Archive for the 'web2.0' tag

I Found Waldo!

…And he just checked in to your shop on Facebook Places. Or on Gowalla… Or FourSquare… Or Loopt… Or Yelp… Or any number of “location based social networking” clones that are popping up all over the interwebs.

What are these sites/services? How do they work? Who uses them? Why should you care? This month I’m going to make an attempt to give you a primer on the subject that makes at least a rough pass on those questions.

Basically, the core of the idea is that now that people have gotten used to the idea of social networking by using sites like Facebook and LinkedIn, and a lot of those people are using “smart phones” that have fast(ish) connection to the internet and have some method of determining where you are physically located (GPS, cell-tower triangulation, etc.) it was natural that someone would come along and make the big connection: Combine the social networking experience with location-aware features while providing opportunity for the business location to participate. Except for the creepy stalker / exhibitionist aspect of the whole thing, it’s pretty brilliant…

Here’s a (by no means exhaustive) list of sites that play in this space:

Here’s how most of these types of services work. You sign up for an account with a site like FourSquare (www.foursquare.com). When you go someplace (a restaurant, a concert, a club) you use the application on your iPhone (or whatever device you have that is supported) to “check in.” You’re basically broadcasting to your social network (or at least the part of your social network that is using the same service you are) a message that says “Hey I’m HERE!” (and when I think about it cynically, you’re also saying to any potential robbers, “My apartment is empty, go for it!”). From there, depending on the service/site, a lot of other things can happen. If you have “friends” that are on the same location-aware social network, and they have also checked in, you can basically hook up, you can earn loyalty points (which I’ll go into later) from the business, etc.

So far, the big dog in this space has been FourSquare. They were the first big player that developed a large user base, got a lot of press, and captured the hearts of the VC’s. However, now that the concept is starting to prove itself, the really big dogs in the main-stream social networking space like Facebook (with Facebook Places) are starting to roll “check-in” functionality into their service offerings. It seems to me that now that Facebook is playing in this pool, where most people already have their social graph, sites like FourSquare are going to have a lot less room to move around. That is assuming that Facebook doesn’t eventually blow itself up due to privacy concerns.

Most of these location-based social sites like FourSquare have methods to provide incentives to people that check into a location a lot. The idea works like this: Business A has an account with the location-based social service and “claims” their business. Business A provides incentives (special services, discounts, free stuff, etc.) to people that meet certain levels of participation. For example, with FourSquare a user can earn points the more they check into the same location. Earning more points leads to various “badges” that tell the world “I’m a regular.” With FourSquare folks aspire to be a location’s “mayor.” Typically a business owner will provide more perks the higher up the ladder a user goes.

By themselves these location-based social services can be thought of like a game. But where they should be interesting to you is as a means to advertise your business, participate in the various ecosystems that will develop around these growing social networks, reward loyal customers, and so on.

Sites like FourSquare, Gowalla (gowalla.com), etc. are hot right now as companies look for more effective ways to use social networking tools and sites to market their businesses and make money. At the most recent Search Engine Strategies conference I just attended in San Francisco, it was very clear that businesses are becoming more and more disenchanted with the typical paid search advertising (if you purchase Google Ad Words, you know that our industry has managed to jack up relevant keyword prices to levels that are just goofy…). Display ads and other content network ads are proving to be very costly and difficult to measure except for companies that can afford complicated advertising attribution tools and services. Advertising on social sites like Facebook is reportedly not very effective for a lot of companies. Companies see the advertising and marketing opportunities that these new social networking sites offer because they mostly hinge around actually having live customers physically in their store. These sites/services may finally be the holy grail union between local, web, and social people have been waiting for. Or they may be just another flash in the pan web sensation that caters to narcissistic exhibitionists… Who knows? Some folks thought TV was a fad.

You should already be able to envision ways that you can leverage the functionality these sites provide for your dealership. Especially if your shop has, or could be made to have, a reason for people to hang out. You could also partner with establishments in your area that are hot hang-outs for riders. Here’s something to get the ball rolling around in your head: If you live close to a track, partner with the operators by offering free oil changes or something like that to the trackday-rat “mayor” of that facility. It’s a safe bet that a lot of tracks, especially ones that sit empty quite often, don’t have owners or operators that are even bothering to “claim” their business in sites like FourSquare, Yelp, etc.. Offer to step in and do it for them! I’m sure once you start using these things, more brilliant ideas will come to you.

In closing, I recommend that you keep a close eye on this area of the social web. It’s attracting a lot of attention, companies playing in this space are raising a lot of money from VC’s, and it’s already starting to develop some technical extensions and meta-level technologies that hope to provide additional value to the participants. An example of this is TopGuest (www.topguest.com) that links “check in’s” with a user’s loyalty programs (frequent flyer program for example) allowing them to earn points.

Share

Tags:, , , , , , , , , , ,

We Need To Talk

We need to talk. All of us. Everyone in this industry needs to be talking to each other a lot more than we currently do. Sure there’s the occasional show where we all get together like DealerExpo and there’s the inevitable gripe-session that is sure to break out whenever a few dealer principals get together at an OEM show or 20 group meeting. What I’m talking about here is more of an ongoing, broad-based, industry wide series of conversations about the important issues that affect us every day.

Once again, the internet can step in to help. If there’s one thing that the internet is great at it’s providing a common, albeit virtual, meeting space where like minds can get together and discuss whatever hot issues are top of mind.

I’m sure a lot of you are part of a 20 group and recognize that quite often these gatherings are great places to share and discover new ideas that have potential to improve your business or even help grow our industry as a whole. Some of you may even have an email list where you keep those discussions going. I’d like to propose that as an industry we expand that idea and start taking advantage of some of the discussion forums that already exist.

