way that is relevant and appealing enough to not only be received by these taste-makers but to be impressive enough for them to tell all their friends about what you have to offer as well.
Online advocacy requires a series of key steps, which are derived from two basic strategies: top-down and bottom-up.
Despite the simplicity of the terminology, the strategy itself isn’t this simple, it largely reflects two very separate approaches to targeting and reaching a given audience. In essence, these terms relate naturally to the picture that they paint â€“ top-down buzz marketing being the strategy in which taste-makers or community leaders are defined, targeted and appropriately messaged to (online outreach); bottom-up buzz marketing, on the other hand, targets the everyday consumer via online engagement.
While Online Outreach (OO) is a structured approach to marketing to a given demographic, Online Engagement (OE) is much more organic and relies upon the natural echo chamber of the Internet – or the ability for messages to virally spread from community to community naturally. Additionally, online outreach requires the development of a topical and category-based Affinity Site Index (ASI) which be defined as a collection of Birds of a Feather (BoF) blogs, forums, and websites.
Affinity Site Index Development
Marketing to the entire Internet is impossible as it is a constantly growing and changing entity â€“ one cannot broadcast to the Internet given its scope of millions of sites creating billions of pages.
For this reason, it is important not only to define an audience that can reasonably be reached, but also to be mindful of the constant evolution of the Internet.
Do not limit your concept of the Internet to the “blogosphere;” Instead, adopt a more Web 2.0 approach to marketing by allowing the community to include message boards, Wikis, social networks, social bookmarking sites, email lists, podcasts, vlogs, forums, IRC, SMS, IM, MMORPGs, Webcasts, Skypecasts, groups, online video games, 3-D virtual worlds (such as Second Life).
To kick off any Online Advocacy Program, our team spends considerable amounts of time researching and developing your BoF Affinity Site Index. This research is devoted not only to finding out where your current audience lives online, but also to finding like-minded communities that may be interested in your message. This includes thorough investigation within blogosphere; collecting hundreds to thousands of message boards, usenets and forums; scouring social bookmarking, social media and photo and video sharing communities.
Following campaign and client research and Affinity Group Index development, online outreach officially begins by collecting contact information for community taste-makers.
Deciphering individuals from taste-makers is a key task within this processes. The Affinity Group Index is also vetted for appropriateness and for communities that tend to be receptive to the marketing message as well.
It is also important to note that while online engagement is very heavily focused towards reaching out to consumers within message boards, forums, usenets and other communities where the nature of online dialogue is participatory, online outreach is geared toward reaching out blogs, sites and online media outlets in which the tone is online dialogue takes a more editorial tone.
The primarily goal of any Online Advocacy Program – to build relationships between the you and the community leaders and taste-makers that will help shape perceptions of your brand.
The secondary goal is to have the blogger blog about you, your mission, your vision, and you, organically on their own; saying whatever it is they want to say. Ideally, if everything is done above board and transparently, and the prospects are tried and true, then any and all coverage will be either very positive or at the very worst, neutral in tone.
The tertiary goal is to seed Google and other search engines â€“ the real Internet â€“ with a permanent message â€“ your message. Talks, podcasts, time on Second Life, interviews, and meetings are ephemeral and don’t endure online longer than a moment; as a result, it is essential to be aware of the enduring nature of text online.
Getting blogged about online is one of the best ways to enter into immortality; that said, whenever anyone else, who isn’t you, adds to the online conversation about you, you lose control of the message — of your message. You will have to be okay with releasing your message, your product, your services, and your insight into the wilderness. Think about it — if you, your product, or your services suck, then the blogosphere will quickly reflect that.
Contrary to online outreach in which specific individuals are targeted and messaged to, online engagement involves finding and joining relevant participatory conversations that are already occurring within online message boards, forums, usenets and blogs.
In some cases, in which relevant conversation is not already occurring, online dialogue is initiated within communities that would be most receptive to your specific message.
Please note that relevant conversation implies online dialogue either speaking specifically to your brand or online dialogue centered on similar themes, implying the like-minded nature of conversation participants, thereby allowing messages specific to your brand to be seeded in a natural, seemingly organic fashion.
A powerful technique for building community on blogs is to find a compelling item about your industry, products, and services, then search for blogs that are already talking about it on Technorati and similar search engines.
It is much easier to message on blogs that are already having friendly conversation, evident in the tone of the comments section under each blog post.
Online engagement needs to flow and appear as responsive and organic as natural conversation. When preparing to infiltrate any piece of online dialogue, talking points are more preferable than preparing a script as the flexibility of these talking points allow for seemless entry into these discussions.
Engaging in online conversation as a member of an online community requires your language, delivery, humor, and tone to mirror that of the community. When in Rome, do as the Romans do.
Although it is likely that a number of these communities may already be included in the ASI (or within the demographics outlined in the ASI), the reality is that an even greater number may not pertain to these demographics. In targeting online conversation that is already happening, you are able not only to effectively reach your primary demographic, but also secondary and tertiary demographics which may also be interested in your brand and your message. Additionally, in seeking out online conversation that is already happening, we are able to better find and counter any negative dialogue that maybe occurring.
After posting a marketing message in any community, be it a blog, message board, usenet, listserv, etc. that conversation is constantly monitored for new activity. Online engagement at this point requires responding to any questions, concerns or criticism of your brand resulting from messaging. It is important to note that a vast majority of online consumers actively participating in these communities are often times as curious as they are skeptical – at times it is required to further inform these users about your brand before they are essentially “sold” on the idea.
In continuing to following up with messaging threads, we are able not only to maintain online engagement, but also provide you with real-time information about your brand and how it is perceived online.
Extensive use of ASI to discover new communities and new consumers that will likely be receptive to your message.
To spread the word online organically, tell them about your company, your culture, your history, your story, your products, and the services you offer – and do it openly and honestly and place your own name, your own email, and either the URL of your web site or the URL of the blog itself.
In a world where online consumers are very savvy to and and very sensitive of spam, it is as important to maintain the appropriate tone as it is to be fully transparent.