The business principle of continued contact and online relationship building has given rise to the popularity of online business blogs, forums and feedback opportunities. Interactive online communication define the web site owners as experts in the eyes of visitors, and serve as a promotional vehicle for other products and services that the business seeks to sell. Continued, interactive contact can bring many benefits, such as:
So where do you start? Do you need a blog, a forum, or a feedback form? All have different uses and your selection will depend on the needs of your particular business and your limitation with regard to time and/or budget. Below are some of the options and some ideas for adding interactive and fresh content to your web site.
For more information about how to establish and maintain online relationships with your viewers and customers, get a copy of our guide “Building Online Relationships” available here: http://www.enable-uk.co.uk/html/book_4.html
Weblogs or Blogs
A blog is basically a series of posts that appear by the date posted like an online journal. Setup is minimal and the interface is easy to learn- if you can use a word processing package, you can write a blog! Services like Moveable Type and Blogger make it incredibly easy for anyone to publish on the web.
Blogs can be integrated seamlessly into your site so that they have the same look and feel. You can use a blog to publish an events calendar or comment on developments and news from your industry. A blog can be strictly professional, announcing special offers or new product info or it can be casual and create a “personality" for your company.
What can a blog do for your business? Think about what your customers want to know.
To add interactivity, several blog programs come with a “comment" ability built in. This allows general users to create an account and post their comments to your blog. This is something to be careful of as you can get negative comments along with the positive.
While online forums are popular and the perfect method of relationship building, starting a forum and maintaining one can be challenging, especially in the beginning when members can be few and far between. The challenge for most new forum owners is to get beyond the initial start up phase and move onto a phase where the forum members themselves promote the forum simply by posting.
Forums have become a common feature in many websites. With good free scripts available, and paid scripts being relatively cheap, it seems that every new website has its own forum(s).
But is it wise to add forums to your website?
On the pro side, large, active forums generate content for your website. They add a “sticky" element as most people come back, at least to monitor developments on their threads. Some forum software allows members to opt to receive an email whenever someone replies to their thread. Most people use it and that automated email sends them right back to the forum and therefore, your web site.
However, forums can take a long time to pick up and an empty forum can actually drive new visitors away. You need to constantly monitor your forums to make sure that they are clean of spam, troll posts, and just keep everything in order. In addition, forums are database-type applications that generate web pages on the fly. Every time a user views a page, it's being created from scratch. As the forums become more active, this can take a heavy load on the web server's resources and ultimately increase your hosting costs.
A forum is an incredible tool for building content and a community but it's not a task to be undertaken lightly; it requires a lot of time and energy and some technical knowledge (or a tech budget!)
If your industry has a need, or your product has a loyal following, a forum is a great tool to build content while drawing like-minded individuals together. A forum is great for market research, technical support, building a fan base, trading ideas and knowledge, and many, many other benefits. Try to get a base of people from similar business or industry experts to post at your forum. It's exposure for them and helps to build a solid foundation for your information.
If you decide to start a forum, be sure to use one that is search-friendly, such as www.InvisionBoard.com or www.phpbb.com, and set aside a good chunk of time to promote it and administer it.
Unsolicited feedback is a powerful and convincing tool! Let your customers tell other customers why they love you. It's much more compelling than your own claims. Unfortunately, customers normally need to be asked for their opinion. You can ask for feedback on any area of your business, your web site, your ordering process, your levels of customer service, your delivery service, etc.
The easiest way is to simply set up a form to allow customers to submit their feedback. Keep it fairly brief and allow a space for comments. You can then use the information provided to improve your customer experience, and with permission, publish the ones you choose.
Often other web site owners that are also customers of users of your web site can be enticed to write a review or testimonial for your site in return for a link back to theirs. This helps them with link popularity but it helps your site as well it shows a real person wrote that review.
Ask The Expert
This is a great way of not only interacting with potential customers but also establishing your business as an expert in its field. Using a simple question form or forum software, users submit questions and someone at your company answers them. The Q&A are both published on the site for users to read once they are answered in a “knowledge database" or “FAQ” section. This is less time-intensive than a full-blown forum but a great way to keep a finger on the pulse of what customers want to know while still adding content on a regular basis.
If you are interested in building loyalty and interest in your company as well as repeat business and you want to get increased traffic from the editorial or free listings in search engines, you have to offer more than just sales information to your users. If you create a plan for content that offers value and interest to your customers, you can have a site that is built to sell AND drive repeat business.
For more information about how to establish and maintain online relationships with your viewers and customers, download a copy of our guide “Building Online Relationships” available here: http://www.enable-uk.co.uk/html/book_4.html
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Article from Internet Marketing Tips Newsletter, a monthly publication of Enable-UK
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