I’m going to focus on two specific places where I recommend we all start gathering and having some lively discussions.

The first is LinkedIn. If you’re not on LinkedIn already, you really need to be. Linkedin is pretty much the best professional social networking site out there right now. In addition to it’s potential to build a network, LinkedIn has a feature called Groups. Groups are like mini-forums built right into the LinkedIn framework. A big part of these groups are the discussions and that’s what I’m really focusing on here.

There are already some great groups on LinkedIn aimed at our industry. In fact, it was the discussion from a few months ago about vendors competing with their own customers (prompted by Arlo’s blog posts at DealerNews) that really motivated me to write last month’s column. But what’s really lacking is a lot more members and a lot more active discussions of issues that really affect everyone: MAP policies, national and state legislation, general business issues, and just general brainstorming.

Here are a few of my suggestions about groups to join. These were picked because they focus on our industry and as of this writing they have the more members than some of the other groups. I don’t have any stake beyond wanting to push toward a critical mass of users to make the groups more useful.

The first is Motorcycle Industry Professionals. This group is a pretty high-level group that covers more than just dealers. It already has over 1,000 members and it has hosted a few pretty good discussions.

Next up is the Motorcycle OEM Network. This is a good group to be in if the goal is to engage in some constructive conversations between the OEM’s and their dealers.

Wrapping up LinkedIn we have the most obvious, the Motorcycle Dealers Group. Unfortunately this group only has about 100 members currently and for the sake of this month’s column, it’s the one I want to see really bloom.

Finally, we have Dealernews’ own Shop Talk. You really should be a member of this social network because you’ll also be kept informed of blog posts from the Dealernews staff as well as other important information from Dealernews.

So now that you’ve signed up, start participating! Ask questions… What impact are e-bikes going to have on our industry? What kinds of features should the ultimate DMS system have? What kinds of parking lot events are folks running that break the mold of the tired-out “open house”? If you see a question or discussion that you can provide valuable insight, jump in!

So now we’re left with the big questions of “why?” Why do I want to poke, prod, and encourage all of you to participate in these discussion forums? The answer is because I want to make sure that our industry sticks around as long as possible. I want the fundamental structure of small and medium sized dealerships to be able to compete with the growing threat of mega-online shopping sites, direct to consumer sales from PG&A manufactures and vehicle OEM’s. I’m positive that if we can start raising and answering more and more questions and addressing more and more issues that are pressing on our businesses as a collective business unit, the stronger we can be.

In the absence of a strong, nationwide, dealership-focused trade organization that has a vibrant and active membership, maybe we can build it ourselves using the amazing potential of existing social networking sites like LinkedIn and Dealernews’ ShopTalk. Fingers crossed!

Share

Tags:, , , , , , ,

How to handle a social media hijacking

By now I think most of you reading this column have heeded the advice from my past columns and gotten onto the social media bandwagon in one form or another. You’ve got a Facebook fan page, a twitter account, maybe a MySpace page and if you’ve been really ambitious a blog or a forum. You’ve created a profile on Google Maps and Yelp where customers can post reviews. You’ve gotten out there in an attempt to make your business more visible. Unfortunately, that visibility can quickly turn you into a target.

Like so many things in life, there’s always the law of unintended consequences to deal with. The social media landscape is no less prone to subjecting you to this law. This month I’m going to address what happens when you get negative, harsh, or even intentionally hostile interactions on your social media channels.

In days gone by (a whopping 5 years ago or so) if a customer had a serious beef with your business, they were pretty much limited to things like the “We’re on your side” segment on the local news, a letter to the editor of your local paper or maybe a negative report to the BBB. These days it’s mind-bogglingly simple for a ticked-off person with an ax to grind to single-handily destroy, or at least seriously damage, your business’s online reputation. And a supreme irony here is that a lot of these soapboxes from which they shout were built by you!

There’s basically three variants of folks you’re going to have to deal with:

Category #1) The legitimately (at least to them) ill-treated customer that feels like they have not been able to get the resolution they want and has decided that they will “show you” and make the issue public.
Category #2) A person that is blatantly hijacking your public spaces or the web in general at the behest of a competitor.
Category #3) A common garden variety of internet troll.

I’ll give you some generally accepted methods to deal with each of these.

The first variety can be the most damaging if you deal with it badly. These are folks that have spent money with your business and feel that somehow they didn’t get the response they feel they deserved. Often these people have already talked to someone at your shop about their grievance (in person, phone, or email). That means if it gets to the point they are venting on your Facebook page or ripping you apart on Yelp your customer feedback process in the real world broke down. They left not just unsatisfied, but so pissed off that they have sworn a vendetta against you and by God they will personally see to it that not another living soul ever does business with you again (again, once upon a time there wasn’t that much one irate customer could do to you… Now all they need is a little time and know-how and this once idle threat can be alarmingly real).

There’s basically three outcomes from this kind of altercation. The first involves you taking a big step back to determine if this customer’s got a legitimate point. Not from your standpoint, but from the standpoint of a typical customer that is going to read what’s going on online. You may not like it, but customers have certain attitudes about what is and isn’t fair. Face it, you feel that way plenty of times. There’s always two sides to a story. Sure you can deny the guy’s extended warranty claim because of some small print, or sure the customer is supposed to deal with the manufacturer of that widget for repairs, but customers don’t always see it the way you want them to.

If you decide that it’s best to appease this irate individual then I recommend doing it offline and as part of the “agreement” convince them to post how the outcome was favorable and everything is just fine now.

