Compete online by building online communities
communities can help to build relationships (CRM) between your business
and prospective customers. It's a way of developing customer relationships
that's not possible in the offline world.
and home-based businesses are on the run. You had been told that the
Internet is a level playing field where anyone can play. But Big Business
seems to be winning most of the games - often by merely crowding the
"little fellow" out. What should you, as a small or home-based business
answering this question, I discuss the major battering rams Big Business
is using. I place what's happening in context of the historical battle
between Big and Small. Then I show that building community is the
best strategy for competing with Big Business.
BUSINESS BATTERING RAMS
Big Business has at its disposal many powerful tools, among them:
Multimedia web sites - Big Business can build elaborate websites
which can change daily. It can offer interactive demonstrations
to sell products. It can entertain and influence with graphics.
Animation, music, videos - and soon, movies.
Big event sites - Every day, hordes of people log on to get
the news from MSNSBC, and sports news from Sportszone. IBM, earlier,
attracted a vast audience with a championship chess game.
Portals - Big companies, like Yahoo, AltaVista, America Online
and Microsoft are building sites that direct visitors to sites these
companies choose. Portals are not merely search engines. They make
it easy to locate some sites and difficult to locate others. Which
sites are easy to locate? Those that pay, either through advertising,
or by making special business arrangements.
BETWEEN BIG AND SMALL
Big Business and Small Business have always been locked in competition.
It may help to follow the ups and down of this battle with reference
to the computer, and then with reference to media. When the commercial
computer, in the form of the UNIVAC, first came on the scene in the
early '50s, it was a monstrous system, with bays of equipment along
walls of a huge room, with a false floor for the interconnecting of
cables. It cost a million dollars and required analysts, programmers,
operators, and maintenance people to run it. Only Big Business could
use it. It was a tool for centralization of power.
Then came the relentless trend in size reduction, price reduction
and user-friendliness increase, culminating in the $1000 PC. Lo and
behold, a tool for Small Business, a tool for decentralization, a
tool for personalized service.
A similar battle has occurred in the media. First we had print, then
radio, then TV. In each case, but more so with TV, Big Business made
the best use of the medium. We call these media PUSH, because the
elite used them to push information and advertising onto the masses.
The Internet is different. It is a PULL medium, that is, each site
in the network needs to draw visitors to itself. Because visitors
usually come to learn something, it's best to create a Learning Fountain:
a website that attracts and influences visitors by helping them learn.
Big Business did not like this development; it attacked with "PUSH
technology," then WebTV, and now with multimedia sites, big event
sites, and portals. Advantage seems to be shifting to Big Business.
WEAPON IS COMMUNITY
Reviewing these past events, we see that Big Business has the advantages
of money and influence; it succeeds best in a PUSH medium. Small Business
has the advantages of fast reaction and developing personal relationships;
it succeeds best in a PULL medium. As a PULL medium, the Internet
favors Small Business. Why not apply your natural strength, your ability
to work with people on a personal basis? Why work with one person
when you can work with many and thus multiply your effectiveness?
Why not build a community?
You may build a community with:
How do you interest visitors that come to your site? You build a Learning
Fountain. A Learning Fountain acts as as a learning catalyst. It does
not teach or preach, but arranges conditions to make it easy for the
visitor to learn.
help on this topic...
find further help on this topic, or closely related issues,
in the side columns on this page..
are five types of Learning Fountains:
- A directory or search engine.
- Presents useful information.
- Offers visitors advice and solves their problems.
provider - Presents a problem-solving tool, that enables visitors
to solve their own problems
community stimulator - This is designed specifically to get
visitors involved helping each other.
do you maintain the interest of those who have visited? By building
a community to discuss and solve problems members have in common.
You may use mailing lists or newsletters. But the best tool is an
attitude of helpfulness. Why do it? The community will help you with
your marketing problems. Even more important, you will develop loyal
The Learning Fountain helps visitors learn, and influences them to
join the client/prospect community. But how do you get people to your
site in the first place? Again by building a community. The vast majority
of visitors come to your site via links. The question then becomes:
With whom do you link?
The answer is you link with complementors. What are complementors?
Complementors (see Coopetition,
by Adam and Ada Brandenburger and Barry J. Nalebuff, help increase
the pie for you as well as for themselves. Examples are:
Golf product vendors and sneaker vendors
Software producers and computer manufacturers
Real estate brokers and furniture dealers
for complementors. After you find them, don't merely exchange links.
Get them to join in a community where all members help each other
obtain leads and referrals.
How can you increase the number of visitors and the number of sales
transactions? The answer once more is through community. An affiliate
is a vendor who obtains customers for a product or service, which
is delivered by another company. Amazon.com has about 30,000 affiliate
sites sending it book buyers. Rarely can you find an affiliate program
which is organized in the form of a community. The initiator of the
program is in charge. Your choice is to be an affiliate and follow
their rules, or not to be an affiliate. This may be a great opportunity
for you. Perhaps you may want to establish an affiliate community.
You must be ready to run a mailing list or newsletter and be available
to help each member succeed.
Because the Internet is not a PUSH, but a PULL medium, it is made-to-order
for Small Business. Big Business is trying to use its money and influence
to drown out Small Business. Your best weapon in this battle is to
build communities among clients/prospects, cooperative complementor
vendors, and affiliates.
Seigel is an Internet marketing consultant, trainer and speaker. He
is the originator of the Learning Fountain: a website that influences
visitors by helping them learn; see http://www.learningfountain.com.
He is the moderator of LearningFOUNT, a discussion list on Business
Strategy and Community Building; to subscribe, send a blank email
of his performance on the platform, he is called Paul "the soarING"
Siegel. (Ed.: I've never seen this performance, so I guess we'll
have to take his word for
it :-) )