Of course a great deal of damage can already be done because it’s probable that their Yelp review, “Crazy Harry’s MotoMall is run by a corrupt ferret!” has already been crawled by GoogleBot and indexed so that when someone Googles your business name they see the post header or page title, but never see the retraction or follow up. And no, Google (or even Yelp for that matter) will not remove that entry. Welcome to the brave new world of a permanent online record!

The second outcome is that you feel the customer is being unreasonable, you are almost 100% certain that most reasonable people would agree, so you post your side of the story calmly and clearly and wait for the general public consensus to come to your aid (i.e. your Facebook fans, Twitter followers, etc. rally behind you and essentially shout the complainer down).

The final outcome is just to ignore they guy. Let him vent, maybe let some of your forum members, Facebook fans, etc. defend you but you essentially remain above the fray. This option is probably not the best for small business. The big guys like Dell and Apple can operate this way because they are huge and the vocal minority, no matter how loud, will not make a large enough impact. You are a small business that relies on a smaller number of customers that may be swayed by the complainer’s arguments. Therefore I suggest that you engage these folks and don’t just ignore them.

Next up is something that’s gaining more wide-spread attention. Your competition, either directly or though various proxies, make a concerted effort to blow you up online. Believe it or not, there are actually companies that you can hire who’s sole purpose is to essentially nuke your online reputation. They don’t typically advertise this fact, but they are out there, often as a part of a marketing firm or SEO/SEM company.

It’s often hard to tell if what’s going on is the work of a “real” customer or a hit-job by a paid online assassin. The best indicator is if the negative online vibe is cranking up all at once, or if it’s just a onesy-twosy type thing. If you start seeing your business name all over the web in negative posts, or if you go from 3 positive reviews on Yelp to 300 Negative ones in the course of a few weeks, it’s pretty easy to figure out what’s going on.

Unfortunately if you get hit with this kind of thing, there’s really not much you can do to fight back beyond trying to overcome it with legitimate positive karma. If you have run a good business for years and you have thousands of legit and happy customers, fans on Facebook, or forum users, quite often your friends will come to your aid in denouncing the attackers. That’s the best you can hope for. A grass-roots uprising of supporters defending your honor in the court of public opinion. Of course if your business has developed a somewhat well deserved reputation as a place to get screwed and you’ve focused on how to squeeze every penny out of a deal at the risk of long-term customer loyalty, well… Karma’s a bitch.

There are companies starting up that focus on “online reputation management” that can help you out to an extent, but they are not typically cheap, nor are they fool-proof. If an attacker has created a ton of negative pages on websites like joe-bobs-moto-shack-sucks.com and avoid-joe-bobs-at-all-costs.com and they do some basic SEO so that when a person searches for your business in Google and your real site is #5 behind these assassination pages or a ton of negative reports on www.ripoffreport.com, your only recourse is to create some more sites and SEO them so that the “bad” pages fall off the first page in the SERPS (search engine results pages). Yes, it can get ugly.

The killer here is that as far as I can tell there’s nothing legally wrong with this if the pages, posts, reviews, etc. have factually accurate information. In the US at least the truth is a defense against libel and slander. So imagine that you get bad reviews from real customers on Yelp that rip you apart. An “attacker” can take the facts of those negative reviews and essentially repeat these “facts” on a few hundred websites, blogs, forums, etc.

Most of you out there do not have the luxury of really solid, defensible positions in the search engines therefore you are very vulnerable to this kind of attack. If you have not been in the top 5 or so for years for your own name, it would be really, really, really easy in a long afternoon for someone with the will and the know-how and a little bit of cash for domain registration to blow you away.

The last kind of issue you’re going to have to deal with are the internet “trolls.” Trolls are basically losers holed up in their parent’s basement basking in the relative anonymity that the internet provides and throwing grenades into online forums, Facebook, etc. just to make you look bad and to feel a power rush. Typically if they post under their own name like on Facebook, they are not a troll. If they post with a cool handle like m0T0dUde or something else anonymously they are a troll.

The primary axiom when it comes to these idiots is: “Don’t feed the trolls.” If you are positive that the poster in question is just a troll and does not fall into one of the above categories that require action or a response, just ignore them. Hopefully your loyal customers will beat these idiots back into their basement where they can go back to playing World of Warcraft or giggling like school girls at the latest LOLCATZ. But make sure that you do a good job of identifying the person as a troll. If you get it wrong and ignore them they can easily go into category #1 and if they are really pissed off at you, they can take it to category #2

The moral of this story is that today, more than ever, it’s vitally important that even marginally (in your eyes) pissed-off customers are handled before they get a chance to do real damage to your online reputation. The best defense is a good offense. Make sure you are running your business in a way that only the most unreasonable folks have cause to go screaming, pitchfork and torch in hand, through the virtual village to burn down your castle. Make sure that you have established a wide and deep social media presence and that you own site is SEO’d to the hilt so that it can’t get buried by negative decoy sites. Because now more than ever, the world is watching, and they ALL have access to the microphone.

Share

Tags:, , , , , , ,

Selling Online #29 : Social Networking : Part 8: Roll Your Own social Network

Last month I introduced the idea of using existing on-line social networking sites (MySpace, MeetUp, Facebook, etc.) to create a loose collection of on-line social experiences that you can use to drive real-world, physical traffic into your dealership (as opposed to using them strictly as on-line or e-commerce selling tools).

This month I’m going to expand that idea and introduce the idea of White Label social networking platforms. White Label platforms are similar to the idea of an e-commerce platform that I’ve covered pretty extensively in the past. They contain most of the features and functions that you’d need to carry out the tasks that the big social networking players have and you just need to customize the look and feel of the site, maybe add on or develop some custom plug-ins for expanded functionality and so on. Because of the extreme complexity in developing a social networking platform, this is typically a much better route than completely developing your own site from scratch.

By far the White Label platform that gets the most press is Ning (http://www.ning.com). One of the biggest reasons that Ning gets so much attention (and money) is that it was was co-founded by Marc Andreessen (he’s the guy that started a company called Netscape and is prety much singly responsible for introducing the idea of the World Wide Web to the unwashed masses of non-computer geeks so when he gets involved in something a lot of people take notice).

If you want to dig a little deeper a really good resource for a comprehensive list of white label social platforms is located on Jeremiah Owyang’s blog located here: http://tinyurl.com/2mwa6g. A lot of them are free, some are open source, and some you’ll need to pay for use.

For more reading check out this good article (it’s a year old and there’s new players and a lot of change in this space but it’s still a pretty comprehensive take on the idea of private/white label networking platforms) is located at TechCrunch here: http://www.techcrunch.com/2007/07/24/9-ways-to-build-your-own-social-network/. Of course there’s also a Google search for white label social networking platforms as well.

There are several pros and cons to creating a social networking site for your dealership vs. using one or more of the existing social sites out there.

Pros: Almost complete control and flexibility to make the site do what you need it to, unique branding possibilities, harder for the competition to copy you, your customers don’t require a separate login for each site (i.e. one for Facebook for social networking, one for YouTube to share videos, one for flickr to share photos, etc.),

Cons: Can be costly (in terms of time or developer pay if using a free platform or straight up expensive if paying for a platform), and probably the biggest drawback is that it’s harder to leverage the larger communities of established networks like Facebook, MeetUp, etc.

I want to spend a little time talking about the last con above. There are several initiatives like OpenSocial and Google’s Friend Connect that are trying to open up the Social Graph and make it more portable. So that the user (and more importantly the connections that make up the user’s network) will no longer be locked into say Facebook or mySpace. Each site or application will still do its own thing and serve its own purpose by using the user’s social network. It may seem like a pedantic distinction but its ramifications are huge on the social networking space. No longer will the value of a site like Facebook be established by the mere fact that it holds the leash to a user’s social network, but by what it does with that network.

So once you choose your platform you need to start thinking about how you want to use it to create a community around dealership. I’d suggest that the more features, functions, and tools that you can cram into it so that your customers can sort of do their own thing under your dealership’s auspices the better. A great example would be organizing rides. You’d want tools to allow the ride organizers to be able to invite other members of the dealership’s network and manage RSVP’s (think MeetUp or eVite functionality). You also want some kind of functionality that would allow you to display the ride route (maybe a mash-up integration with Google Maps) and even allow participants to download the route data in various data formats they can put into their GPS. You’re also going to want to have message board or forum where people can discuss the ride both before the event and after the event. A way for people to upload ride photos and videos are also must haves.

Now again, as I talked about last month, you could have links to all the various existing sites like YouTube, flickr, MeetUp, etc. on your site and force people to go on a snipe hunt to each one for every piece of the puzzle, or you could use your own socially networked site and create a uniform, harmonized, customized experience for your customers where they can do everythig they need or want to do under your virtual “roof.”

Share

Tags:, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Selling Online #28 : Social Networking : Part 7 :Getting customers through your door

This month I’m going diverge from using social networking to strictly sell online. I’m going to write about using online social networking tools to get people through your physical doors and hopefully help you sell more stuff over the counter (of course doing all of this will also dramatically help your online sales as well because content is content and people and search engines both love content!).

This on-line/off-line thinking is sort of the as-yet undiscovered frontier. To date most of the social networking fuss has been about online activities. Chatting, bookmarking, reading, ranking, and commenting on news and entertainment sites, etc. This new wave of Internet enabled social networking I’m writing about this month is all about using online tools to get people offline and into the real world. In our case that’s onto the back of a motorcycle, scooter or PWC and more importantly into your dealership.

Our goal is to take disparate social networking entities and create a plan that unifies and leverages their capabilities to establish, strengthen, and utilize relationships with your local customers and then connect them all to your site and with each other.

A great example of a dealership that’s done something similar by leveraging the old-world, non-internet methods is Rick Fairless’ Strokers Dallas (and all of the other pieces of his empire). Rick apparently realized that it’s really, really, really not about the bikes, or even the dealership. It’s about the relationships between the dealership and the customer. The bikes are basically just the vehicle that initiates the relationship. It’s all the other stuff that strengthens that bond (the bar, the tattoo parlor, the events, the TV show, etc.)

Now Rick was able to leverage the force of his personality to drive this through the use of the mainstream media and by word of mouth. However, it’s interesting to note that as far as I can tell even he’s not doing a lot of the Internet based stuff I’m talking about (I did find a profile on Facebook, but there’s no integration, or even a link as far as I could tell, on his shop’s site). Maybe he just doesn’t need to?

Now you might be thinking that Rick’s operation is light years ahead of you. He’s on TV, he’s famous, etc. etc. There’s no way you could emulate that. And you may be correct if you are talking about a national or global level. But what about on a local or regional level?

The old media that made Rick’s operation (and of course Rick himself) famous is playing less and less of a role today. The Internet is bringing about an open stage that anyone can use to secure their own form of fame (albeit on a smaller geographic scale, but you never know where it might take you).

So how do we go about doing this? First keep this caveat firmly in your mind: this is all very new. From the sites/tools themselves all the way down to the very concepts that I’m talking about. Like, bleeding edge, don’t touch the wet paint, new. So you’re going to need to really switch on your right brain and think creatively about what’s possible, what you want to do, and how you want to do it. But trust me on this one. In no more than three years this month’s column will seem amazingly prescient. Maybe?

At the highest level you need to create accounts for your dealership on various established social networking sites and then create an integration between them all on your dealership’s website.

More social networking sites are realizing that they need to open up a bit and are providing API’s (application programming interfaces: ways for multiple, disparate computer programs to talk to each other) for developers to use. You’re even starting to see things like pre-built widgets from the established sites that allow you to embed part of their functionality on your site or on other social networking sites.

Here’s an example of how this might look in practice (the sites mentioned are just for illustration, there’s plenty of other ones out there):

1) Establish a primary social networking hub site. This will be the primary place where you create the social relationship linkages between your dealership and your customers. Sites like Facebook, MySpace are good choices. Most of the other elements of the social networking ecosystem have plug-ins that allow loose integration with these big players.

[Note: the realization is beginning to dawn that a potential, upcoming killer application is going to be the social networking hub or aggregation site. Currently the biggest hindrance to this is the walled garden approach that the big players like Facebook are imposing with their social graphs (the map/graph of all the connections between the user and his or her friends/connections, etc.). Initiatives like OpenSocial and Google's Friend Connect may help in opening this whole thing up.]

2) Because our big goal is to get people offline and out riding (and ultimately into your shop) you need a way to set up and publicise what’s going on. To allow your customers to participate in (or even organize on their own) rides and events (open houses, bike nights, etc.) create an account on the amazing site MeetUp.

3) Take videos, or better yet have customers take the videos, of rides and events and share them on YouTube.

4) Do the same with flickr for still pictures of rides, events, customer’s bikes, whatever.

5) Now embed all the various widgets and plugins that the social networking sites offer into your dealership’s own site(s). You will also want to make sure that there are links to your dealership’s site on each of the social networking properties, and that all of the various social sites are all linking to each other. Yes, conceptually it’s all a bit messy, but a clean execution will hide most the mess.

Social inter-networking diagram

A step that is going to be vital for you to succeed here is going to be customer education and facilitation. If a customer (or a prospect! There’s no reason why everyone that walks in your door, whether they buy a bike or not should not be offered the opportunity to be a part of your community to see what your dealership is about) is not already on these sites (or even aware of them) you may need to do some hand holding and help them set up accounts, add your shop as a “friend” where applicable and so on. It would be a good idea to have one primary point of contact in your shop to handle this community building activity (read more on this community relationship management aspect)

This sort of piece-meal method of using social networking has the advantage being cheap and fairly easy. The disadvantage, as I mentioned earlier, is that it’s pretty messy. Next month I’m going to talk about how you can clean it all up by bringing all of this functionality under your own roof using something called white-label social networking platforms.

Share

Tags:, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Selling Online #25 : Social Networking : Part 4

First off, I want to thank everyone that showed up to my Dealernews Live! sessions at Indy. Both sessions were packed and there were a lot of good questions and some lively discussion. In fact, one of the discussions prompted to me to slightly alter how I’m going to present this next piece in my Social Networking. I’m going to talk a little about blogging and how having a company blog can be a good thing. I want to reiterate the context to emphasize why all of this social networking stuff matters.

The question was (essentially), “with all of the other sites out there, why would anyone want to buy from us?” Well, there’s hundreds of potential reasons from obvious things like price, selection, and so on, but a big piece really is who you are. What kind of personality does your site (and by extension your dealership) project?

Social networking and related marketing activities are your chance to create a face and a personality for your dealership (design is another huge piece that I’m going to go into after the social networking series that really needs to be addressed after looking at some of your sites). It’s how you begin the relationship with potential buyers of your products.

Let’s move onto the subject of blogs and blogging. To review, the word blog is an odd contraction of web + log. They are typically like a kind of journal or diary that is published on the web. There are in fact several popular bloggers on various topics that make well into 6 figures or more just from writing a blog site (the money comes from advertising like Google’s AdSense).

While most likely you’re not going to make money off your blog per se, you can use it bring people to your site if you make the content useful, compelling or funny and they feel the need to come back often (an aside on this: most blogs have the ability to publish what’s called a site feed using something called RSS (Really Simple Syndication). This allows readers to stay up on new postings without having to actually go to the site. Personally, I don’t get that. I can see sending out a message with the title and a “click here to read more” kind of link, but publishing the full post in an RSS feed seems to defeat the whole point of using a blog for it’s marketing value to draw people to your site).

The first thing you need to do is set up your blog. You can do this using any number of free blogging tools and software. By far the most popular (and in my opinion the best) is WordPress. You can let WordPress host the blog for you, or you can download and install it on your own server. I recommend the latter option as you will have more control. Another strong contender comes from the 8,000 pound gorilla, Google. A few years ago Google bought out a company called Blogspot and created Blogger. Blogger is only available as a hosted option. The last tool I’ll mention is TypePad. Typepad is also a hosted solution. Personally, I would almost always recommend against software-as-service solutions (for blogging, e-commerce, etc.) because if the company that runs your blog goes under, so does your blog. Sometimes overnight without warning. Say bye-bye to all your hard work if that happens!

All of these blogging tools allow you to apply a theme/template to your blog. There are thousands of them out there, however, I strongly suggest that you create (or have someone create it for you) a custom theme so that it matches your corporate branding and integrates with your primary e-commerce site. Again, we’re trying to portray a sense of personality. If your personality is the same as a few thousand other sites, then by all means use a canned template. I recommend you follow the snowflake route. Be special!

As far as integration with your main site goes, I also suggest that you create a sub-domain for your blog, as opposed to a separate and distinct domain name. So if your site is www.vroomvroommoto.com, then set up your blog so it’s address is blog.vroomvroommoto.com. Then you will get some SEO benefit from the primary domain name. There’s still some debate about if Google ranks a sub-domain as a totally different site, but for my money there’s no reason not to do it this way in case there is a benefit. It’s also easier to market and remember the simple convention of adding blog. to your base domain name.

So what are you and your employees going to blog about? Well, start with what you know! Post reviews of bikes and gear. Write about rides and events. Write about industry news, race results, etc. Just remember that your purpose is to not just repost news from somewhere else. You need to have your own take on the stuff. Make it interesting. Or Funny. Or controversial.

Keep in mind that there are some potential risks associated with opening up blogging to your employees. You can lose some of the central control of your brand messaging and there may be occasions when the language is a little more colorful that you may be comfortable with. Keep your knee-jerk response in check however. Especially if your market trends toward the younger, GenNext crowd and the writer is in that generation. You may have to put some faith in the writer knowing their audience and knowing where the line is. You may also want to consider having a dedicated person write your blog as part of their job. That will help ensure a constant stream of fresh content and provide a uniformity of voice.

It’s important that you go into this with a clear idea of what you want to get out of it. What are your goals for having a blog? How exactly are you going to leverage the blog to increase traffic and sales? Are you really prepared to take this all on and keep it running smoothly? If you can’t really
provide good answers to these questions, then perhaps you’re better off letting the blog thing go for now. However, if you decide to really take it on it can be very useful.

For much more in-depth coverage of the power of a corporate blog in general, I recommend you check out this book: Naked Conversations: How Blogs are Changing the Way Businesses Talk with Customers by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel.

Share

Tags:, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Selling Online #24 : Social Networking : Part 3

Will you be my friend?

In my last column on how to use social networking as a marketing tool for your e-commerce efforts I laid out the landscape of social sites and hopefully gave you a few ideas about how you could use the various types to help in your Internet marketing efforts. This month, I’m going to focus on the pure social networking sites and how they could be used to help create interest (thus traffic, thus hopefully sales) on your e-commerce site.

These pure social networking sites don’t focus on any particular type of content. That is, they are not just photo, video, or blogging sites, although they will typically have the ability to create or share all of those media types (I’ll address some of the more specialized photo, video, and blogging sites next month). The two big-hitters in this space (at least in US or North American markets) are MySpace and FaceBook.

MySpace’s demographic skews very young and it’s primary (although not exclusive) draw is music. MySpace gives you a rudimentary ability to customize your “profile” page with graphics, videos, a sort of blog, a list of your friends, and a few other things. Because of the fairly limited, non-user friendly nature of the customization ability on MySpace, and because most people on MySpace are not web designers, are not artists, and apparently lack anything even close to taste, most of MySpace is ungodly ugly (there are new 3rd party tools like www.lovemyflash.com percolating through the web that are helping this). The main point of MySpace is to convince as many total strangers as you can to be your “Friend.” The more friends you have, the more “cred.” I’m bringing up MySpace because it’s the thousand pound gorilla, and I’m pretty sure it’s the one most of you have heard of. And while I’m sure it’s possible to use MySpace as a tool in the context of social network marketing, unless you really spend a lot of time (or money as it’s possible to be a sort of elite member of MySpace, for a fee, and have a really nice looking MySpace profile and get some other advantages) I find MySpace to basically be worthless in attracting good leads, or driving quality traffic (most search engines totally discount links to your site from a site like MySpace because of all the SEO spam that goes on). That’s not to say that it can’t be done of course as plenty of people have, and I’m sure someone reading this is going to prove me wrong.

However, my recommendation is that you set up a Myspace profile, populate it with some relevant content, get a few hundred friends, and use it every once and a while, but it would not be where I’d spend most of my time. Although even with all of those caveats, if your dealership really focuses on youth culture aspects of the powersports industry (stunting, freestyle MX, etc.) MySpace can be a great fit, especially for things like videos and getting the word out for any stunt shows or other exhibitions that you may be putting on.

If MySpace is sort of the sinkhole on the web, what’s better? Well, it looks like it’s shaking out that FaceBook may be the new King Of The Web. FaceBook began as primarily a social network for college students. In fact, in the beginning you had to attend one of the official schools (initially Harvard) that had a FaceBook site. Since September of 2006 however, anyone can join. FaceBook still seems to skew more toward college age users, although recent reports seem to indicate that one of the larger areas of growth are actually women in their 30′s. One area worth taking advantage of on FaceBook are the Groups. While perhaps not as plentiful or as populated as other groups sites like GoogleGroups or Yahoo!Groups/Yahoo!360, they are within the FaceBook ecosystem so you get a little more bang for your buck.

Conventional wisdom seems to indicate that FaceBook seems to be pursuing a strategy of becoming something of an operating system for the Internet. And while conventional wisdom may think that, most real people don’t really know exactly what that means in terms of putting it to practice. It has something to do with the ability to create and deploy widgets/applications that use the technical underpinnings of the FaceBook Platform (known amongst the pocket protected as an API or application programming interface). What this really all comes down to is that not only does FaceBook have a lot of attention pointed at it, it’s also developing a strong underpinning in terms of technology that will allow it to evolve and grow. So much so that Microsoft (perhaps sensing a challenge to their desktop operating system that an Internet operating system could pose) invested $240MM recently. So FaceBook has a pretty decent quality of user, has a lot of good social networking functions and feature out of the box, it has technology that can be leveraged to create custom applications or features, and it appears that it’s going to be around for a while. If I was going to make an all-in bet on one site to really focus on, it would be FaceBook.

So what’s the next up-and coming site? Well, I don’t know for sure (if I did, I’m sure I would be making an insane amount of money working for a venture capitalist rather than running a website for a motorcycle dealer), but there seems to be a lot of buzz around a site called BeBo. Another site that just launched to the public is called Pownce that is all about sharing stuff like video, photos, invites to events, and so on. One thing you can be sure of, because most of the buzz and the money out there is stampeding in its typical herd fashion to social networking sites there’s going to be a lot of new sites coming out in the future. And because of the nature of the way the web works, each new social networking site is going to rip off, or at least riff on, what’s good or what works on the sites that are out there, and ditch the stuff that doesn’t work. That’s one of the things that makes the Internet so cool, and so frustrating. The rate of change is insane and next to impossible to keep on top of, but it typically seems to change for the better.

Another site that is really taking off (but I have a hard time figuring out how to leverage it from an e-commerce perspective) is LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com). LinkedIn is sort of one of those six degrees of separation ideas with a business and employment networking focus. It’s a stunning way to get in touch with people you used to know, and get to know new people that you need to know by way of people that you know in common. It’s very cool on a personal level. I’m just not sure how valuable it is as a social networking site with regards to e-commerce marketing.

A good place to go to see a pretty large picture of what’s out there in the social networking space is this Wikipedia page on social networking.

To really leverage these and pretty much all social networking sites you need to participate. A lot. I’ve read enough case studies, and heard enough presentations at Internet and e-commerce conferences to know that social networking absolutely can pay dividends when it’s used right, and most of what makes it right, is constant, dedicated participation. I can easily make the case that just the social networking aspect of Internet marketing (social sites, forums, blogs, etc.) require at least one dedicated person. You need to have someone that does nothing but come up with good ideas, and has the time to devote to executing them. It’s very time consuming, but it can pay off.

My profile pages (I seriously need some more friends…):

Share

Tags:, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Selling Online #24 : Social Networking : Part 2

Last month I introduced the idea of social networking on the Internet and gave a brief overview of what social networking is all about and how it can play a role in the promotion of your e-commerce operation. This month I’m going to give a 40,000 foot overview of the different types of social sites out there.

General, high-level social sites: The best examples currently are MySpace and FaceBook – These act as a sort of catch all “home” for people on the web. People can create “profiles” there and host content with basic blogging and content management tools, as well as upload other types of multimedia content (pictures, graphics, video). The key to these sites from a marketing standpoint is to create a compelling persona for your dealership, and then participate and contribute constantly to keep the activity level up.

While these high-level sites like MySpace and FaceBook are currently getting most of the attention when it comes to social networking, there’s many other types and sub-types of social sites out there that you can participate in.

Forums - Forums are the oldest form of social networking that I can think of. They are essentially the modern incarnation of the old fashioned BBS (bulletin board system) from the pre-Internet dark ages. Successful forums primarily exist around a singular aspect of life that has a large enough population that cares about it so you get enough participation, but that is narrowly focused to actually be about something. A perfect example of an amazing forum would be one that you are most likely aware of, advrider.com. (An interesting aside that demonstrates the value of the mixing of various social networking sites or technologies is how tightly integrated the social photo site SmugMug is integrated into Advrider.com).

Forums are a great place to participate at the dealer level because most of the stuff posted on them is typically ill-informed, third-hand information that may or may not be intentionally misleading just to mess with people. That’s just the nature of the Internet a lot of times. However, if you post clearly as a trusted and knowledgeable source of information, you will be loved. A side advantage is that typically you can have a link to your site in your signature on each of your posts so it acts as a bit of search engine fodder. Just remember to only post valuable information, and try to avoid arguments or flame-wars as those are pretty much no-win situations that will make you look bad.

Groups – Groups are essentially the modern incarnation of UseNet Newsgroups (not that Newsgroups have totally disappeared). They are typically hosted on a larger site like Yahoo!Groups or GoogleGroups. They are sort of like the gated community version of a forum. Because of their somewhat closed nature they are almost not in the social network ecosystem, however, they are worth mentioning especially if there are groups that you can participate in

Blogs – Blogs (short for web log) are basically online diarys or newsletters. There are stand-alone blog sites where you can set up a blog for your shop as well such as Google’s Blogger, TypePad, and WordPress, or you can install and run your own blog on your own server, or you can take advantage of the blog-like features of the high-level social sites like The Wall on FaceBook. If your resources are limited, I’d suggest creating a profile on a high-level social site like FaceBook and use The Wall instead of spreading yourself too thin across multiple sites.

Video sharing - Two good examples are YouTube and MetaCafe. These types of sites exist as both a destination where you can watch, upload, and comment as well as a platform that you can use to distribute your video. While a stand-alone site like YouTube may be pretty cool, it’s the ability to embed your YouTube video on another site that makes them truly the killer application. There’s a lot of potential marketing benefit if you can manage to create what’s known as a viral video. That’s a video that’s so cool, funny, or otherwise catchy that hundreds of people watch it and send it to their friends. More on that in a later column.

Photo sharing – The biggest player in this space is Flickr and a site that’s a distant second but that I personally like a lot more is SmugMug. These sites work pretty much the same way that the video sharing sites except obviously focus on images. One thing worth pointing out is how Flickr has so many ways to leverage the photos you put up there on other sites and in other applications. An example is how you can create a photo album on Flickr and then embed a little slideshow plugin on your site that shows those images just like you can do with videos from video sites like YouTube.

Social Bookmarking sites - Sites like StumbleUpon and del.icio.us (del.icio.us yes, that’s a real URL) are sites where people can publicly create, share, and tag (provide a series of keywords that describe the bookmark to make them easier to find) sites. The goal is to have a site that is valuable enough, or at least attention-worth enough to get a lot of people to create and share the bookmark to your site.

Socially-driven content aggregation – The current big-daddy is Digg. They are sort of like the social bookmarking sites on steroids. These sites are basically news or what’s cool type sites that are not driven by an editorial team, but are instead driven by users submitting a “story” with a link to a site, and then all the other users of the site will vote on the submission. Submissions that for one reason or another are deemed “interesting” will get more votes and move up in the rankings. The goal is to get on the front page of these sites. If you are fortunate enough to get on the front page of these sites, be prepared to watch your web server break into flames from what is known as the “digg-effect” where the sudden barrage (upwards of a 3000% increase in a lot of cases) of traffic brings your poor dealership’s website to its knees. That’s what’s known as a good problem.
There are literally hundreds of other categories, mash-ups, and sites out there in the social networking space. What I’ve done is to just scratch the surface and try to expose you to the possibilities and the major players. Wikipedia has a pretty complete list of social networking sites if you want to dive in a little more.

Next month I’m going to go into more detail on the the pure social networking sites like MySpace and FaceBook and give some thoughts on why your should care about them (or not), how you may be able to use them, and what else might be coming around the bend in the Internet’s tubes in the near future.

p

quit aardvark

p

quit aardvark

Share

Tags:, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Selling Online #23 : Happy New Year! 2008 Is The Year of Social Networking

Welcome to the first column for 2008. I hope those of you out there with e-commerce on your sites enjoyed a successful holiday selling season. I’m going to kick off this year by not talking so much about e-commerce directly (e.g. the nuts and bolts of building your site), but rather talking about how to use the environment e-commerce exists within (the Internet) to get the most out of your e-commerce efforts.The first topic I’ll dive into is one of the hottest areas of the Internet, Social Networking. Out of everything I’ve written about over the past two years, this topic, and the series of columns that will cover it, are the ones I’m the most excited about presenting to you. Why? Because in terms of the potential bang-for-your buck when it comes to getting people to buy stuff from you, successfully and effectively jumping on the social Internet band-wagon should be one of, if not the most important things you do this year. The keys being successfully and effectively, because if you don’t really understand the lay of the land you can’t really envision your strategy and you’ll end up spinning your wheels, wasting a lot of time and money, and not getting any return on your efforts.

While you’d need to be living under a really large rock to not have heard the names MySpace, FaceBook, or YouTube you may need an explanation of what social networking actually is (especially if you don’t have, or socialize with, kids of any age). You may hear it referred to by a number of other names, and you will most likely never hear two people (even people that ostensibly know what they are talking about) give the exact same definition. This is due to two factors: 1) It’s still pretty new thus it’s still shaking out, and 2) it can mean different things to different people or within different contexts. But one central tenant of the idea is that it is driven by user generated content (written word, graphics and pictures, video, etc.).

Instead of the old way of doing things (Web1.0) where a site is created, and a staff of writers or other content producers populate the site with stuff (typically static content), and then people come to read the stuff, now (Web2.0) someone creates a site that has the tools and technical infrastructure for the people visiting the site to actually create content on their own, share the content, and comment on other people’s content.

So what’s the point? Why am I blathering on about goofing off on sites like MySpace and YouTube in a column under the title of Selling-Online? Well, from an Internet merchant’s point of view the main reasons that you should care about being involved in social networking pretty much comes down to the following three things:

  • Drive people to your site (so they hopefully buy something)
  • The lowest level of pragmatism with regards to being in the social Internet ecosystem is that it works great for your SEO efforts. Most of those social sites you either create or participate in out there all act as potential inbound links to your website which in turn helps your Google and other search engine rankings.
  • Give people a reason to stay on your site (so they hopefully eventually buy something even if that’s not why they actually came there)
  • Social elements like product reviews, product discussion forums, or video product merchandising all make your site more engaging and can act as sales tools
  • Extend commerce beyond your site (so they hopefully buy something from you while they are on some other website)
  • There’s only a certain percentage of potential (the key is the word potential because active customers should be able to find you if you are doing well on the SEO and Internet advertising fronts) customers that are ever going to find your site regardless of how good you’re doing in the search engines. However, there’s typically bound to be a large number of people that would be interested in buying what you have to sell if you are hanging out online where they are hanging out. There are motorcycle and powersports related groupings on pretty much all of the major social networking sites. If you are not there too, you’re missing out on potential sales.

As I said above, to really make your efforts worthwhile you need to understand the social networking ecosystem. That starts with making sure we’re on the same track with regards to the terms and concepts I’ll be using in this and follow up columns. First, what is a social site? Social sites typically share the same three important attributes:

  1. A way for a user to create a home or profile page that represents their identity within the framework of that site [ex: MySpace profile page, or LinkedIn profile page]. There’s no reason that your dealership can’t have it’s own profile or identity. I’ll go into this more in a later column on how to actually pull all of this off.
  2. A way for the user to either create content [ex: a text editor to write a blog], or upload and share content that was created somewhere else [ex: photos (flickr.com or smugmug.com), video (YouTube.com or MetaCafe.com)]
  3. Most importantly and universally the ability to comment on, interact with, alter, or share what’s on the site. A way to be social! While #1 and #2 may be present in greater or lesser degrees, it’s the ability for people to throw their two cents in and share the content that make these sites live.

While a lot of people have a hard time saying exactly what Web2.0 is (even if they are able to create an entire conference about it), they all pretty much universally recognize that it’s the social aspect that makes up the foundation.

Next month I’m going to go over what the major types of social sites are, who the major (and minor because if history has taught us anything, today’s up-and-coming internet player is tomorrow’s powerhouse), and give you some ideas of how you can use them in your social networking efforts.

Here’s a little head’s up for all of you going to Indy this year. As last year it seemed that most of the value people got out of my presentation was in the Q&A portions, I want to make this year’s even more interactive. You know, social! So start shooting me any topics you want to discuss or any questions that you’d like to have addressed in the sessions so I can gather up the good ones and have something remotely intelligent to say prepared.

Share

Tags:, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Contact Radical Powersports